Jack Scotcher discusses the importance of interfaith community cohesion.
Local and regional interfaith organisations are playing a bigger role in helping to foster good relationships across communities in the UK. Faiths Forum for London (FFL), which is part of the Inter Faith Network (IFN) is one of many interfaith forums that come together at events like the local practitioner day, which took place last week. These events are fantastic opportunities to put forward knowledge and expertise to local government and share best practice with other affiliated members.
Sharing best practice formed the basis of one discussion group, which looked at ‘open doors day’ and how these events are brilliant at getting the community together to discover the rich tapestry of religions found in communities across Britain. Educational and cultural events like this have proved a popular way to engage the public in learning about local faiths institutions and their members. The benefits this brings local communities are many in number and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) is contributing at a policy level to help create more integrated communities, which, open doors events are part of.
What are integrated communities?
The MHCLG define them as places where people – whatever their background – live, work, learn and socialise together, based on shared rights, responsibilities and opportunities.
Civic engagement on these topics and the practices that can hinder integration and equal rights are at the heart of the discussion on local practitioner days. Notable speakers are given the platform to discuss ways forward on issues concerning community cohesion and religious literacy at a local level.
These are really important events for policy makers and civil society organisations who work together to make communities inclusive and enjoyable places to live. Local inter faith groups are at the coal face helping to put these policies into practice.
What is community cohesion and why is it so important?
The work of civil society organisations like FFL are helping to put back those social networks that are sorely needed to keep communities safer, opportunities more accessible and help to achieve equal rights for everyone. The community cohesion proposals as described in the integrated communities strategy green paper 2018 has ambitious plans that sets out to engage members of Britain’s diverse communities to make the most of the opportunities that living in Britain has to offer. Opportunity and inclusivity go hand in hand, which make communities happier and safer places to live and work. Another way of boosting community cohesion is through teaching English.
The green paper proposes a number of measures to improve the offer for people to learn English
This will take the form of a new community based programme in places where there are the highest concentrations of people with little or no English. FFL does this as part of the Strengthening Faiths Institutions project and invites them to establish ways that English can be taught in places of religious worship.
Why is religious literacy necessary to break down barriers?
The more we learn about each other, the more informed we are about others. The work FFL and IFN does is crucial to that end. According to the green paper, voluntary and faith organisations should:
- Continue and enhance work in partnership with inter faith organisations to create strong, integrated communities, as well as calling out practices and behaviours which impede integration
- Expand the Strengthening Faith Institutions programme to help a wider range of faith institutions to strengthen their governance structures, including the participation of women and young people
- Support faith communities and interfaith dialogue as a means of breaking down barriers between communities, building greater trust and understanding, and removing the conditions which can allow intolerance and unequal treatment to flourish
The integrated communities initiative, that FFL and IFN works on at a local level, is about making the most out of the opportunities that living and working in Britain has to offer. It also presents a case for the work that needs to be done to bring about meaningful integration to break down those barriers that stop people from participating in society. Local practitioner days provide a forum for FFL and others to share ideas in the hope that policy makers will listen to the voices on the ground that push for positive change and make happen.