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Anger in `Cool Britannia'.

Businessmen and jobless teenagers were among the diverse group of 100 who attended a weekend conference on `Regenerating the spirit of community' in Cheshire in March. It was held at Tirley Garth, the MRA centre, under the auspices of Hope in the Cities.

Not one speaker was satisfied with British society as it is; all were striving in their own sphere to change it for the better; many reported practical achievements.

Participants included the Imam who chairs Brighton's ethnic minority council; a poet from London who runs a drop-in centre for jobless youngsters in Leeds--and youngsters from the same centre who are raising money to send a friend on an Outward Bound course and organizing concerts in memory of friends who died from tragic illness or accident.

Also present were a careers officer who reported a 75 per cent success rate in helping school-leavers find their next step; a financial consultant who once felt `the problems of society are nothing to do with me' but who initiated `an honest conversation' as part of the European Year Against Racism; a Greek Cypriot from an organization that helps 300 each year find jobs in the English Black Country, and a social worker who helps Asian families in London when their children get into trouble with drugs or drink.

But as well as achievement there was anger--from jobless teenagers from Chapeltown (an area of Leeds said to have Europe's highest proportion of African-Caribbean residents). They expressed deep mistrust of the police.

Businessman William Midgley responded, `I am angry too. Why do these things still happen in Leeds and elsewhere? If we don't direct that anger into bringing change in the right way, your children will be saying the same things in ten years' time.'

Midgley, who is Executive Vice-Chairman of the Newcastle Building Society called on businesses to take responsibility for the communities in which they are based.

A top banker had told Midgley that his bank's contribution to society was that 11 members of his staff had become millionaires. `Does business have no other responsibility to society than to enrich a small number of people?' asked Midgley. `Many businesses think that creating jobs is the end of the responsibility. We cannot leave it there. If companies adopt that attitude society will be the poorer.'

Some companies in Newcastle showed `a wider responsibility', he went on. Partners in Racial Equality brought together business and the ethnic minorities. And the Westgate Partnership worked with an inner city comprehensive school. `Partnerships are a conduit to help people contribute. I believe there is a great pool of talent among people who want to contribute to society but don't know how. Business-based organizations in every community need to be tapped and they will respond.'

Lawrence Fearon, a community development consultant from London, said that learning to build up trust was at the heart of building relationships. `Community is made of different parts and each should have concern for the other. We're all going to have to start again with ourselves. We need to press the button and start again.'

Betty Gray, a grandmother from Newcastle upon Tyne, spoke of the grassroots community-building work that she and her late husband Rex had been involved in for many years. `Much of what we do in Newcastle is undergirded by deep friendships between people of different races--not casual relations but real deep friendships. Only then can you ask the things that puzzle or disturb you.' At times of crisis in the city, a small group had met together to seek for God's direction. `He does help and give ideas for initiatives,' she ended.

If Rip van Winkle had gone to sleep in Britain 50 years ago and awoken at this conference, he would have been amazed. The mono-cultural, mono-racial Britain (if it ever really was that) has gone for ever. Cool Britannia wears a coat of many colours. Sadly, perhaps inevitably, the mentality of we Anglo-Saxons has been slow to adjust.

But we should reflect: is it a greater thing to rule an empire of many races and cultures--or to make a home where people from diverse faiths and ethnic backgrounds can live happily together?
COPYRIGHT 1998 For A Change
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Author:Faunce, Alan
Publication:For A Change
Date:Jun 1, 1998
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