During the last month Calderdale Council has been consulting on its Community Cohesion and Integration Strategy.
In principal, it’s a good document and well thought through, mapping out what community cohesion is and the desire to improve integration within the borough.
For me, this has been part of my life and ministry for the last twenty years, both here and in Manchester. Having lived all over the United Kingdom, I have to confess that I’ve never lived in such a racist community before – when I first arrived we had four elected BNP councillors, and a series of English Defence League marches. Thankfully these have dispersed for now.
Census information tells us that too many people don’t like their next door neighbour. Sadly the reason is often to do with immigration, and fuelled by those who seek to divide our communities and create a sense of unfairness. Housing, education, urban planning, poverty, all contribute to leaving groups of people feeling threatened and vulnerable, be it poor or middle class white people or those from ethnic minorities.
As we look to the future, we need to ask ourselves what kind of community and society we want to live and work in, and where we want to bring our children up and the values we want them to adopt.
For the past ten years the Calderdale Interfaith Council has tried to encourage the faith communities to get to know each other. This work has been embraced by a few but not the many. It’s high time that faith leaders took this agenda more seriously, and helped their respective communities overcome prejudice and fear, and seek the journey of reconciliation and understanding.
Every time an International incident occurs, we see a spike locally in hate crime.
During November we celebrate National Interfaith Week. This year it begins on Remembrance Sunday, when we gather as a town at the Cenotaph to remember those who gave their lives for our freedom.
In the Minster all the faith communities will offer prayers for the peace of the world, and remember those who continue to work in places of great danger. There will be meetings of imams and clergy, the annual celebration event in a local school, and a faith walk - this year to be in Todmorden.
One issue that continues to trouble me is admissions policies for schools, where we seem to end up with ethnic segregation. There are no easy answers, but I do worry about what they store up for the future, if children don’t learn to play and enjoy the company of other children with a different ethnicity and faith? And of course it’s not just ethnicity or faith, it’s sexual orientation and homophobia and other things as well. The first step in putting things right is to acknowledge that there is a problem in the first place, and to recognise that we need to do something about it.
We all have a role to play, Voluntary groups, employers, faith organisations, schools, the public sector. Calderdale has some outstanding physical beauty and wonderful heritage and cultural offer, but the underlying issues of tolerance, respect, compassion, welcoming the stranger, truly marks our moral compass as a society and as a town and borough.