Globalisation has increased the cross-border and cross-continental movement of people and ideas like never before. The UK, continuing its long history of immigration, is more culturally diverse than ever, with London alone home to 270 nationalities speaking 300 languages.
Understanding how our different cultures interact is complex and provides both opportunities and challenges to our communities.
Integration brings opportunities to learn from each other, share perspectives, challenge misconceptions, and celebrate the best of each other’s traditions, music, food, art, skills and innovation. Communities where people trust each other, show mutual respect, and share a sense of belonging and common aspirations are more prosperous and resilient than those they don’t, and evidence suggests that living in a cohesive community has benefits to crime rates, health, education, employment and the economy.
Initiatives to support integration include English language classes, encouraging young people of different cultures to meet through extra-curricular activities, community street parties, and planning housing and public space to make it easier for people to meet, however the degree to which shared identities and values should be enforced, and current policies have been successful in preventing segregation and isolation, have been questioned.
Building cohesive communities takes time and depends on local context. As individuals – both hosts and newcomers – wider society, and government, could and should we be doing more to enable better integrated cities, towns and villages?
Join us to discuss how we can strike a balance between integration that celebrates similarities, while respecting differences, and how can we create 21st Century communities that allow everyone, regardless of background to thrive.
Sonia Sodha (Chair), Chief Leader Writer, Observer
Sonia is Chief Leader Writer at the Observer and a freelance public policy and strategy consultant. Previously she was Head of Public Services and Consumer Rights at the consumer champion Which? and a senior policy adviser to Ed Miliband, running Labour’s Small Business Taskforce.
Sonia is a governor of Griffin Primary School in Wandsworth, and a trustee of the youth charity City Year UK and of the Trust for London. She has worked as Head of Policy and Strategy at the Dartington Social Research Unit, and for two leading centre-left think tanks: She was Head of the Capabilities programme at Demos from 2008-2010 and a Research Fellow at the Institute for Public Policy Research, where she led several major research projects on children, education and social policy.
Professor Ted Cantle CBE, Founder, Institute of Community Cohesion
Founder of the Institute of Community Cohesion, the UK’s leading authority on community cohesion and intercultural relations (now the iCoCo Foundation). In 2001 Ted Cantle chaired the independent review of the riots in northern towns and was responsible for the ‘Cantle Report’ which gave birth to the concept of 'community cohesion' and founding of the community cohesion programme.
Ted was formerly chief executive of Nottingham City Council and chair of the DTI Construction Task Force for local government. He was appointed CBE in 2004 and is a Deputy Lieutenant of Nottinghamshire. He is the author of books including 'Interculturalism: The New Era of Cohesion and Diversity' and, and is Visiting Professor at the University of Nottingham and Nottingham Trent University.
Omar Salha, Senior Teaching Fellow, SOAS, Founder and Director of Ramadan Tent Project and founding member, Football Beyond Borders
Omar Salha is a PhD Nohoudh Scholar at the Centre for Islamic Studies and a Senior Teaching Fellow at the Centre for International Studies and Diplomacy at SOAS University of London. He was awarded the Nohoudh Scholarship for the study of 'Integration of Muslims in British Society'. His research explores the study of soft-power, diplomacy, sport and integration. Other research interests include Middle Eastern Politics, International Relations, Islamic Moral Diplomacy, Conflict Resolution, Public Relations and inter-faith dialogue.
He is the Founder and Director of Ramadan Tent Project, an award winning community-led initiative fostering interfaith community cohesion. He is also a founding member of Football Beyond Borders, a UK charity which uses football to inspire young people to achieve their goals and tackle inequality and discrimination. Omar is an active social entrepreneur and has over 10 years of experience working community projects and initiatives. He is also a regular contributor to both international and national print and visual media.
Mark Rusling, Cabinet Member for Children and Young People, Waltham Forest
Mark is Cabinet Member for Children and Young People in Waltham Forest. He also works as the Head of Communications for The Challenge, the UK's leading charity for building a more integrated society, having led the team that acted as the Secretariat to the Social Integration Commission.
Sunder Katwala, Director, British Future
Sunder Katwala is the director of British Future. He has previously worked as a journalist. He was general secretary of the Fabian Society thinktank from 2003 to 2011, and was previously a leading writer and internet editor at the Observer, a research director of the Foreign Policy Centre and commissioning editor for politics and economics at the publisher Macmillan.
He celebrated his 10th wedding anniversary with his wife, Stacy, in 2011, and is the proud father of four children, Zarina, Jay, Sonny and Indira. His support for Everton and Southend United football clubs reflects an upbringing in Cheshire and Essex, though he was born in Doncaster, Yorkshire, to parents who came to Britain from India and Ireland, to work for the NHS.
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