Blog from IFN Inter Faith Development Officer, Ashley Beck
My Inter Faith Week this year began in Paisley Town Hall, with the launch of Scottish Interfaith Week. It is led by Interfaith Scotland, and the launch event was run in partnership with Renfrewshire Interfaith Group.
The theme of Scottish Interfaith Week this year is ‘Religion and the Media’, and BBC Scotland broadcaster Cathy MacDonald gave an address discussing the need for religious literacy and having the courage to ask people of faith questions about their beliefs and practices.
On Monday, I joined Interfaith Glasgow for its launch as an independent charity. Inter faith activity in Glasgow has, of course, been going on for decades, and Sr Isabel Smyth spoke authoritatively and movingly about Glasgow Sharing of Faiths, the first inter faith group in Scotland (and one of the founding members of IFN). Interfaith Glasgow has been working for several years with the support of Interfaith Scotland and those who had been involved with Glasgow Sharing of Faiths, building relationships and bringing together the diverse communities within Glasgow. It was wonderful to be present as it embarks upon its next chapter.
On Tuesday, I attended a special Inter Faith Week event held by the All Party Parliamentary Interfaith Group, with the Inter Faith Network for the UK. The meeting enabled Parliamentarians to hear about and discuss local inter faith activity. Examples were given by speakers from Interfaith Glasgow, Redbridge Faiths Forum and Faith Network for Manchester. There was then discussion about the challenges and successes of this vital work.
On Thursday evening, I attended the launch at the Houses of Parliament of the Joseph Interfaith Foundation’s new educational project providing support to young refugees aged 16-26, focussing on those from Syria, Iraq, Somalia and Afghanistan but open to all. The project aims to teach them about the laws, culture and social mores of Britain, to build relationships and resilience against being misled or exploited. It will work with a wide range of organisations. Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth, Minister for Cohesion at DCLG; Rabbi Danny Rich, Chair of the National Refugees Welcome Board; Commander Mak Chishty of the Metropolitan Police; and the Rt Revd Jonathan Clark, Chair of the Churches Refugee Network spoke about the importance of the initiative.
On Saturday, I attended the morning session of ‘The Indian Soldiers in WW1’ at the Zoroastrian Centre in Harrow. The event focused on the huge contribution of Indian and other BAME soldiers to WW1 and other conflicts. It was part of the wider ‘India 1914’ project, led by the Golden Tours Foundation.
Attending events was only part of my Week. A key part of my role at IFN is managing the national website and the @IFWeek Twitter account. On the Friday before the Week, we launched a brand new Inter Faith Week website, which includes new displays for events and activities, in addition to the popular map, and a simpler, more mobile-friendly submission form. The map on the website has always been one of my favourite things to watch as Inter Faith Week progresses and ‘pins’ appear in more and more places. It currently has over 480 events and activities listed – from Shetland to Feock and Lowestoft to Enniskillen. As usual, we expect to find out about even more activities following the Week, as those who did things in schools, employee networks and other non-public settings begin to report on what they’ve done.
Twitter has become an increasingly important channel for raising awareness of Inter Faith Week and sharing information about activities taking place to mark it. When I started working on Inter Faith Week in 2010, very few people tweeted about the Week. At the time of writing (lunchtime on 20 November), tweets about Inter Faith Week have appeared on the feeds of 5.6million Twitter users since 1 November, a total of 18.4million times. That’s an equivalent potential reach to Britain’s top 4 newspapers all running pieces on the Week for 3 days each. For me, this is illustrative of the growth in scope and reach of the Week, as individuals and groups continue to innovate and find new ways to share the good news that ordinary people of all backgrounds are working together and supporting one another in every part of the UK.