“We are entering a new world. The old alliances are breaking down: how do we respond in Bradford?” The Rt Rev Toby Howarth, Bishop of Bradford (pictured left with Dr Prem Sharma), called for a new vision for the city for the next 25 years, as he addressed the Real Lives, Real Stories, Real Questions? conference held at Kala Sangam, Bradford on Saturday 19th November.
Over 50 community leaders and everyday activists spent the day sharing Real Lives, Real Stories and tackling Real Questions, in response to recent political upheaval, ongoing tensions across the city and the nation, and the lack of opportunity that leads to division.
‘If we want to build bridges of understanding and work towards a genuinely inclusive society, we need to give people the opportunity to voice their opinions as well as hear the perspectives of others. Talking openly, rather than ignoring the issues, is vital”, said Dr Prem Sharma of South Asian Development Partnership, which organised the conference, working with local organisations including St Johns Church Great Horton, The Feast, Faithful Neighbours and Kala Sangam. The conference was sponsored by Near Neighbours.
“If you could dream, what would Bradford look like?’ Bishop Toby asked. He posed two further questions: “Political shocks, changing alliances and different ways of funding are the realities we face today. What spaces can we create in our city where people can come together across our divisions? And what new alliances can we build’? What friendships can we create so that when the going gets tough we have people to call on?”
(Pictured right - Madhura Godbole delights the audience with Bollywood style dance)
The participants represented a range of ethnic and cultural backgrounds. They debated issues and shared stories of how they have been working to build relationships and overcome divisions. They wanted the media to report their positive stories to capture people’s imagination.
Men and women together have a role to create space for women to participate more fully in community harmony, the conference heard. Local organisations like Touchstone are providing safe spaces for women of all backgrounds to form relationships.
“Young refugees and asylum seekers are being encouraged by mentors – and more are needed”, said Ibrahim Maynard of Bradford Council Asylum Seekers. A local family will be hosting an Iranian refugee family that had been separated: the wife and children arrive in Bradford this week.
At a time when funding is increasingly difficult to obtain, communities are learning to give from their resources to help other communities, and organisations are being encouraged in generosity too. Bradford City Football Club recently restored the weathervane cockerel on top of St Philips Church, Manningham – a bantam of course.
“We need new ideas but we also need to find out what is already being done, so that we can strengthen it”, said Bishop Toby Howarth. The conference was a great opportunity for people of all backgrounds to make new friends, discover what others are doing and make plans for joint working.
“Near Neighbours provides a contact point, clearing house and possible sponsorship for such projects”, said Sharon Bavington, Near Neighbours Assistant Co-ordinator (pictured left).
The underlying message of the day was that change starts with us. Instead of just talking about integration we need to ‘do’ relationship. “When real friendships start, both sides are changed.”
South Asian Development Partnership: Robin Thomson robin.thomson [at] southasianconcern.org
Near Neighbours: Sharon Bavington sharon.bavington [at] faithfulneighbours.org.uk
Paresh Solanki psview [at] gmail.com