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A community that talks together stays together


“O people, We created you from male and female and made you communities and tribes that you may come to know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of God is the most righteous. God Knows all and is Aware of everything.” (Qur’an, 49:13)

There are many ingredients that go into building a resilient community, and one of the key concerns has been around cohesion, integration and diversity. If people don’t know each other, or don’t talk to each other, it’s likely that trust will wane, especially where communities have adapted over the years due to migration and population change.

But where are the opportunities for people to meet in a safe space where local issues can be raised and discussed? Where people can air concerns without such sentiments being dismissed?

‘Real People, Honest Talk’ is a new strand of work through which Near Neighbours aims to create public spaces for honest talk about difference and how we live together well. It works to bring people together to engage in conversation, and subsequent action, around difficult and sensitive topics of concern in a locality.

This addresses key issues raised in the Casey Report on social integration in 2016 - the difficulty of creating honest dialogue at community level about how we live together, how things around us may be changing, how we cope with differences and what impact this all has on us. It also brings to light the consequence this has on social cohesion.

The programme creates a safe and open space where everyday people, not just ‘community leaders’ can be open and honest about their anxieties and aspirations. These small conversations and exchanges are diffusing some of the misunderstandings that can do so much damage in local communities. But its not just about talk, these discussions are leading to ideas for very local solutions – having come together to talk about concerns, neighbours are planning to get together to see what difference they can make to their locality. Project ideas are bubbling away and after three small meetings in their neighbourhood residents will come together in a big meeting at town level where they get to meet across the groups and address their concerns to local authority representatives and other local leaders.

While the groups are very different in each area – bringing together a hugely diverse mix of people – there are some common concerns that seem to be emerging. There is frustration with local services closing down or being inadequate, people feeling ignored and marginalised, crime, drugs and litter on the streets. Some groups have discussed immigration and how newer communities could be integrated better into communities. The reassuring news is that despite having differences, and sometimes difficult conversations, local residents have such an intense pride in their neighbourhood and they want to work together to lift up their local community.

As a Muslim interested in social cohesion, integration and issues around modern Muslim identity, I really feel that, at a time when there seems to be so much anxiety around belonging and finding solidarity amidst all the divisions, Real People, Honest Talk is a vital part of the solution to building stronger, more resilient communities.

Dilwar 7c

Dilwar Hussain

Dilwar Hussain is an academic researcher and policy consultant, with primary research interests in social policy, Muslim identity and Islamic reform in the modern world. He is a Research Fellow at the Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations at Coventry University and Lecturer at the University of Leicester. Dilwar is founding Chair of New Horizons in British Islam, a charity that works on Muslim identity, integration and reform and was Vice Chair of the Holocaust Memorial trust (2015-18) and President of the Islamic Society of Britain (2011-13).

Dilwar was an advisor to Near Neighbours and helped to develop the Real People Honest Talk programme.

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