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23rd January 2018

BBC Panorama urged by Bishops and Dean to return to Blackburn for 'full story'

Senior Anglican clergy in Lancashire say last night’s BBC Panorama programme ‘White Fright’ does not paint an accurate picture of the northern town of Blackburn.

They say that missing from the report was any representation of what trhe faith communities – including the Diocese of Blackburn and Blackburn Cathedral - are doing together to address community cohesion, both directly and with our partners such as the local council.

Speaking today the Bishop of Blackburn, Rt Rev Julian Henderson, said: “There are challenges of course, but Blackburn is not unique in that regard and we are involved in many initiatives where people from different backgrounds live, work, play and associate together.

“We engage together on topics of mutual interest at our active Anglican/Muslim forum. The Prevent agenda, specifically mentioned in the Panorama programme last night, was discussed at length at our most recent gathering.

“The town also has an active Inter-Faith Forum with representatives from the Diocese, local Muslims and other faiths in Blackburn.

“Our Cathedral meanwhile has a long history of effective community cohesion work which has attracted national attention. Plans for a fresh approach towards presence and engagement (P&E) * work at the Cathedral are also under discussion and a new Canon Missioner with P&E expertise was recently appointed.

“We also have a number of ‘P&E parishes’ in the town (where the local community has 10% or more population of other faiths) and these parishes are making a real difference.

“The Diocese and Cathedral didn’t get the chance to take part in this documentary, so I urge the Panorama team to visit Blackburn again soon and tell the full story of what is happening here. We will be happy to speak to them.”

Bishop Julian was joined by Rt Rev Philip North in speaking up for Blackburn. Bishop Philip, who is the Bishop of Burnley, said: “The programme contained a number of grave misunderstandings, one of the most serious of which involved ‘faith schools’.

“Many of our Church of England schools in Blackburn are in fact beacons of healthy community integration. In some of our church schools in Blackburn they have a majority of Muslim pupils and this provides a forum for cultures and faiths to learn from each other.

“Blackburn also has numerous faith leaders, community leaders, councillors, teachers and activists who are passionate about cohesion and who are building bridges between communities.

“It was a great pity that so few of these voices were heard in last night’s documentary.”

Meanwhile the Dean of Blackburn, The Very Rev Peter Howell-Jones, added his voice saying: “The Cathedral took part in the first Panorama documentary in 2007 and would have been delighted to do so again.

“I joined the team here less than a year ago and my wife and I now live in the centre of the town in Clergy Court – the Cathedral extension which opened in 2016.

“Engagement with our Muslim neighbours in the town is straightforward and the Cathedral itself is at the centre of driving forward community cohesion work, with initiatives such as our Cathedral/Mosque programme which brings together young people from our schools to create better understanding of our faiths.

“We will continue to work closely with our Muslim neighbours and those from other faiths in the years to come. We also have exciting plans for the future in relation to our P&E work which we will announce in due course.”

* Presence and Engagement is the Church of England's national programme equipping Christians for mission and ministry in the diversity of our multi-faith society.

Community cohesion examples: 

  • An example of the ‘presence and engagement’ parishes Bishop Julian refers to is St Stephen’s in Blackburn where Rev. Canon Arun John has been running his ‘Pilgrim Project’, helping to promote understanding between faiths including a training course in understanding Islam for both clergy and laity in the Diocese.
  • Meanwhile Rev. Sheelagh Aston at St Silas’ Church in Blackburn (another presence and engagement church) recently worked with the Archdeacon of Blackburn, Mark Ireland, to hold a ‘reflection day’ attended by equal numbers of Muslims and Christians from the town. The purpose of the day was to get to know one another better and to promote friendship, respect and trust and was a joint collaboration in all aspects, including catering. Speaking afterwards Archdeacon Mark commented: “The gathering was a moving theological encounter, which I believe has done much to draw together residents from communities in the West Blackburn/Beardwood area.
  • There is an active Anglican/Muslim forum which meets regularly (one venue being Bishop’s House in Salesbury). This is an opportunity for Anglican and Muslim leaders from Blackburn to get together and discuss current issues while sharing a meal.
  • There is a Diocesan Inter-Faith Adviser (Andy Pratt) who is very active in promoting the importance of inter-faith working and community cohesion across Lancashire including Blackburn.
  • The Blackburn Inter-Faith Forum was launched in December 1999 and since then has worked continuously to build stronger links between faith communities and to promote community cohesion and social inclusion within Blackburn with Darwen.
  • The Cathedral runs a Mosque/Cathedral programme with local schools touring the building to find out more about it and the work it does. Reciprocal visits to local mosques also take place. There are also regular exchange visits between local mosques and parish churches in Blackburn.
  • As mentioned by the Dean in the main release above, plans are in the early stages of discussion for a new approach in relation to the Cathedral’s presence and engagement work and the Cathedral recently appointed a new Canon Missioner with P&E experience.
  • The ‘Near Neighbours Programme’ organised through ‘Together Lancashire’, an organisation which is supported by the Diocese of Blackburn, began in September 2017 in Blackburn and does two things: funds smaller groups which specifically work to bring local communities together to take part in activities and promotes discussion between the two faiths about similarities and differences.
  • Then there is ‘Catalyst’ (part of the Near Neighbours Programme) a young leaders’ programme for people aged 16-25. Catalyst begins in 2018 and aims to give young people a better understanding of each other and assist them in working more closely together to their mutual benefit and the benefit of the wider community.