Leaders representing faith communities across Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland joined the Police and Crime Commissioner, Lord Willy Bach, and Deputy Chief Constable, Rob Nixon, today for the latest in a series of virtual What Matters to You? conversations.
What Matters to You? has been a regular feature in Willy Bach’s diary over the last four years. Willy’s novel approach in bringing the police and the community together for a candid discussion on crime and justice issues usually takes place in a physical setting such as a market square, supermarket, or village hall. The social distancing measures currently in place across the city and counties make this impractical; so, like many other aspects of the commissioner’s daily routine, the engagement takes place online.
All of Leicestershire’s major faiths, including Christians, Hindus, Jews, Muslims, and Sikhs were present in the call. The discussion focused on the challenges facing local communities against the backdrop of the COVID-19 outbreak and widespread concern at the killing of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis police in the US – an episode described by Rob Nixon as, “Despicable and tragic, and one that had prompted immediate outreach and reassurance to Leicestershire’s BAME communities by the police.”
Leicestershire Council of Faiths Chair, Fayyaz Suleman, opened the discussion. He spoke for all present with strong praise for both the police and faith communities for the measured and collaborative response that had followed the closure of places of worship; curtailment of religious festivals and severe restrictions on the numbers permitted to attend funerals, cremations and burials. He described the policing style as “responsible and proportionate”. He expressed the view that the approach had contributed significantly to maintaining community cohesion at a difficult time. Nonetheless, the loss of social contact was reported to have hit close-knit faith communities particularly hard. Support networks that play an essential role in the sharing of information about crime and social wellbeing are primarily closed at the present time.
Mr. Narendra Waghela described some of the support being delivered within the Hindu community. Volunteers were active in the distribution of food and medical supplies. He made much of the fact that such work was not confined within separate faith groups stating: “It’s clear that the residents of Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland have come together.”
The newfound spirit of community co-operation in the face of adversity was praised by several speakers including Ms Smita Shah from Leicester’s Jain Centre and Mr. Shockat Patel of Muslim Engagement and Development, Leicester. Ms Shah spoke about the foundations of a “Strong recovery, sooner rather than later”; whilst Mr. Patel was optimistic that, “Improved community cohesion may be a silver lining to the COVID-19 cloud”.
Cllr Ashiedu Joel from the Redeemed Christian Church of God urged caution. Many in the Black African community, particularly those struggling on zero-hours contracts, were facing severe difficulties because of lost income and a complex benefits system. She said, “Some voices are in real danger of being pushed further to the margins. We must recognise that the community is not homogenous, and we are not all facing the same issues at the same time.”
Dr Tom Wilson, Director of the St. Phillips Centre, echoed the views of many by expressing concerns that places of worship were closed, whilst shops were being permitted to open. Fears were expressed that some important faith establishment might fall through the cracks and disappear if the restrictions continued. Fayyaz Suleman supported Dr Wilson and described recent representations to the Prime Minister in which financial support for places worship had been requested to safeguard the valuable community support function that they provide beyond COVID19. (The Government has since said that places of worship can re-open from Monday 15 June – but only for private worship).
Willy Bach closed the meeting by thanking the faith representatives for their frankness and willingness to engage with both his office and the Leicestershire Police. “Good communication with the many faith groups here in Leicestershire plays a major role in maintaining good community and race relations. It brings us together as ‘one humanity’. We have an excellent track record, and I can assure you that I will be working with Rob Nixon and other senior officers to maintain our reputation as a diverse community that is overwhelming at peace with itself more often than not.”
With the COVID-19 restrictions set continue for some weeks, further virtual What Matters to You? events are planned, including an online conversation with representatives from Leicestershire youth organisations.
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Posted on Wednesday 10th June 2020