Plymouth Centre for Faiths & Cultural Diversity

Plymouth Centre for Faiths and Cultural Diversity at Twenty - still building bridges

Jonathan Marshall MBE Centre Consultant – September 2021

Twenty years ago people from different faith communities across the city, together with local Councillors, Council officials and School representatives, opened the Plymouth Centre for Faith and Cultural Diversity on the Salisbury Road school site. Growing from an Interfaith group, this would create a new resource base for the city and especially for our schools.

The central aim remains; to promote education about different beliefs, faiths and cultures and to explore their common values, hopes and visions for the future well-being of the community.

Coincidentally, our opening came just days after the terrible and terrifying attacks on the twin towers and other targets in America, which changed the world forever. Anti Muslim feeling ran high and local Muslim communities and individuals were fearful and anxious. Tension was already running high following disturbances and riots in a number of northern cities and towns earlier that summer.

The Centre’s approach, to build bridges of respect and understanding, therefore, seemed timely. Bringing people together is always vital.. Training courses for professionals, exploring the impact of belief, faith and culture in the work place, were soon underway and programmes of events and celebrations enabled people to meet from across traditional boundaries.

Central to this work remain the visits to schools, by Centre speakers, drawn from a wide range of Plymouth’s faith and cultural communities. From six to eighteen years of age, school pupils meet local people who are different! Visits to local places of worship are also organised, with Plymouth’s famous and historic synagogue and PIETY (Plymouth Islamic Education Trust) being the most popular.

Trevor Phillips, when Chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said;

“We seem to be living in a time when certain groups of people are only too quick and eager to believe the very worst about another group of people.” Part of the solution, he suggested, was to, “engage in a thousand conversations.” Over the past twenty years the Centre has created many thousands of conversations, in schools and across the community.

Teachers report that the impact of such visits have a profound effect on the children who may initially be apprehensive in meeting someone who may look and sound different and who may follow an unfamiliar religion and culture. But by the end of the sessions “they” are no longer seen to be so different as common values and issues are explored and a deeper knowledge and mutual understanding unfolds about “us”.

It is a simple process but one which takes a great deal of time, involving careful selection and training of speakers. Prior to the pandemic, the Centre was organising and delivering around four hundred such visits to schools and places of worship each year! Big work for a small charity which has often struggled financially.

The Centre is unique across the south west and, we believe, nationally too. Supporting and extending learning opportunities for children is a major contribution, not only to their religious studies but to their spiritual and cultural understanding as well, preparing them for life in Britain, today. Reminding ourselves and our young people of our shared values is crucial because contained within them is that timeless wisdom, those universal principles by which we come to understand who we are and what matters most.

The work in schools has grown exponentially and now takes priority. Recently re-located to premises, kindly provided on the Plymouth University of Marjons campus, what of the future? Old challenges remain but new ones have arisen too. Ideologies, which seek to divide us into smaller and smaller, fixed, identity groups are gaining ground across society. Such radical approaches threaten to divide us along the very lines that Dr. Martin Luther King and so many others fought to overcome. So it is a time for us to dig deeper into the rich and varied spiritual traditions to which we are heirs. We owe it to our children.

Over a fifteen year period, the Centre also facilitated the visits, to Plymouth schools, of Solly Irving, a Jewish holocaust survivor from London. Solly spoke to over thirty thousand Plymouth students; sharing his powerful testimony of unimaginable cruelty and inhumanity. He always ended with these words, which continue to serve as an inspiration for our work today:

“When you go out into the world try to be friends with people, especially those who appear to be different; talk to them and respect them, even though their beliefs may be different. After all, we are all part of the same human family, aren’t we? Try to create a better world than the one I had to endure.”

 

 

Printed article on Plymouth Herald
This article is also published on a local newspaper, Plymouth Herald on 11th September 2021

 

PCFCD Photo Gallery – our 20 years