The activities of St Mary’s Centre for Peace and Reconciliation are based on opportunities that have emerged over the course of eight years engagement in issues in the town and beyond. We anticipate that we will always be seeking to bring our skills and experience into engagement with the issues of the day, and therefore our work will be continually developing. Our latest work will usually be reflected in our blog posts, and this section as work significantly develops.
Tools for peacebuilding
Development of Permanent Community Mediation Capacity across Luton.
Over the past eight years St Mary's has been working to coordinate community mediation response in face of demonstrations and other troubling community moments, working in close collaboration with the police, town hall and the wider community. In collaboration with Bedfordshire Police we now seek to develop that work into a body of trained community mediators who are available to work in their own neighbourhoods and centrally as required.
Engaging with the local community
Developing Community Conversations
The extremism we have encountered in Luton is based in part on the stresses and strains that arise as diverse communities live and work together. Most people live with these with an occasional complaint; a relative few take to the streets in protest, or worse. Extremist narratives are usually based on a mix of ideology that takes advantage of real issues that have been ignored leaving people feeling voiceless. To help counter this we have been developing community conversations and mediation using tried and trusted methods that build bridges of understanding between people, and so gradually reduces community tension and help people have a real voice.
Challenging Discrimination and Hatred
Levels of hate crime and hate incidents have been rising sharply over the past year. We plan to join Muslim colleagues and the other faith communities who are already working with victims of hate to extend this work to the whole Luton community. Our aim is a Luton community where no hatred or discrimination is tolerated, and all are committed to challenging it wherever it occurs.
Engaging with extremism
Engagement and intervention with Extremism
Since 2009 our members and other colleagues have been seeking to identify, engage, build relationship and challenge the leadership, members and the fringe of extremism. Our Muslim colleagues have been doing the same. The 360 degree engagement, along with more widespread general engagement with community issues has led to growing confidence. We are now working to develop this work.
Partnership in challenging faith & race based narratives of Child Sexual Exploitation
The centre is a founder member of FACES, Faiths Against Child Sexual Exploitation, a Luton based coalition which is uniting Muslims and Christians in opposing all forms of CSE. In part this is to challenge the narrative from the far right that Muslims, especially as refugees, are coming to abuse “our women”. For more information visit the FACES website
Engaging with international issues
Journeys of Understanding in the Middle East
The Journey of Understanding trips to Israel and Palestine began in 2003. The 10-day trip is designed to facilitate the participants in meeting the people of the Land as well as visiting the Holy Sites. The hope is to help dismantle preconceptions and build bridges of understanding that will cross cultural, historical, and religious barriers. The groups meet with Israelis and Palestinians, Christians, Muslims, and Jews, and will visit with strategic leaders who are involved in reconciliation work. The groups stay in Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and the Galilee, and in each area, we ponder Jesus’s teachings and listen to the people of the land, and our hope is that participants come home with new prayers and hope for the Middle East
Engaging issues and developments in the Global Village
In today’s interconnected world what happens in the Middle East or the USA soon reflects on life in Luton. Therefore, we are committed to joining and initiating peace and reconciliation initiatives around the world. The members of the Centre have a long and rich history of engaging in this type of work and will be continuing to strengthen their ongoing relationships as well as joining in with new opportunities for peace-building and forging new relationships. Our experience is that this kind of engagement offer us wisdom for life here, as well as a perspective on the complexity of life else where.
Engaging with national issues
Sharing life in multicultural Britain
The challenges we have worked within Luton in recent years are repeated many times over around our nation. We will continue to contribute to the dialogue over life in a diverse society.
Engaging with Social media
Much of the momentum for the issues we have faced in Luton come from widespread use of social media acting as an echo chamber for evil acts, atrocities, terror, and hate filled rhetoric. We are seeking to multiply the impact of the work we do into a positive web presence to challenge these issues on social media. Good news is welcome to many, and thus the story gets retold over and over. We plan to multiply this sort of response to effectively challenge the minority narrative of the extremes and promote understanding, hope and peace, which is the real narrative of the majority.
In conclusion, two things to note:
Firstly, some of the work we do in conflict intervention is by its nature confidential or best kept out of the spotlight, so there will always be things going on we don’t speak of. Peace is often nurtured quietly.
Second, our work has been developed around extremism. We envisage as we develop more of it will become mainstream, and thus more accessible for all. We believe this can only continue to build the effectiveness of the work.