Local Communities — Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 12:00 pm on 1st July 2010.

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Photo of The Bishop of Derby The Bishop of Derby Bishop 12:00 pm, 1st July 2010

My Lords, I begin by thanking your Lordships very warmly for the quality and depth of the welcome that I have received. People who read Hansard may think that this is a purely formal convention, but I have been overwhelmed by the graciousness of your Lordships. I have been accosted in the bar and in corridors by people who want to shake my hand and say "welcome", and I am truly grateful for that-strangers who want to become friends. That is a very interesting notion of how we make a community in this place and what might lie behind some of this debate-strangers wanting to become friends. It is part of the gospel that I stand for as a priest-trying to encourage strangers to become friends with their maker and with each other-and I am very impressed with the evangelical fervour with which Members of this House have the desire to help strangers become friends. I thank noble Lords for their welcome.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark, whose place I take, had a long and distinguished service in this House, to which I pay tribute. I do not think that I will be able to emulate it, but one small point of continuity is that I have succeeded him as co-chair of the Inter Faith Network, which brings together people of all kinds of faith perspectives, from the great nine faiths, in local and regional groups to work together and listen to each other-strangers seeking to become friends. That work provides a context for this debate. In our diocese of Derby, I chair the Multi-Faith Centre at the University of Derby, which in a small, local way tries to continue that work. We have heard about the power of the English tradition of street parties. Last week, I had 40 faith leaders for an evening in my garden, where the devolution of strawberries and cream achieved great effect in helping strangers to become friends.

The diocese of Derby does not simply deal with interfaith matters. It is a very mixed diocese. There are great urban areas such as Derby and Chesterfield. There is the former coalmining district on our border with Nottinghamshire, where there is an urgent need for community regeneration; and there is the classic English scene of market towns and villages in the Peak District, one of the most visited areas of our country, where we face issues such as how communities survive in terms of affordable housing, and the future of farming.

It might be interesting for this debate to train a lens on one small part of our diocese and ask what it might mean to-as the noble Baroness said-return power to the people. What is community if it is not about helping strangers to become friends? What might that look like through the lens of one small part of our diocese? I refer noble Lords to a part of the diocese in the centre of Derby, in the inner city. This area covers 0.75 square miles and in it live 15,000 people of more than 100 nationalities. How do those strangers become friends? There are issues about housing, health and the environment. What will local enterprise partnerships and the devolution of planning and housing powers contribute to that scenario? If we ask the people in that 0.75 of a square mile what they desire to help strangers to become friends and grow community, they identify three things: they want community safety, because there is a high level of drug trading, drinking and prostitution; they want community cohesion, because the temptation of all these different national groups is to live in their own shell in a protective way; and they want an environment that is pleasant to live in and not dominated by graffiti, litter and poor housing.

So how can power be given to people in a small area such as that? There is, as the noble Baroness said, amazing energy and initiative there. There are 80 public buildings, and 66 organisations offering 212 types of activity and service. Sixty per cent of that local energy comes from the faith communities-half of it from the Christian churches. Despite all the challenges and problems in a small area such as that, the people have enormous energy and a desire to make community. It seems to me that the great challenge of this debate and the whole big society programme is how the devolution of power downwards, whether it is in planning, housing or local enterprise boards, can meet the energy, commitment and initiative coming upwards from people who desperately want the resourcing and capacity to help strangers to become friends and for community to grow.

I thank noble Lords for the warmth of their welcome and for making this stranger a friend in their presence.