Case study Organisation: Blackburn College Type of FE provider: College Focus on: Equality and Diversity (Race)
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‘Single Voice’ – Celebrating Faith and Culture Summary of activity A large-scale consultation event that engages with staff, students and the local community, to explore topical issues and raise awareness around race, belief, faith and social cohesion.
Background and strategic drive for activity Blackburn College is a large college which draws its 11,000 students from a diverse multicultural area. Almost a fifth of adult students and almost a third of those aged 16-18 are from a minority ethnic background. Around 10 per cent of learners have a learning difficulty or disability. The college employs over 1,000 staff. Against this background, the college philosophy is: “To build an educational and learning environment where we can share sensitive topics in an open manner so as to develop trust and the ability to influence our college community.”
Set up and implementation The college consults regularly with staff and students, as it respects and values their views and those of the local community. Student and staff consultations had previously found a desire to find out more about faiths and cultures and to have a safe opportunity to ask
“questions you never dare ask”. At both student and staff consultations the importance of social cohesion was discussed at length, in response to media reports about the area and the challenges faced by the local community because of race and faith issues. Following these consultations, the college decided to organise a ‘Single Voice’ event to celebrate faith and culture in partnership with the local Interfaith Council. This aimed to give staff and students the opportunity they needed to discuss and explore difference in a familiar and nonthreatening environment. The event included seminars, exhibitions and discussions. The local community was also invited to the event, in order to celebrate the many different communities living in the college’s catchment area. Speakers and community organisations were invited from across the region to ensure different viewpoints were represented and to highlight the diversity of faiths and cultures within the community.
The event was held the week before Easter in 2008. This coincided with a number of religious celebrations for Christian, Muslim and Jewish faiths. The event programme was designed to: • provide an opportunity for staff and students to ask and discuss questions • consider approaches to controversial issues and suggest ways forward • share ideas, views, opinions, personal stories and experiences with others. The event showcased six of the main faiths and cultures of Blackburn, which provided a good opportunity for staff and students to ask questions and gain a greater understanding and respect for colleagues and fellow students. There were also seminars looking at the issues facing many asylum seekers and refugees, and a ‘triologue’ – a panel consisting of a Christian, Muslim and a Jewish representative – to answer questions from the audience.
Obstacles faced Although it was a logistically difficult event to organise, students provided support on the day to help everything run smoothly and successfully.
Impact and achievements The ‘Single Voice’ initiative was both innovative and very successful. Both students and staff reported that they benefitted enormously from the day and it was a useful way to showcase the college as a ‘hub’ within the community. The initiative also reinforced the college’s principles of listening to others and respecting their views. More than 300 people attended the day. Students were able to ask questions that could not easily be addressed by their parents, peers or staff. It was also an excellent learning opportunity, as students learnt about the challenges faced by people due to their faiths or cultures. There was also a range of publications available about the different faiths and cultures celebrated during the day, including Islam, Judaism, Buddhism and Christianity. For staff, the day resulted in the compilation of a useful resource containing information on the main faiths of the world. The ‘culture and religion information file’ is available on the college staff intranet. While not exhaustive, it is nevertheless a very useful tool for staff to consult in their work with students and colleagues from different backgrounds and with different faiths. Staff can also enhance their learning through extensive continuing professional development materials, which support their discussions with students about faiths and cultures.
Links to legal requirements and other equality areas The ‘Single Voice’ event shows how the college is helping staff and students understand the links between ethnicity and faith, and how it is bringing together different cultures in a way that helps promote community cohesion. Promoting good relations in this way helps the college to meet its legal obligations under the third strand of the Race Equality Duty, as set out in the Race Relations Act 1976 (as amended). Any feedback from events like this should also be taken into consideration when undertaking equality impact assessments. By producing leaflets and guidelines about different faiths and beliefs, the college is actively promoting diversity and understanding amongst staff and students. This can be considered an approach to avoiding discriminatory acts and as such meets the legal requirements of the Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003.
Next steps The college plans to continue hosting ‘voices events’ for staff and students in order to discover their views and provide a platform to discuss and debate different viewpoints and faiths. It also intends to hold future events to promote and encourage greater social cohesion in the local community.
“This is a good example of community cohesion and the link to faith and belief. The involvement of all groups – staff, students and the community – is particularly good, as is the explanation of input from staff and student consultations.” “This example shows how providers can take forward issues such as the need to promote good relations between different groups and community cohesion in an engaging and constructive way.” The Workforce Race Advisory Group
Provider contact Saaika Mubeen Professional Development and Diversity Manager Blackburn College S.Mubeen@blackburn.ac.uk Find out more about the work of The Workforce Race Advisory Group: www.lluk.org/3151.htm. RW09/09/200910.021
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