Following the march through Lincoln by the East Anglian Patriots, Councillor Brent Charlesworth, City of Lincoln Council portfolio holder for social inclusion and community cohesion, writes about the work the city has already done to bring communities together and why he feels there is still more work to be done.
Mainly through the work of my portfolio, over the past year the city council has put a lot of work into the improvement of community relations in Lincoln. In addition, there is much more to take place.
Bringing diverse communities together in order to build bridges, promote understanding and mutual respect, help new communities to grow and bond together and mobilise self-help, are our objectives.
An important part of this huge task is to break down some of the barriers that may exist between different groups and build good relationships between young people and adults.
The core of the community cohesion enterprise is to offer a welcome for those who wish to integrate, contribute and make Lincoln their home and bring together people from all backgrounds to live in harmony.
I have stressed that in dealing with different cultures we should work on the principle that cultural accommodation is a two-way process. By that I mean that not only should we in the city collectively do all we can to appreciate and make accommodation for the cultural needs of newly-arrived people but also those coming to the city with differing political and religious traditions and social practices, should seek in turn to appreciate and find accommodation with the values of open, tolerant, democratic British society.
Those values are exemplified by the acceptance of cultural difference and the pursuance of equality of opportunity for all, irrespective of class, race, creed, gender or sexual orientation. We encourage and try to make available every opportunity for newcomers to engage fully in social and political life rather than retire into discrete, inward-looking enclaves.
An example of this has come from our recent work with Eastern Europeans who tell us that their greatest need is for English classes so that newcomers can develop sufficient competence – and the associated confidence – to integrate fully into the local Lincoln community.
In May last year we welcomed a visit from the then Shadow Minister for communities and local government Chris Williamson MP. Following a presentation of the strategy, Chris toured Abbey and Park wards, met key community workers, heard about the Stand Up Speak Up initiative among other things and also visited Bishop King Primary School which is at the forefront of community cohesion work.
It is important to ensure that those in power know about the important work we are doing here in Lincoln.
Last week, we welcomed a visit from the new Shadow Communities Minister Lyn Brown MP.
Officers and local representatives met her at LCFC ground to discuss what is happening in Lincoln. I am pleased to say that she declared that she considers Lincoln to be a "trailblazer" in its community cohesion work.
World Hello Day was a great success. Held in November, it involved people being challenged to greet ten people to whom they would not normally speak. The council and its partners organised a number of 'Hello' events in various parts of the city.
Meet the Street events took place in November. These were jointly organised with the University of Lincoln Students' Union. More than 200 residents were welcomed at the four events with representatives from the police, university, public protection team, West End Residents Association and ward councillors in attendance.
Local residents welcomed the opportunity to meet and talk with others from their neighbourhood.
The East Anglian Patriots' demonstration last Saturday ostensibly against the building of a mosque on the old diary site at Dixon Street and its counter demonstration by the LARF group witnessed little trouble thanks to effective policing.
Cost to shopkeepers and inconvenience to shoppers apart on a busy Saturday, the demonstration will nonetheless incur considerable costs to hard-pressed taxpayers, running into tens of thousands of pounds.
Given that the building of the mosque has been agreed by the authorities and the site itself, which includes a new Lidl store and a small housing development, is now under construction, there are significant questions about agreeing future demonstrations concerning the mosque.
The city's community cohesion strategy is in place for two years up to March 2015 and then extended to 2017.
The strategy specifies a number of targeted initiatives to take place in Park, Abbey and Carholme wards where the greatest social need has been identified.
There is much more to do but with the help of a range of partner organisations, we continue to make considerable progress towards promoting the diverse, socially and economically progressive city we all wish for Lincoln.