The third day of the programme was focused around national government, the Civil Service and Parliament. The morning session was led by Pasha Shah, Senior Policy Advisor for the Ministry of Housing Communities and Local Government. His passion for civil society grew out of the disenfranchisement he noticed between communities and government, and he wanted to bridge this gap.

Pasha gave participants insight into his work, which included engaging marginalised communities in policy decision-making, ‘tension monitoring’, especially around major incidents such as the Manchester attacks, and identifying ‘invisible communities’ that are currently not receiving the resources and funding that they need.

In order to give the group a better insight into the Civil Service, Pasha had invited Edward Clarke, Private Secretary in Lord Bourne’s office, to speak. He gave an overview of the mechanisms of the Civil Service, and the relationship between Civil Servants and Ministers.

What made this session particularly useful was that it allowed participants insight into the day-to-day life of a Civil Servant. Ed spoke about the challenges of organising a Ministers’ schedule, some of his most embarrassing mistakes, and also imparted practical employability advice. 

The next session, ‘Building Integrated Communities’, was led by Tali, Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government. She outlined the governments’ ‘Integration’ strategy, and dispelled the misconception that ‘integration’ was code for ‘assimilation’. Tali highlighted the key areas of the ‘Integrated Communities Strategy Green Paper’, before opening up to the floor for questions. 

The final session of the morning was about the effects of Brexit on communities and the variety of reactions and fears felt by different groups, noting the particularly high level of concern felt by the Gypsy Roma Traveller (GRT) communities. The take-away message was that the UK is becoming increasingly polarized, and hate crime is, unfortunately, on an upward trajectory. 

After lunch, the group travelled to Portcullis House, Westminster, to meet Tanmanjeet Singh “Tan” Dhesi MP. Tan has been the MP for Slough since 2017, and notably, is the first turbaned Sikh in any European parliament.

The opportunity to not only meet an MP, but also enter the Houses of Parliament, was both exciting and slightly daunting for the participants. However, Tan’s friendly and approachable manner quickly put the group at ease!

He spoke about his childhood, spent both in Slough and Punjab, India. Not only did this upbringing expose him to numerous cultures, traditions and ways of life, but it also allowed him to learn an impressive 8 languages. Tan discussed the importance of integration with the group, and the pride he felt about having both a British and a distinctive Sikh identity.

He also spoke about the need for MPs and other public figures to have a thick skin and strong support network around them, so that negativity never overpowers them.

Written by Tali Halpin.