Leading to Respect
In June 2007, the Interfaith Forum worked with a culturally diverse group of 18 young people from the Borough. These were between the ages of 18 and 25. After six preparatory sessions to explore the dynamics of segregation and conflict, and the benefits of diversity, the group travelled to Srebrenica and Auschwitz to see the impact of extremism. The concept for the programme was based again on John Paul Lederach's spider's web approach to building peace. Since their return members of the group have delivered moving presentations about their visit to about 1000 people and been interviewed on local radio. But they have also developed strategies in their own areas of work to show that community cohesion is now a priority for them. An example of this can be seen through five members of the group who were some of the main drivers in the development of the Oldham Muslim Centre. One of the declared five main priorities for that Centre is "to provide a social space to allow people from different backgrounds, cultures and faiths to come together and work for the common good." There have been several activities in the Centre to demonstrate that this priority is being put into effect. Also, in 2009, two years after the Leading to Respect Programme, Oldham Muslim Centre was adjudged to be the best Mosque in Oldham for engaging with the wider community (Oldham Mosques' Council Awards 2009).
The LTR... had a huge impact on my professional and personal life; it helped me to understand different communities and cultures... Some of my peers and I, after the trip, went on to play an instrumental role in helping to set up the £2.2m Oldham Muslim Centre. This centre has now won numerous awards for its work in the community
The Forum has carried out interfaith awareness raising workshops in different schools across the Borough. This has involved speaking to over 3,500 pupils. The Deputy Head of Horton Mill Primary School commented on our session with his school:
My colleagues found the sessions entertaining, useful, age-appropriate and challenging. All commented on the fact that children were enthralled by the content, enthused by the presentation and felt that it is this kind of workshop that is so powerful in challenging children's perceptions.
One of these workshops was also OFSTED inspected. The Inspector commented in his report:
During the inspection, an outstanding example was observed when a Muslim imam and a Catholic priest from the local community came together to talk about their respective faiths with the Year 6 pupils. The occasion was handled with great good humour and insight, modelling community cohesion for the pupils
(Alan Brine, HMI for OFSTED)
The Forum has also facilitated more than 65 visits to places of worship. These visits have involved many different schools from the Borough and one from Shropshire. 2,570 children have made at least one visit. The Head teacher of the Shropshire School commented:
All the staff agreed that there was lots of "awe and wonder" on show in both visits. All in all it is the best trip we have done in terms of learning by both children and adults and enjoyment. Ofsted were in last week and they were truly impressed with the work we have done on community cohesion and especially our trip to Oldham.
(John Eglin, head teacher from Morda Primary school in Shropshire)
A local teacher also commented about the visit made by her school:
"We are now of the opinion that these visits and interactions with other religious leaders are crucial for the future integration of our community"
(Jennifer Hetherington, Religious Education Coordinator St Mary's Primary School High Crompton Shaw)
Any Questions on Faith
The Forums "Any questions on Faith" events are held across the Borough during which the Forum provides a panel religious of experts to answer any Question on religion or culture posed by the public. These events have been held From Failsworth to Uppermill, Shaw and centrally in Oldham. There are many examples of this work. One such example is of "Any Questions on Faith" in Oldham Sixth Form College when approximately 300 students attended one of a series of four "Any questions on Faith" events during which the Forum provided the panels of experts.
A representative of the College wrote:
Oldham Interfaith Forum kindly gathered together a panel of faith leaders so that the students could ask any question on faith. The students were a little slow to start but with the help of the AS Religious Studies students they really did ask ANYTHING! Over the day approximately 300 students took part and really enjoyed and benefited from the interactive nature of the sessions. The tutors also commented on how informative and enjoyable they found the sessions.
Oldham Festival of Light
Over two thousand people, from across the Borough of Oldham, will have attended one or other of the events put on by the Interfaith Forum in the three years from 2015-2018. The major event of the year is the Festival of Light.
Oldham’s Interfaith Forum has been hosting the Festival of Light in the borough for many years. But, given the tensions around the world as we deal with the real threat of terrorism strikes, its message has never been more topical…The uplifting nature of the Festival of Light…is always a time for reflection.
In December 2016, part of the Festival of Light was shown on the Sunday Politics Show on BBC 1. Oldham had been referred to, in the Louise Casey Report, for its problematic segregation, and the Festival of Light was shown as an example of Work with adult population / Breadth of that work and evaluation of impact by service users from Oldham happily interacting across cultural divides.
According to those who filled in our evaluation sheets after the 15th Festival of Light in December 2017, 78% of those attending were doing so for the first time. 86% of those attending claimed that the event had improved their understanding of a faith.