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Monday, 29 August 2011

Building community made easy

Four women with an idea, two forty minute meetings, a few telephone calls made and emails sent. That was all it took to create a 'Chand Raat' community event last Saturday for more than a hundred women and children at Highfield Community Garden in Keighley.

It was a lesson in how working in partnership and making use of each others networks can make things happen quickly and leave everyone feeling ' oh, that was easy!'. 

What are your tips for making community events 'easy'?

A Chand Raat event was new to the women from the local church, who had partnered with the local community centre to put on the event. 

For anyone else who would like to know about Chaand Raat, Wikipedia says:

'Chaand Raat (Bengali: চাঁদ রাত , Hindi: चाँद रात, Urduچاند رات literally, Night of the Moon) is a HindiUrdu and Bengali locution used inPakistanIndia and Bangladesh for the eve of the Muslim festival of Eid ul-Fitr; it can also mean a night with a full moon.

Chaand Raat is a time of celebration when families and friends gather in open areas at the end of the last day of Ramadan to spot the new moon, which signals the arrival of the Islamic month of Shawwal and the day of Eid. Once the moon is sighted, people wish each otherChaand Raat Mubarak ("Have a blessed night of the new moon") or Eid Mubarak ("Blessings of the Eid day"). Women and girls decorate their hands with mehndi (henna), and people prepare desserts for the next day of Eid and do the last round of shopping.
City streets have a festive look, and brightly decorated malls and markets remain open late into the night.[1] Chaand Raat is celebrated festively and passionately by Muslims (and occasionally non-Muslims as well) all over South Asia, and in socio-cultural significance, this night is comparable to Christmas Eve in Christian nations.

Friday, 12 August 2011

Revealing a culture of contempt?

One of the things that has shocked people is the sight of looters openly laughing at  the mayhem they were causing. It has looked like contempt - contempt for authority, for their communities and for their neighbours.

In 1992 Professor Kenneth Galbraith wrote 'The Culture of Contentment'. Wikipedia describes its contents thus: 'In it he traces the growth of a stultifying contentment in the western industrial world represented by the G7 group of countries. He pays particular attention to the self serving economic comfort achieved by the fortunate and politically dominant community and contrasts this to the condition of the underclass which he sees as being for the first time in these countries stalled in poverty.'

Nowadays it feels like the culture of contentment, bad as that was, is morphing into a culture of contempt:

 - the contempt shown for our economic well-being by the bankers as they continue to pursue disastrous financial strategies which loot our economy, paying themselves massive bonuses along the way; 

- the contempt shown by this government for public services and the people that work within them, adding denigration to the insult of job losses; 

- the contempt being shown towards the most vulnerable people in the way that the social security system changes are being made and talked about;

- contempt shown by many politicians through the expenses scandal;

and now contempt being acted out on the street.

Contempt grows  in the spaces created by disconnection, dislocation and a lack of trust. We create this culture in the language we use and the manner in which we speak, which then translates into action. 

I listened to the Prime Minister talk about 'sick' people and bringing in water cannons and rubber bullets to use against looters. Keen to place responsibility everywhere else. I wondered whether that also sounded like contempt. The self serving rhetoric of the parliamentary debate gave me no confidence that our political leadership really has a clue. A clue about people's lives or a clue about what it actually takes to end the violence and thieving.

Our language and actions construct the society and the communities we live in, and the relationships we have with one another. If we don't like what we have, there are ways of re-imagining and creating positive responses at neighbourhood, town and city levels. See 'Imagine Chicago' at  for a start.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Riots or peace and well-being?

For those of us in our fifties the rioting and looting in London and other places provides us a sense of deja vu.

Riots have featured in my working life, having been involved in Bradford in the Commission set up after the 1995 riot and involved in responses to the 2001 riot.

Out of interest I googled to see if riots have occurred in countries with high well-being scores. I found a fascinating article about the Geography of Peace. One relevant statement leapt out:

'Nations with less income inequality have higher levels of peace, while inequality is associated with peace's opposite'  Britain has a substantial and widening inequality. People's experience of that inequality undermines their well-being.

In the mid-1990's the then Prime Minister, John Major said that he wanted to create a society that was 'at ease with itself.' Whatever it is that is happening in London, and now other cities in this country at the moment, it is certainly not a picture of a country at ease with itself.

The former Labour Government and the present Coalition have recognised the importance of paying attention to the quality of their citizens' lives. 

The Labour Government responded with substantial public investment in the most economically disadvantaged communities and the public services on which they depended during the 2000s. Local politicians were given the 'power and duty of well-being' i.e. the ability to act in any appropriate way to increase the well-being of their areas. This investment and focus did make a difference - but a fragile one.

The Coalition have so far held a survey about well-being. They have also felt obliged by economic circumstances to cut drastically public investment in their citizens and the services that support them.

Bad behaviour on this scale is not just about criminality and the ability to exploit social networks. Politicians would be unwise to write it off as just that.