Thursday, 29 May 2008

Everybody Matters - making Community Cohesion work

I've heard it said that the good thing about losing one's memory is that one gets to meet new friends every day!

Whether that is true or not, I had an extraordinary piece of good fortune when I arrived at the Civic Centre this morning for the sole purpose of treating myself to one of the surprisingly tasty English breakfasts which they serve up in our canteen. For en route to said canteen I encountered a number of Somali ladies and gentlemen, including my good friend Hassan Isse, who naturally assumed that I had
turned up to attend the Annual General Meeting of the Refugee Employment & Training Initiative (RETI), which I had promised to do and to which I had been looking forward very much. But for whatever reason I hadn't noted the date in my diary, and would have missed it but for the call of my rumbling tum.

RETI is an organisation which provides advice and assistance to newly-arrived immigrants and their families with a view to helping them to integrate more easily into British society. Although heavily rooted in the Somali community, it is reaching out to other groups and amongst those I encountered today were Albanians, Kosovans, Nepalese and Tamils. Despite its name it provides services to members of these groups irrespective of whether or not they have attained British citizenship, a fact which has led some members of RETI to question whether the misnomer "Refugee" should now be dropped from its name.

Initiatives such as RETI should provoke healthy debate amongst those of us who hold the view of the current administration at the London Borough of Hounslow that there should be more emphasis on what unites the people of Hounslow, a thoroughly multi-cultural community with over 120 languages spoken, rather than on what divides us. Knowing some of my colleagues within the coalition the instinct might well be, perhaps understandably, to see RETI as being more a product of the old mentality, providing special services for some sections of the community and not for others.

It is worth considering therefore the three foundations on which Community Cohesion is built, according to the Department of Communities and Local Government:
  • People from different backgrounds having similar life opportunities
  • People knowing their rights and responsibilities
  • People trusting one another and trusting local institutions to act fairly
It is the first of these that we need to consider. There is ample evidence to suggest that members of the Somali and many other newly arrived communities are less likely to find employment, less likely to achieve at school and more likely to experience mental health issues than other members of our society, be they from the majority community or from the more settled and established minority groups. Pretending this fact isn't there and not talking about it will not make it any less of a fact. We cannot, at least according to DCLG, achieve cohesion between groups of people who have different life opportunities to one another.

Groups such as RETI aspire to create a level playing field. In other words they want to create conditions within our society which make integration and cohesion more, not less, achievable. To that end I believe they should be supported and encouraged.

I share the revulsion of all my colleagues within the coalition towards the tacky, cynical vote-buying approach which the previous administration took in its support for some elements of the Voluntary Sector. But in our rejection of this approach we need to be clever, and resist the temptation to throw the baby out with the bathwater in the process of making some grand gesture. We should make our support for the Voluntary Sector work for Community Cohesion, just as our predecessors made it work for themselves.

RETI is one of many groups which, if successful, will pave the way for a united, cohesive and integrated Hounslow. But as it blossoms from beyond its purely Somali origins and reaches out to other newly-arrived groups I can foresee this particular organisation, possessed as it is of dedicated, astute, charismatic and highly intelligent leadership, becoming a very major player in the Community Cohesion work which is so important to me and to all of my colleagues.

These people deserve all the help and support we can give them.

5 comments:

gamma said...

Youve hit the nail right on the head. What a great article, this should be published somewhere where it stays at the top of the page.

Puk said...

Absolutely - a great article, which I entirely support. Phil - When will your speech from the Community Cohesion conference be online?

Councillor Phil Andrews said...

@ puk

Thanks for your kind words.

I can't recall anyone filming the conference. If I can find the notes I could certainly recreate it although it wouldn't be verbatim.

Councillor Phil Andrews said...

I've just published the speech as a stand-alone feature. Any comments welcome.

hassan isse said...

West London RETI
Sceptre HSE
75-81 Staines Road
Hounslow
TW3 3HW

Tel: 0208 569 4822
Fax: 0208 569 4759
E-mail: westlondon@reti.org.uk

Dear Phil

Thank you very much for your support and as well as attending RETI AGM on 29th May and comments on your block.

For the last fifteen years this is first time for meet elected executive councillor and discuss their issue concern them despite reti has invited many occasions, thanks for your encouragement and your vision to wards social inclusions and community cohesion.

RETI Provide:

Ø Employment advice and guidance for Immigrant communities
Ø Advice for Somali women for welfare and housing refugee women Covent way and Ivy bridge in Hounslow.
Ø Youth and children activities funded by Extended schools, youth
service and Hounslow council this activities include after school
clubs, youth activities such as football, team building, workshops
and-integrations-schemes.

Achievement:

RETI has successfully delivered two years programmes of employment support for Kosovan/ Albanian community in Hounslow working with career development group CDG in Hounslow.

Model of work:

RETI use referral clients to adult education for Basic skills training and work related ESOL Skills for Life”, Participants who are finished Essol courses will be encouraged to seek jobs or further training and will be referred to job-brokers, employment agencies, Jobcentre Plus etc.

On the other hand as you aware that RETI has undersigned petition Hounslow Council for more support and better treatment of the Somali community on areas education, health, housing and community development and we are still waiting councillor’s response.

Conclusion: RETI is willing to positively collaborate with council administration and seeking the solution all other outstanding issue including lack of support, lack consultation and barriers access LAA and LSP programmes.

RETI and its leadership are ready to lead community cohesion issue from immigrants’ communities in Hounslow and committed to support council strategic vision.

Thank you very much

Hassan Isse
Manager RETI
07912 380796