Commons Gate

Social cohesion

ODPM Committee 3 Feb 2004

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Evidence given by Frank Maguire, Headmaster, Emmaus School, Liverpool; Raja Miah, Senior Officer, Peacemaker, and David Holloway, Non-Executive Director, Tolerance in Diversity; Mary McKee, Chief Executive, Groundwork Northern Ireland, Seamus McAleavey, Chief Executive and Frances McCandless, Director of Policy, Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Action; Chris Bain, National Development Manager, and Helena Herklots, Head of Policy, Age Concern England.

Q511 Mr. David Clelland: It is obvious from your evidence that you are proud of your school's academic successes and so you should be. How do you achieve a balance in the classroom between the attainment of pure academic standards and an awareness of all the different communities in our increasingly diverse and complex society?

Mr Maguire: Firstly, there is complete unity between the two denominations in the class, so all the children are educated together in collective worship in assemblies and everything else. We do also introduce the children to other faiths by visits to synagogues and to mosques and we have people who come in and talk about Judaism and other such things. We try to bring in multi-cultural aspects to all of their studies and introduce them to successful and responsible black and ethnic minority role models throughout the curriculum.

Q512 Mr. David Clelland: Are you able to measure how successful your efforts have been in order to get your Christian children to understand other faiths and to accept other faiths?

Mr Maguire: I would say it is difficult to measure that. On the behavioural aspect and how children inter-relate with each other, it seems to be very successful.

Q513 Mr. David Clelland: It "seems" to be successful. How do you know? If you cannot measure that, how do you know?

Mr Maguire: We do not have any racist incidents at all that I can recall. Children like each other well. In simple terms, they work well with each other and respect each other. Nothing has ever been brought to my attention where someone has referred to another person from another background in any derogatory fashion. We introduce children to good role models from other areas and we have not had anything at all which has been a problem in that area.

Q514 Mr. David Clelland: When the school was set up, did it affect the other schools, particularly perhaps with falling rolls in the area?

Mr Maguire: One of the reasons the school was so long in coming into being was because the Liverpool City Council were loath to open a new school at all, because they said it would affect the contraction in numbers round about. The children were actually travelling to 64 different schools before the school was opened, so it seemed reasonable, if you had to travel, three, four, maybe five or six miles to a school, that you should have one of your own. It was only because of the working party, which was led by the Church of England vicar and a Roman Catholic priest, that the archdiocese picked up the baton and ran with it. Only later on, when permission was granted for a school by the DfES, did the City Council give some form of backing to it. Two schools were affected directly by the opening of the school: one about three miles away and one in another education authority where parents had actually driven to take their children. Now things seem to have settled down into a normal situation.


Q559 Mr. David Clelland: Are you saying that voluntary organisations such as your own are the best agencies to deal with the problems of social cohesion, or are you saying these things ought to be the responsibility of the mainstream services?

Mr Miah: The responsibility is shared, but the leadership should come from the local authorities in the towns where we operate.

Mr Holloway: Ideally they would, but what you get is people like me, probably Raja as well, and other people, putting loads and loads of voluntary effort in because we have a passion, because we believe that things are wrong and we have seen so many things going wrong. Very few people actually support us in that. I cannot get a lot of money to support the work I do. Ideally it is mainstream services and it is mainstream services backing that up. If the voluntary sector within a community has an understanding of what is going on, they should be funding it. If they have expertise, they should be funded. Ideally it is mainstream services because that is where the bigger money is. It is not mainstream in Tower Hamlets, where you would think it would be. We do not get funding from the Connexions organisation, which is the biggest funder in the area. We do not get funding through the Youth Service. You would have thought this was bread and butter for those people. Slightly more is done in the northern towns than is done in London in that way, certainly when I have worked up there. Even so, it should be a mainstream Youth Service issue, it should be a mainstream Connexions service issue.

Q560 Mr. David Clelland: Rather than you having a bigger budget to deal with these problems it ought to be the mainstream organisations.

Mr Holloway: In the round it should be mainstream organisations and then it really happens.

Mr Miah: You could give me millions of pounds and I would still be here in ten years' time. I would still be doing what I am doing in ten years' time if the mainstream organisations do not pick it up.

Q561 Mr. David Clelland: Both of your organisations go into schools and you are making a positive contribution there towards social cohesion, but does this work become part of the schools' agenda, or should it and could it become part of the schools' agenda?

Mr Miah: The schools we go into do not have the skills to make it part of the main agenda. In all honesty, that is why we are allowed to go into those schools.


Q592 Mr. David Clelland: Despite all the work you and others are doing divisions are still intractable, are they not? How much impact can the voluntary sector have on these problems?

Mr McAleavey: There has been significant impact in that one of the things we have done over the last 30 years has been to provide a shared neutral space. We are not neutral in that our sector has lots to say on political, social and economic issues and how they affect communities in Northern Ireland. We have tried to maintain a space which is open to people from a Nationalist or a Unionist background. One of the things which has happened is that people did share ideas. In the early 1990s our organisation supported work called community development in Protestant areas where some of the Protestant working class areas in Belfast began to look at how they were behind the equivalent Catholic working class areas. Quite a lot of information and experience was shared. Some of the people who involved themselves in that actually then involved themselves in what became the Loyalist ceasefires. I think some development took place there and people could see that there was reasonable commonality and they tried to draw on that experience. Quite a lot of sharing goes on now, even though we still have this political division between whether people are pro union with Great Britain or pro a United Ireland. There is still quite a lot of sharing and some of the worst aspects of the troubles have been moderated. That is not to say there have not been some really bad cases, like Holy Cross, which have taken place since the ceasefires, since the peace process has been developed and they have been incredibly damaging. It does mean that people in those communities do become reinforced in their separate lives, do live separate lives in terms of not knowing each other particularly well at the individual level, yet some of the community leaders are swapping ideas and exchanging things all of the time.

Ms McCandless: There have also been some very, very practical interventions in the voluntary integrated school movement, which came out of the voluntary sector. Those parents mortgaged their houses to set up schools where kids could be integrated together and eventually the state took on the funding of those; integrated play groups for pre-school children and some very practical examples where change has been effected.

Ms McKee: My experience is that you do not wait until those things happen, organisations like ours have to be actively or proactively involved in creating some of the debate. I found the discussion about the faith communities, indeed the Youth Service, to be so interesting because it is one which has been raging on with us for so long. For me the debate is not about the Youth Service, but the provision of youth services. It is best done, believe me, in a community situation. In Northern Ireland we have the largest amount of money invested in the statutory youth services in the world; phenomenally expensive. There has been a lot of research about how that has worked and inevitably if you create big institutions the debate is around salaries, pensions. The debate is about needing more resources rather than concentrating on the ground and working with real young people.

Q593 Mr. David Clelland: Do you think the public sector in general and local authorities in particular rely too heavily on voluntary organisations?

Ms McKee: I have to say I wish they would rely on us more - and I would say that. I wish they would rely on us more, in a mature and grown-up way. We are quite happy in the voluntary sector to have service level agreements, to be contracted in to deliver services. In terms of our role, our role is not mainstream or delivering mainstream services. Our role is about R&D; our role is about taking something and trying it differently, joining up the Youth Service with mental health, with the environment, with racism, sectarianism, and creating something and studying it from the beginning. There is an opportunity, certainly through the Cantle report as well, to begin to try things out in a different way.

Ms McCandless: The state and local government have relied on us heavily to do the difficult and the unpleasant things in areas where services broke down or where communities broke down and certainly the market was not going to go there. It has often been the voluntary and community sectors which have had to step in.

Mr McAleavey: I am not in the least an expert in the Youth Service provision but one of the things I hear from local communities is that it is fairly detached from young people in those most difficult areas of Northern Ireland in Belfast. They would say that there is a greater need for a flexible and very quick response. For instance, a lot of the difficulties arise in the interface areas of North Belfast around July, summertime, for a number of reasons: it is the marching season, in terms of Orange parades, but also the kids are off school. In North Belfast, where our offices are based, local community workers coined the phrase "recreational rioting". The kids take part in riots because they are the most exciting thing around for them to do. You have to displace that, as some of the community workers have said, with high octane activities for kids to be involved in, if you want to divert their attention.

Q594 Chris Mole: A rather unfortunate metaphor to use.

Mr McAleavey: Well chosen in this case. What happens is that nine-year-olds start the riot at the traffic lights in North Queen Street, that quickly becomes sixteen-year-olds, becomes adults, quickly moves from stones to bottles to petrol bombs and sometimes blast bombs and on the odd occasion small arms fire is exchanged. What they are saying is that you want to take the heat out of that situation, you have to start sorting it out at the very lowest levels of those kids. In our submission, we have talked about how community workers have operated a mobile phone scheme, where they do communicate with each other to try to take away all the rumour which goes around about who is attacking who, which sets fire to a lot of these things.

Q595 Mr. David Clelland: What do you need to make your work more effective?

Ms McCandless: We need funding, we need all kinds of things. Northern Ireland needs political consensus or we are always going to be mopping up the damage. We live in a framework, as everyone else does, of the state being where everyone focuses their energy when it comes to voting, when it comes to thinking about their long-term future. What we do on the ground is often despite what is happening at that level, so it is incredibly difficult. What we need most of all is a consensus into which our politicians can buy and in which they can show leadership and we can get on with doing what it is we need to do, which is repairing the damage, otherwise we are just a sticking plaster every time.

Ms McKee: I would agree. Our sector has some of the frustrations. When I mentioned R&D, the downside of that is that we front-load the risk, we front-load the personal safety risk, we front-load the reputational risk when things go wrong, very often we front-load the financial risk. What we need in Northern Ireland, certainly for our work, is more leadership and more leadership in the absence of politicians, more leadership perhaps from civil servants to do things differently, perhaps to look at partnership in a very, very different way, not just commission us to do things, but be a partner and think them through. Does this actually work? If it does not work and there are lessons which need to be learned, then we must not be left carrying the can. We are not going to have the Audit Commission chasing us because we did not spend two pence or £10.

Mr McAleavey: One of the key things which is probably needed, regardless of the political situation, is more integration in terms of how government approaches these things. We point out that quite a lot of the responses do not sit well within a particular department's budget or an agency or wherever. The most difficult thing of all is to get a corporate response from government and we need to find better ways. People keep talking about joined-up government, but we need to find better ways of approaching some of these problems which engage people in partnership rather than keep talking about partnership, but cracking it is a different thing.


Q600 Mr. David Clelland: What about the mix at work? How many Catholics to Protestants, in percentage terms, work in your organisations? Do you know?

Ms McKee: We are 50/50.

Ms McCandless: Half and half. We do know, because we have to monitor that very closely. It is a legal requirement.

Q601 Mr. David Clelland: You are half and half.

Ms McKee: More or less.


Q621 Mr. David Clelland: Do you think local authorities do enough to promote social cohesion through projects involving older people?

Ms Herklots: The experience is very patchy. In some areas there certainly is a commitment and one of the programmes which has helped that to some degree is the Better Government for the People programme, which government has supported, which set up a number of pilot projects across the country, with the aim of consulting and involving older people in the development of services and in planning for ageing populations. It is patchy and part of the problem there is sometimes the funding regime. Quite often they may be funding for new and exciting projects but quite often local voluntary organisations then struggle to find continuation funding. Funders will typically like something which is new, but funding for sustained involvement of older people and projects can be difficult. We believe one of the things that local authorities could do, which would be very valuable not only to older people, but to local areas more generally, is to develop strategies for ageing populations which look across the age spectrum and really plan ahead for the way in which their local communities may change over the coming years.

Q622 Mr. David Clelland: Would you also look across gender balance and ethnic minorities? When we went to Oldham we visited some luncheon clubs which tended to be the women's luncheon club or the men's luncheon club or various ethnic minorities. How can we bring in a bit more cohesion in terms of older people's activities?

Mr Bain: We talked earlier on about capacity building for older people to enable them to participate and indeed for other excluded groups, using a primarily community development based approach. I would also argue for capacity building for service providers and for the older people and the other excluded groups to be part of that capacity building, to deliver the training and awareness raising. With that you then start not only to build links, but to build awareness on both sides, because there is an issue amongst older people and older groups about the fact that they do not really understand the very real issues local authorities are facing, in terms of service delivery. If you can get that better understanding on both sides, then you have a more sustainable solution coming out at the end of the process.

Q623 Mr. David Clelland: Do you think there is any mileage in local authorities providing incentives by making it a condition of funding that there is more cohesion, more of a mixture in ethnic groups and the way they work?

Ms Herklots: There is a number of things which local authorities can do, starting at the care level, the commissioning practices of local authorities actually expecting providers of care services to take account of cultural differences and to ensure that the funding is there to employ the right people to take full account of people's religious needs, cultural needs, for example. That is certainly helpful. In terms of their duty to promote the well-being of their local communities, some indicators there about the involvement of older people from different groups would be really helpful. There are not really any incentives in terms of the performance indicators which assist the engagement of older people, so we have a situation where a number of areas are doing it, but there is not really enough policy framework to support that, certainly not in terms of monitoring and indicators.

This is an uncorrected transcript of evidence taken in public and reported to the House. The transcript has been placed on the internet on the authority of the Committee. Neither witnesses nor Members have had the opportunity to correct the record. The transcript is not yet an approved formal record of these proceedings.

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