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Building resilient, integrated communities into the Big Society: seminar report

Friday 18 February 2011

OPM’s latest public interest seminar was held on 16 February, and brought together participants from local authorities and other public services, central government, the voluntary and community sector and research and academic institutions. We even had a representative from the Dutch Government. This is a short report of the key points raised at the seminar. If you’re interested in reading about these issues in more depth, then check out OPM’s briefing paper: Resilience and integration: a way forward.

David Cameron’s recent speech at a security conference in Munich and Baroness Warsi’s speech in Leicester has served to fire up the debate on violent extremism, integration and multiculturalism once again. The burning questions on our participants’ minds: What will the new Prevent strategy look like? What should it look like? Can integration, as defined in Cameron’s speech, really play a role in building resilience? Are we in danger of repeating the mistakes made with the previous Prevent strategy? How will spending cuts impact on the delivery of resilience and integration work? Will many of the good cohesion projects funded through Prevent and elsewhere wither away as a result of the budget cuts?

Key points made by speakers

Three panellists discussed these questions and many other issues, followed by a lively discussion involving all attendees. The panel chair was Roger King, Lead Manager for Safer and Stronger Communities for Surrey CountyCouncil and a visiting fellow at OPM. The speakers included:

Ewan King, Director of research at OPM, who spoke about how any new approach to Prevent needed to start treating Muslim communities as citizens not suspects, do away with a single community focus and harness the Big Society to provide people with alternatives to participating in extremist groups.

Jawaid Khan, Community Cohesion Manager at Greater Peterborough Partnership, outlined the ‘community empowerment’ approach to Prevent and cohesion in Peterborough and how encouraging different faith leaders to work together has worked in uniting communities in their opposition towards Al-Qaeda inspired extremists and the English Defence League (EDL)

Jamie Bartlett, Head of Violence and Extremism Programme at Demos, drew on his research with members of the EDL to argue that including them in any prevention strategy wouldn’t work because they aren’t a homogenous group and it only serve to fuel their anger. Instead, efforts should be focused on splitting the leaders from the followers and engaging the former in debate.

You can hear an audio recording of the speakers’ contributions by clicking on the play button below.


OPM podcast 2: Public interest seminar by OPMnetwork

Questions and comments raised in discussion

Following the speakers’ presentations, the audience dived right in, keen to express their opinions and get feedback from others. Whereas in theory integration was regarded as an important tool in building resilient communities, there was concern about how other policy agendas such as free schools and the Big Society may only serve to build bonding capital rather than the bridging capital that was needed. A need to look closely at the admissions policies of free schools was identified. It was also pointed out that the concept of integration seemed to be developing around bringing different faith communities together, whereas the segregation between social classes was a much bigger problem.

There were also concerns about whether a ‘police only’ approach to Prevent would work, given the suspicion with they have been viewed by Muslim communities over the last few years. Moreover, who are the non-violent extremist organisations that the coalition government will no longer work with? Is this a slippery slope?

Other issues discussed included the importance of bringing communities together organically and for a common cause (e.g., the ‘living wage’ demonstrations) and whether following all the cuts, communities would be left on their own to tackle violent extremism.

The debate closed on the issue of the announced cuts to and tightened eligibility for ESOL (English for speakers of ther languages) classes. Wouldn’t these cuts have an impact on the capacity of communities to interact and communicate, and most importantly integrate with each other? Hadn’t Muslim faith leaders who had developed their English Language skills been much better able to lead and guide their communities?

With the review of the Prevent agenda due to be published by the end of March, we’re sure that the debate and discussion is likely to continue. Please check back on our blog for our regular analysis of these issues.

Please note that the seminar was conducted under Chatham House rules and therefore the opinions and discussion are not necessarily the views of OPM or any one of the speakers or participants specifically.

Audio recording by Satdeep Grewal, OPM researcher.