South of the River – The R Word


Compass-SouthComment logo 2Last night I found myself in the middle of a very emotional news story.

No, not the Scottish Referendum. I was at Beeston Parish Centre for the Aspiring Communities consultation meeting and I found myself with two jobs. I was speaking as a member of the group’s Advisory Committee and reporting on the meeting for South Leeds Life.

In my report of the meeting I have tried to be objective and represent the different views raised in the hall. I guess I’ll be judged on whether I’ve achieved that in the comments section and that’s fine. I want to use this column to tell you what I thought of the meeting as an individual member of the Beeston community.

The first thing to say is that everyone in the room had very strong feelings about the development. I would describe a few people in the room as racist, but the vast majority weren’t. Opinionated, forthright, argumentative? Of course, this is Beeston after all.

Concerns about traffic volumes, road safety and about noise from the site are all legitimate concerns. They should be raised and the planning process is there to deal with them impartially. When you feel strongly about something you tend to raise your voice – that’s OK too.

But there were things said in the meeting that weren’t OK and were either deliberately or unconsciously racist. These ranged from conflating traffic going to Friday prayers with the boy racers who annoy, worry and frighten many of us to shouts of “What about Rotherham?”

My friend Phil who challenged the assertion that people in Beeston won’t integrate was told to go and sit with “them”. As if everyone else in the audience was opposed to the project.

The abuse that the woman who accused the meeting of being racist received included being called a lesbian. This is not in itself offensive as there’s nothing wrong being a lesbian, except when it’s said with hatred.

Unfortunately half the people had left by the time I got to speak, so I’ll repeat what I said here.

Aspiring Communities came up with a project to help different sections of the Beeston community understand each other better and to integrate more. When they asked for people to help them deliver that vision I stepped forward. It’s the same motivation that got me involved in Beeston Festival and being a governor at New Bewerley Community School.

I found a group of Muslims who were aware of problems of insularity within their own community as well as within the wider community. They wanted to explain their faith and customs and they wanted to learn about other faiths and other cultures. They want everyone to ‘walk a mile in another person’s shoes’.

And they are putting their money with their mouth is. They are raising private funds for the project, there’s no public money or grants involved. If they want a prayer room above the sports hall who am I, who are any of us, to tell them that they can’t?

Actually it’s rather important that there is a prayer room. It’s an opportunity to share their faith with non-Muslims. Being a Muslim is not about driving souped up cars too fast on residential streets, it’s not about grooming gangs and it’s not about suicide bombings.

Not integrating means we live in closed little worlds where prejudice and hate can fester. Where some Asian men can think it’s OK to abuse white girls because white people have no morals. Where some white people can think all Asians hate Britain, or have ‘spoiled it’ as someone said last night. These misconceptions lead to very bad things happening, in Leeds, In Rotherham, in Syria and Iraq.

Jeremy Morton Aug13So I ask you to embrace the opportunity that Aspiring Communities are offering. What activities would you like to see going on at the centre? Five-a-side football? Gym classes? Badminton? Evening classes? Go along to do the things you want to do, but also take the chance mix with people you might not otherwise talk to.

I’ll be back in next week with more of my views from South of the River. If you’re on Twitter, you can follow me: @BeestonJeremy.

8 Replies to “South of the River – The R Word”

  1. I think it’s wrong to accuse people of being “unconsciously racist.” Most people there were airing legitimate concerns and just because you don’t agree with them, doesn’t make them racist. That is almost as bad as a woman standing up and branding every white person in the room as racist – even those who did not speak or had simply raised concerns about an increase in traffic volume at an already busy time of the day.
    You should not blame people for being afraid for their families, their freedoms and even their life.
    That may sound melodramatic but we see new atrocities carried out by British Muslims on the news almost daily, with people from our own communities fighting against Christian &amp muslim alike, beheading aid workers because they too are British or American.
    Then of course the child abuse scandals in Rotherham, Bradford, Keighley, Rochdale and Oxford – all of these perpetrated mainly by gangs of Muslim men and prefominantly against vulnerable white girls.
    With this in mind, do you not think a little more tolerance towards scared and suspicious people is warranted instead of pulling the race card when people air their worries? It’s that kind of behaviour that is pushing ordinary, decent people ever further towards the extreme right wing of politics, and it will eventually cause a much bigger divide than there has ever been. I don’t want to see that.
    If this plan by Aspiring Communities is truly about integration and building trust between the communities then let’s leave religion out of the equation. No prayer rooms of any kind and just a place where our youth can meet, talk, build social relationships and learn that people are just people. Religion is ever an added complication – particularly at present.

    1. Thanks for your comment Craig. I was precisely trying say that most people in the meeting had legitimate concerns and were NOT racist.

      Unfortunately I don’t think you can leave religion out of it. I think it’s one of the divides and we all have to find a way to deal with it, together, rather than pushing it under the carpet.

  2. I was the one to raise the concerns about the traffic and the sad statistics of how many of our children and family and friends are injured, hospitalised and even killed in our area due to traffic. That does in no way reflect on colour,race or creed. It impacts on us all as a community.
    I left when the women started as I had kindly walked up with a couple of my elderly neighbours and was concerned for their and my safety. Also I was appalled by the women, being called racist is an actual joke in my life. I take both my daughter and muslim friend to dance weekly, I have worked closley with 3 muslim brothers since I left school some 20 years ago, one of my adult ushers from my wedding was my good Sikh friend and ex colleague and my Father-In-Law is from Barbados. The issue I noticed was that some of the younger muslim men at the back were cheering her and egging her on as we were leaving.

    Surely Aspiring Communties do not want this kind of publicity from anyone it didn’t help in any way or form. If anything to just caused more distrust from both sides.

  3. I agree totally with Craig here,a minority of 2 people who were out of order and left at the start. I’m not sure how then the remaining group should be branded as “racists”. This card was always going to be played as a way to get round this proposal.

    The rest of the residents all put completely reasonable questions on the table. At the meeting last night the panel struggled to answer or deliver reasonable answers to the traffic questions posed by any resident other than to blame the council or propose traffic marshals as a solution to what could at peak times be around 170 cars leaving that site in the worst case scenario. The majority of cars attending the site at one time, would be from the community attending the prayer sessions.

    After the aspiring communities speech at the start saying it’s to integrate communities and be a place for everybody, the representative from the council traffic department then said they’ve been out and compiled traffic surveys and I quote the word he used at other “mosques” across the Bradford area and traffic wasn’t an issue – why not do these surveys on Barkly Road and tomorrow when LUFC are at home. You wonder why this proposal loses the trust of local residents.

    We have 3 local primary schools in that vicinity – my child attends St Anthonys and walks down barkly road with his grandparents every day. That amount and volume of traffic clashing with schools finishing – its an accident waiting to happen. We’ve already seen the death of two pensioners alone this week at the top of that road and road traffic accidents have been increasing year on year in that area alone.

    I’m totally happy to share a community centre with anybody of any religion or beliefs – this isn’t the issue here. Beeston is certainly missing this facility.

    We go back to the point about being integrated community centre for everybody. Then call it Beeston community centre, rather than a multi-faith centre. A community centre suggestions its a centre for all the community ……

    I’m a Catholic, when I want to go to Mass and Pray I go to my parish of St Anthonys to do so, there are a number of prayer centres across Beeston that hold prayer sessions for Muslims at the time when they need to go and pray, and these are the completely the right facilities and venues for each member of the community. We don’t need a facility that brings these sessions together, because as a community we have different beliefs and this isn’t racist this is your religion and reality. I wouldn’t go to a mosque to pray to god and vice versa. This isn’t ignorant of anybody’s beliefs or lack of understanding of a faith.

    Is this not quite simple, from the plans (which only include prayer sessions by the way, no any other multifaith services eg Sunday Mass) if we remove all the religious elements of this community centre, it will cut down that that volume of traffic, proposed to be arriving/ leaving at muslim prayer times, which will end up bringing the area to a standstill?
    Let the right venues across beeston hold the relevant religious sessions for each faith, let this community centre have coffee mornings where I can sit and chat to anybody from any member of the community, or my son can go and play football at on an evening, or attend a weight watchers class etc.

    It also came to light that the “Beeston Steering Group” didn’t have any of the nearby residents on the group. I’m sure the lady who spoke last night who faces the site would have loved to have been involved in what this site included, I feel AC could have been more pro-active in getting the local residents on board.

  4. Hi Jeremy,

    Unfortunately I wasn’t able to attend the meeting. Is there a consultation document that you could upload to South Leeds Life? It would be good to read through proposals and r able to comment. I saw the architects drawings on the councils website a while back but haven’t been able to find any proposals on what might happen within the building, other than the content of this article. I do think such a facility is needed – as is integration and relationship building across the park so if there’s a way people could comment on planned activities to run and make suggestions that would be good. I understand there’s a lot of concerns about traffic etc – but think at important for such concerns to not detract from the important discussion of what the building is utilised for. At the moment all the comments seem to be based around the use of a prayer room – it would be good to have a chance to discuss things other than that.

  5. I was flabbergasted at the meeting to hear from a person from AC to admit that the Ice Pak development is a Mosque . I also worry about the building they have purchased further down Barkly Rd because nobody would answer my question regarding the use of the building . Yet more traffic I presume .

    We in South Leeds also have a fantastic sports venue at the John Charles centre catering for everyone with no houses or schools in the immediate vicinity to worry about traffic .

    My conclusion is that this is a pointless development and planning officers should be made accountable for any death on Barkly Rd due to this place being built .

  6. There have been lots of excellent sporting facilities across the South Leeds area, unfortunately many of them have been victims to the cuts to front line services, instigated by a Labour led council, while money is wasted elsewhere on vanity projects such as the proposal for £500k of taxpayer’s money to be spent renovating some already plush offices within the Civic Hall.

    The facilities closed include – South Leeds Leisure Centre, the swimming pool at Middleton Leisure Centre, shortly to be followed by the golf course there too.

    Why aren’t our councillors fighting tooth and nail, making public statements to try and keep these facilities open and inviting members of the public to offer their assistance where possible? I know it’s much easier to sit back and be quiet, but…. they’re elected by the people of our districts to fight for the best for our districts, and sadly, we are very much lacking at present.

    I’d also like the author to condemn the outrageous slur made by the aforementioned lady, accusing members of the public of being racist. There was one idiot – he left the meeting very early. Another perhaps went a little bit too far (and used some slightly questionable language) in highlighting the divide between the respective communities that live on either side of Cross Flatts Park.

    Of course, those in favour of this development will say ”that’s why we need this, so people can integrate” – and in one respect I agree. I don’t have the slightest issue with a mosque being built on ‘this side’ of Cross Flatts Park.

    However, this particular proposal, well detailed as it is, isn’t appropriate due to the nature of the site as it is, and the likelihood of a significantly increased volume of traffic in the immediate vicinity.

    Find a more suitable site, with more detailed plans for traffic mitigation, and I will remove my objections to the proposals. Until then, I remain opposed, unless some significant changes are made – in particular in respect of traffic.

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