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HOPE not hate

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Cycling the Path of Hope

posted by: Nick Elverston | on: Friday, 22 July 2016, 09:49

Nick Elverston as he prepares to cycle 400km

Nick Elverston as he prepares to cycle 400km

Audax (Latin for “endeavour”) is a non-competitive sport in which participants cycle long distances, unsupported, within a pre-defined time limit: completion is success. There are no winners, losers or rankings.

In the light of recent events, my brother William and I decided to combine an Audax with fundraising for HOPE not hate and its new #MoreInCommon campaign. 400km around the landing sites and battlefields of Normandy seemed a suitable, silent, elegy to what can happen when the politics of hate are allowed to take over.

The rules of the event required a finish within 27 hours. A 5am start on Saturday morning dictated a finish by 8am on Sunday morning. As someone who is generally not a morning person, neither time filled me with deep joy. Cycling significantly further in one go than I have done before was also the cause of some trepidation.

The event was organised by the wonderfully named Cyclo Club de Montebourg St Germain de Tournebut. We were greeted at their club house (formally the local firemen’s garage) by the “gentil organisateur” Stéphane Gibon and his father, both wearing club shirts sponsored by the local bovine podiatrist and both bearing cups of coffee. Friendly greetings with the other 30 riders and we were off.

Reminders of June 1944

The early stages of a ride, in the dark with red tail-lights snaking through the countryside, always have something magical about them.

We soon came upon the first reminder of the terrible days of June 1944, in the shape of the 16 gun emplacements and bunkers of Crisbecq. These were followed by many other sites of historical significance: Utah beach, Omaha beach, Gold beach, Pegasus Bridge and too many “martyr” villages, which were raised to the ground (often by the Allied bombardment).

The contrast between the beautiful, peaceful, landscapes of Normandy and the echoes of the horrors that so many people, including the local civilian population, suffered was marked.

The remains of 10,152 dead lie beneath some 4,000 grave stones in the German war cemetery of Orglandes

The remains of 10,152 dead lie beneath some 4,000 grave stones in the German war cemetery of Orglandes

Our suffering was minimal by comparison, but long rides require constant food and water, failing which the body just stalls or, possibly worse, given the temperatures of over 33 degrees on the day, develops heat exhaustion.

Fortunately, the countryside towns and villages of Normandy are well provided for, with boulangeries for restocking on the go… Five other riders, however, succumbed to the rigours of the day and did not finish.

One feature of Audax rides tends to be running into fellow, slightly, mad riders – we were playing catch-up and leapfrog, with a group of wiry, athletic, retirees and a lone biker on a mountain bike. The other feature is the need to just keep going, something I find particularly hard when tempted to stop and take in the view (or possibly a glass of rosé…).

However, keep going we did, managing to finish within 20 hours and thus being able to treat ourselves to a beer and an inflatable mattress in the club house/garage – sleep punctuated by the arrival of fellow travellers throughout the night.

Major emotions

For me the day came with two major emotions. First, a real sense of achievement at having gone further than I have done before (without major physical issues, other than a nasty spot of sunburn where I missed applying sun cream). And second, a huge sense of sadness engendered by the history I was cycling through.

The remains of 10,152 dead lie beneath some 4,000 grave stones in the German war cemetery of Orglandes. Growing-up, for me, these people were the faceless “baddies” who started it all and deserved to lose. Now I realise most of them were too young to have even chosen the regime they were dying for.

Two resolutions: to keep cycling and to stay engaged; or to try, at least, to engender a sense of hope to help guide us away from the path of helplessness, a path that can lead to extremism, terror and totalitarianism.

In the end, we are both proud to have raised over £1,500 for HOPE not hate and are still open for further sponsorship.

Exhausted but happy

Exhausted but happy

Nick Elverston is a lawyer, active in digital, telecoms and media affairs. When not lawyering, Nick spends his time cycling, practising full contact knock-down karate (badly) and has a yearning for his days as bassist with punk”a’billy band electrocuting elvis.

 Posted: 22 Jul 2016 | There are 0 comments | make a comment/view comments

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My first #MoreInCommon meeting: Sheffield

posted by: Andy Burrows | on: Wednesday, 13 July 2016, 11:09

It's always awkward walking into an unknown group isn't it? Generally my mind whizzes through every permutation possible. Will they be friendly? Will it be stern and serious? Will I fidget to the point that people think I have a medical condition?

Well I needn't have worried, those fears turned out to be as real as Donald Trump's hair. The first meeting of the Sheffield HOPE not hate group on Thursday 7 July turned out to be a success.

The first thing that struck me as I entered the room was the number of people present. Now I know that suggests a dim view of humanity on my part, but given how we as a nation have been portrayed in the media lately, who can blame me? The room was packed! It restored some faith to see so many people, giving up their time for the benefit of the community at large.

We took our seats in a circle. No-one looked too intimidating, there were a lot of smiling faces, a grown-up mother and daughter duo, a young couple with their children, some people looking as uncertain as myself. So far so good.

First off came "Creeping Death”: I mean going around the circle introducing yourself to the group at large. I spluttered out my name and quickly hit a verbal dead end. I was interested to note the diversity within the group. Local counsellors, community development professionals, teachers, lecturers, small business owners, students and first timers like myself. All motivated to come and stand up to the upsurge in racism our recent Brexit vote had engendered.

Once the introductions were over, Paul [the group leader] explained our objectives. A natural speaker, confident with an easy humour, he drew us in with an ease that I thought most politicians would envy.

‘We have more in common’

HOPE not hate is organising a series of events across the UK on 3 September, on the theme of "We Have More In Common". For those unfamiliar with the quote, it was lifted from the maiden Parliamentary speech given by the murdered MP Jo Cox. She was a fine woman who represented her constituency in Batley with courage and conviction.

First came our shared stories. There was no shortage of tales to be told, then suggestions on how to achieve our goals. We could provide training within schools or other venues to empower individuals to safely challenge racism. Others suggested linking with local festivals to get our messages across. or creating literature with striking imagery to disseminate across the city, or even theatrical pieces to explore given scenarios. There was no shortage of good ideas, but that was for future meetings.

Looking back on the hour-and-a-half that flew by, I realised a couple of things. I'd been thinking of Christopher Isherwood lately, wondering how it felt to be in his shoes as he observed the country around him – Germany in the 1930s – become gripped by terrible antisemitism and racism? Did it feel the same then as it does now? Disenfranchised people driven by austerity and a hate-filled media to target groups of people who were not to blame? Was history repeating itself to some extent?

Yes and no. He was a passive observer, and there were few such groups as the people before me now, who were willing to stand up to such hate with a better message.

Oh: and I also realised that I'd sat there engrossed for 90 minutes. Not fidgeting at all.

 Posted: 13 Jul 2016 | There are 1 comments | make a comment/view comments

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#MoreInCommon Nottingham

posted by: Jemma Levene | on: Wednesday, 13 July 2016, 00:20

Held in a packed room in Nottingham, it was clear from the meeting that post referendum social rifts had shocked Nottinghamshire residents.

Stories of members of the migrants’ communities – European and non-European, first generation and fourth – all suffering from a dramatic rise in hate directed at them in the street abounded. Families feeling unwelcome in their homes and community asked what could we do to support them.

On top of this was a desire to repair the social damage following Brexit, to put the vote behind us and to rebuild relationships. HOPE not hate (Hnh) listened and will now be putting on a community training event on 21 July in Nottingham city centre.

The training addresses two main issues that people wanted help with. Firstly, how to challenge racism in the street and, secondly, how to develop some basic community organising skills. The sessions will be focusing around a technique called the "Story of Us", a tool used in many civil rights campaigns. We will be aiming to train 60 new volunteers.

 Posted: 13 Jul 2016 | There are 0 comments | make a comment/view comments

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#MoreInCommon Thurrock

posted by: Jemma Levene | on: Wednesday, 13 July 2016, 00:19

Thurrock has, for many years, been at the forefront of Hnh’s campaigning work. With UKIP now the official opposition on the local council and the social fallout following the EU referendum, it is ever more important to offer the local residents alternative messages to fear and xenophobic finger- pointing.

At a #MoreInCommon meeting in Grays on 7 July,it was clear from those attending that Thurrock felt distant from the mainstream course of events.

For many residents, the lack of good job prospects and cuts in vital local services have left growing anger and resentment. It is clear that people feel politicians are not listening to their concerns, leaving a vacuum filled by UKIP, mixing up people's genuine concerns and issues with messages of anti-immigration racism that distract from discussion of real solutions.

At the meeting, it was decided that a local campaign needs to be launched to get people talking about their concerns and to provide understanding that can take them past rhetoric picked up from the right-wing media and get to the heart of their problems.

Therefore, HOPE not hate will be launching friendly community events to get people talking. The plan is to holding welcoming community-rooted events away from offices and meeting rooms and go into the heart of neighbourhoods. Informal BBQs and chats over a cuppa on the very streets that need Hnh’s message more than ever before will help get things moving. These conversations will then shape the future of the Thurrock campaign.

 Posted: 13 Jul 2016 | There are 0 comments | make a comment/view comments

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#MoreInCommon Swansea

posted by: Jemma Levene | on: Wednesday, 13 July 2016, 00:19

Thirty-five people from a variety of different backgrounds met in Swansea to discuss the aftermath of the referendum. Pleasingly, people who had voted Leave and Remain were united by a desire to challenge hatred.

The common theme was to explore how to build on the amazing success of Wales’ run in the European Football Championships and combine efforts across the town for a major event.

There was interest in the need to campaign among disaffected people in the community, particularly the young, and the local Hnh group will be meeting again soon to thrash out details of its planned events and actions.

 Posted: 13 Jul 2016 | There are 0 comments | make a comment/view comments

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#MoreInCommon Merthyr Tydfil

posted by: Jemma Levene | on: Wednesday, 13 July 2016, 00:18

Our first meeting in Merthyr led to some exciting developments and the beginning of a local Hnh presence. Led by our Merthyr organiser, we will be working hard over the next few months in the South Wales Valleys.

Merthyr is a town built through migration and those present discussed ways of celebrating and articulating this tradition and, in particular, how to turn the tide against UKIP.

 Posted: 13 Jul 2016 | There are 0 comments | make a comment/view comments

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#MoreInCommon Manchester

posted by: Jemma Levene | on: Wednesday, 13 July 2016, 00:18

Almost 40 people attended a lively meeting in Manchester. All but two of those attending were new to Hnh and most voiced a determination that they could no longer sit by and watch our social problems grow.

The meeting broke into four groups, each discussing local actions plans for their communities.

A six-person committee has been set up to drive activities forward and more localised Hnh meetings will now take place in Stockport, Rochdale and Salford. An activist from Blackburn also volunteered to help set up a group there.

 Posted: 13 Jul 2016 | There are 0 comments | make a comment/view comments

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#MoreInCommon Southend

posted by: Jemma Levene | on: Wednesday, 13 July 2016, 00:17

Over 60 Southend residents gave up their Monday evening to make their way to the Westcliffe URC to discuss what can be done in the wake of the social divisions that have arisen post-Brexit.

The first half of the meeting was open to people to talk about their feelings and concern in the “new normal” of British politics.

Stories were shared of local European residents packing their bags and heading back to their country of origin, leaving behind their jobs and uprooting their children who probably only know of life in Essex.

However, it was not all doom and gloom. A great desire was reflected from the minority population in Southend to pull together and establish community action plans. A gardening group called “Blooming Foreigners” is just one of a number of initiatives that have already been set up.

Those at the meeting seemed keen to organise fora to share experiences and rebuild community links, with a local clergyman keen to stress the need to not just speak to like-minded people but also to those with concerns about immigration. A massive thank you to friends at CAST for hosting the meeting!

 Posted: 13 Jul 2016 | There are 0 comments | make a comment/view comments

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#MoreInCommon Colchester

posted by: Jemma Levene | on: Monday, 11 July 2016, 23:23

6 July

One of our biggest More In Common meetings so far, Colchester saw a turnout of 50 people, so even our first meeting felt like a celebration of the great community we live in! Plans have now begun to run a community picnic in the near future, as well as a music event and working with local Citizens group on a large fun day in October, as well as an exciting idea to film local people’s lives in what may be a long term project.

 Posted: 11 Jul 2016 | There are 2 comments | make a comment/view comments

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#MoreInCommon Ipswich

posted by: Jemma Levene | on: Monday, 11 July 2016, 23:20

Photo:  John Fielding

Photo: John Fielding

4 July

Our initial More In Common meeting in Ipswich was an opportunity to come together and share ideas for bringing communities together in the local area.

Plans for the next few months include running a food event on Norwich Road, involving all communities in fun days organised by councils, contacting the Student Union of Suffolk College to run projects in the next academic year, and working with a new BAME business network in Ipswich.

Loads of energy and excitement about the future in Ipswich!

 Posted: 11 Jul 2016 | There are 1 comments | make a comment/view comments

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#More In Common York

posted by: Paul Meszaros | on: Friday, 8 July 2016, 14:51

Photo Jimmy Guano

Photo Jimmy Guano

A vibrant meeting of over 30 people came together in York last night as part of the national HOPE not hate #More In Common initiative.

A really broad mix of people, from varied backgrounds, both young and older, resolved to set up a HOPE not hate group in York. Everyone was concerned about the rising levels of racism and racist assaults and all were determined to make sure that a voice of hope was raised in York, to show solidarity with the victims of racism, but also to work with those who may be vulnerable to racist ideologies.

A particular feature of the meeting was the number of people in attendance who in the past have followed HOPE not hate on line but who now want to do more.

As a result of this HOPE not hate can report that a #More In Common event will be held in York on September 3rd as well as leafleting and other activities leading up to it.

Many different ideas about possible future work in the city were suggested and discussed and the group resolved to meet again in the near future to start planning.

 Posted: 8 Jul 2016 | There are 1 comments | make a comment/view comments

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#MoreInCommon Cambridge

posted by: Elisabeth Pop | on: Friday, 8 July 2016, 13:06

Cambridge is one of the most diverse cities in UK, so it was a perfect place to hold a #MoreInCommon meeting.

Meeting together for the first time, people were able to share their dismay at some of the racism that has been stirred up since the Referendum result. Breaking into small groups, people brainstormed on finding ways to share the HOPE and togetherness that are synonymous with Cambridge. Exciting plans ensued, including planning a family fun day in Arbury, one of the most deprived wards in Cambridge. Due to take place in September, the event will focus around 5-a-side football, sharing food and bringing together white working class members of the community with their ethnic minority and migrant neighbours.

The group also agreed to reach out to the wider community in Huntingdon and work out how best to organise a solidarity event after members of the Polish community were targeted with “No more Polish vermin” hate messages.

The time to celebrate the fact that we have #MoreInCommon and to heal divisions is now! There is no sitting on the fence, each and every one of us has a role to play!

 Posted: 8 Jul 2016 | There are 0 comments | make a comment/view comments

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Eid 2016 – More in Common

posted by: Rabbi Dr Harvey Belovski | on: Thursday, 7 July 2016, 08:28

Guest blog: Rabbi Dr Harvey Belovski’s account of celebrating Eid with friends

It was a memorable evening in the Kent countryside. My wife Vicki, our two younger sons and Richard Verber (senior vice-president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews) joined the fabulously irrepressible Remona Aly and her family and other guests at their open-house Eid celebration this past Wednesday.

Delicious fruit, kosher snacks sourced specially for the occasion and gracious hospitality were enhanced by the Alys’ charming garden and some warm weather. My two boys romped in the garden and tried out the hammock (I discovered to some amusement that I was too heavy for it) and we all very much enjoyed the relaxed company.

We built on existing friendships, embarked on new ones, ate a lot of fruit and just had a jolly good laugh. I loved the fact that while we were in the garden, inside the house, Wales competed with Wimbledon in different rooms (who should get the larger TV?), and I discovered that the ‘Muslim goodbye’ is similar to the ‘Jewish goodbye’, just longer and less conclusive! Vicki and I particularly appreciated the opportunity to enjoy Remona’s company at her family home rather than ours, and, inexplicably, her family were as keen to meet us as we were to meet them.

I’m particularly pleased that my kids had a chance to share the experience – they even stopped bashing each other for a short while to play with Remona’s nieces – and I expect they will give their school friends a good report of a rather unusual outing.

Shared experiences of this sort are a wonderful way to discover how much we have in common with each other. It was hard not to equate this part of the Alys’ Eid celebration with similar Jewish family occasions, nor to notice our parallel family structures. But most importantly, sharing food and quality time, especially in the home of those who practise a faith different from our own, is an unparalleled way to break down barriers of prejudice and fear and to recognise that we have far more in common with each other than factors that divide us.

The faith community narrative in the UK is so often dominated by tales of conflict and spite, and while we will respond robustly to those who spread hatred and divisiveness, we must emphasise that our values and aspirations for our children, our communities and our country are largely shared.

 Posted: 7 Jul 2016 | There are 1 comments | make a comment/view comments