Good relations work is needed now more than ever


Allport’s Scale of Prejudice

In the 1950s social psychologist Gordon Allport developed what has become known as Allport’s Ladder of prejudice (see below) to help understand how ordinary men and women in 1930s Germany overrode their common humanity to stand by, or worse, to actively contribute to the Holocaust. Today, post the referendum, with a five fold[1] increase in racist and xenophobic hate crime, we would do well to heed his warning about how quickly people can move from speaking against a particular group to attacking them physically.Allport Scale of Prejudice image


Influencing factors

So what factors influence movement on the ladder, and how have these been played out in the lead up to the referendum?

  • The role of national, local, civic, and political leaders is crucial. Leaders have the capability to either stoke discord or to calm tensions and promote cohesion, Most commentators have pointed to the toxic nature of the rhetoric regarding immigration from certain sections of the Leave campaign. It could be argued, however, that some Leave campaigners just took up and ran with a vein of tacit xenophobia that had been developing for a while in British politics, giving it further legitimacy and prominence, and therefore permission for an increase in spoken abuse.
  • Linked to leadership is the role of ‘divisive narratives’. In 2013-14 Talk for a Change ran a series of public conversations across England to examine local cohesion and social integration work and to test the appetite for an Alliance for Good Relations. Local organisations reported an increase in divisive narratives creating an ‘us’ versus ‘them’ mentality, turning different groups against each other in local communities. Increased prejudice against Muslims, people with disabilities and those claiming benefits, were all cited as cause for concern. Both the management and perception of immigration were raised as hot topics. Some areas were worried about resources being stretched to cope with an influx of migrants from the A8 European countries and a subsequent impact on good relations. Other areas noted an increase in factually inaccurate stories about both numbers of migrants and their economic impact on communities.
  • Elements of the referendum campaign accelerated the divisive narratives described above giving them new life and urgency, strengthening rivalrous cohesion[2]. Rivalrous Cohesion describes groups where there are high levels of cohesion within the in-group and high levels of prejudice towards out-groups, (in this case immigrants), with the result that communities become more introverted and insular.
  • Rising inequality – many of the local organisations we spoke to in 2014 were concerned about ‘austerity’ as the double whammy of cuts to benefits and cuts to local services hit the poorest and most vulnerable in their communities the hardest.
  • The above, coupled with a lack of local accountability, can lead to a deeply felt sense of powerlessness reported by many of the organisations and areas we talked to. Communities need to feel a sense of agency, that they have some power to impact conditions at a local level. If we interrogate the slogan ‘take back control’ it points to a sense of change happening too fast, with not enough notice given and inadequate preparation. (Conflict transformation theory emphasises the need to build resilience in communities to withstand shock and change.) As local councils have been denuded of both power and funds by successive centralizing governments, and globalization increasingly impacts local economies with little accountability built in, it is no wonder that people feel that they want more control.
  • Segregated communities can lead to ‘Avoidance’. Many of the areas that voted most strongly for Leave had the lowest concentration of first, second and third generation immigrants (including black minority ethnic populations). Intergroup contact in areas with high diversity tends to correlate with greater tolerance and a reduction in prejudice[3]. Put simply if we don’t have the opportunity to get to know and understand people from other groups we are more likely to harbor misconceptions and prejudice against them.
  • Last but by no means least is the role of the media – a hostile national (or local) media whose focus is on stoking divisions and amplifying differences can undermine the slow patient work of building good relations.


The importance of good relations work

Good relations work is about building trust and long-term relationships, acting as a kind of ‘social glue’. It is complex, requires time and resource, and is work that rarely comes to public attention. It relies on being able to have difficult and uncomfortable conversations where we disagree profoundly yet still maintain social bonds and trust. It involves skilled resilient and resourced practitioners who are able to ‘sit in the fire[4]’ of difficult feelings and unresolved conflict; we can’t dissuade others from racism and xenophobia if we can’t bear to hear them out, and understand the underlying fears and concerns.

In 2014 this careful under the radar work was still happening, but it was increasingly under threat. People told us many inspiring and positive stories. A mosque that invited older white residents for afternoon tea to sort out nuisance issues during Ramadan, community workers brought Jewish and Muslim young people together to reduce fear and increase understanding, young people developing trust and goodwill across generational divides, organisations using activities such as the arts, sports, food, community gardening; these were all helping to develop a sense of common purpose and shared future in local areas. Good relations work is necessarily difficult to measure, its success is indicated usually by the absence of tensions and harmful community conflict, and a sense of belonging experienced by all.


What can we do post-Brexit?

Adam Curle, the University of Bradford’s first professor of peace building, identified the importance of addressing both ‘conditions’ and ‘relations’ in order to build a sustainable social peace. If we don’t pay attention to the underlying structural and systemic conditions and work only on relations then we risk creating an even greater sense of despair and cynicism as structural inequality and poverty prevail. Therefore we have to urgently tackle the underlying conditions that risk moving us up Allport’s Ladder.

Alongside that work on conditions we need to redouble our efforts and focus on strengthening Good Relations. Specifically public sector and civil society must adhere to the requirement to act in accordance with the duty outlined in the Race Relations Amendment Act (2001) to ‘promote good relations’, and that includes our political and civil society leaders.

At the same time we must resource local organisations that are building Good Relations. Local activists, residents and frontline staff will need training and support to be able to facilitate difficult dialogues and initiate community conversations. Social peace can take years to build, is maintained through consistent attention, and as we are discovering can be easily undermined. If we continue to take it for granted and don’t take active steps to tackle these issues then we risk the destruction of that invisible social glue, increasing xenophobia and racism, deepening divides, and doing long term damage to good relations.

Jo Broadwood

Talk for a Change

[1] Complaints filed to police online hate-crime reporting site True Vision increased five-fold in the week following the referendum result

[2] See the work of Professor Dominic Abrams, Director of the Centre for the Study of Group Processes at University of Kent

[3] See the work of Professor Miles Hewstone, Director of the Centre for the Study of Intergroup Conflict at University of Oxford

[4] A phrase coined by one of the most skilled dialogue practitioners we know in the UK, to describe the process of facilitating through tough community conflicts

We need to support work that engages young British Muslims…

‘As you’re growing up you are taught to deal with bullying, but you’re not taught to deal with attacks on your identity’

So said a young Muslim girl at a session Talk for a Change ran for a group of young people on dealing with online hatred.

Like many others we’ve been shocked and saddened by the news of three young Muslim girls from the east end of London going off to join IS. Our sympathies go out to their parents and families. There is a palpable sense of helplessness behind much of the debate on how to prevent this steady trickle of idealistic and naïve young people going off to Syria. But what is missing are the voices of young British Muslims themselves both on what might draw them towards this ideology of glory and hate, and what might help them develop resilience to it.

Last summer we facilitated a session with Aik Saath, an innovative youth led charity based in Slough. On a hot July evening there were over 50 young people in attendance, squashed into the workshop space in the Aik Saath office. The youngest was about 12, the eldest in their early 20s. The group was diverse in terms of ethnicity and faith, with a majority of Muslims and Hindus and smaller numbers of Sikhs and white young people. The atmosphere was friendly and informal with lots of good-natured banter and laughter. This was clearly a group who trusted each other, united by a common cause and ethos. Aik Saath means ‘Together as One’ in Hindi, Punjabi and Urdu, and they run sessions in schools and youth centres on issues of identity, belonging and good relations across difference.

We were there to lead a session exploring online hate and how to tackle it. With the help of the older Saathies, we organised everyone into groups, and soon they were all engaged in deep discussions about different forms of hatred online, sharing stories of how it had affected people and the strategies they had to deal with it. A strong theme began to emerge of young people’s bewilderment and hurt at seeing prejudice and hatred expressed against them because of their faith and / or the colour of their skin.

Talk turned to Gaza – the Israeli army was in the middle of its bombardment, and only a couple of days before four Arab boys had been killed whilst playing on the beach; the heartbreaking pictures had been beamed around the world. A spirit of thoughtfulness and sober reflection characterised the conversation. The older Saathies in particular demonstrated a strong grasp of the complexity of the politics and history of the region, whilst also feeling a strong emotional connection with the killing of innocent children. They gently challenged any calls for anger or retribution, encouraging the younger ones to check their facts, and urging them to be wary of the things they read on social media.

We need more projects like Aik Saath, where young people of every faith and none, and of all ethnicities, can come together to explore, and sometimes challenge each other, on issues of identity and belonging, and in the process forge trust, respect and friendships across difference. These kinds of projects are vital for achieving longer term aims of integration and good relations. Sadly organisations such as Aik Saath are few and far between.

Projects such as this can strengthen the voices of young people in this debate, and particularly the voices of young British Muslims. They need our support in order to have these complex difficult conversations with each other, with other young people and the wider community. And in a way that respects them as young people –  interested, curious and passionate about the world, and still in the process of working out who they are and what they think. In particular we need to ask them what they need from us in order to build their resilience to extremist ideology and violence.

Last October at the Houses of Parliament Talk for a Change launched our report, Untold Stories of Good Relations. On the panel was 15 year – old Damayanti Chatterjee from Aik Saath. She made a moving speech in which she said,

‘It is more important than ever that young people join in the effort to boost good relations in Britain now that divisiveness between age groups is widening and questions about what it means to be British are growing. Young people that are confident in their identity, their abilities and their communities are ones who will shine for us on the world stage’

Perhaps if we had more youth organisations like Aik Saath the three runaways from east London would have been persuaded that they can take leadership and make a real difference in this country, in a way that is free from hatred and violence.

You can read Damayanti’s speech here. And download our report on good relations here.

Jo Broadwood

Libya – UK Learning Exchange in March: Building Social Peace

Talk for a Change are really pleased to be hosting a small delegation of Libyans who are here as part of a knowledge exchange trip. As well as meeting representatives of central and local government, delegates will hear from community leaders, activists and civil society organisations that work to strengthen community relations here in the UK.

In Slough they will meet the young people of Aik Saath, and learn about the role that young people can play in monitoring and managing community tensions. (Aik Saath were commended by the borough commander of police for the role they played in the summer riots of 2011, acting to calm local tensions as young people in other cities and towns across the UK took to the streets).

In Yorkshire they will be looking at how civil society organisations can support good relations. Together for Peace brings groups together in a range of different ways to bridge divides; Kumon Y’All encourages local people to take action on the things that matter to them in their local community, and Who is Your Neighbour develops understanding between people from different communities. They will also meet Near Neighbours, who work to bridge faith divides, and Programme for a Peaceful City at Bradford University, a project that promotes knowledge exchange amongst practitioners and academics on public dialogue.

The visit will culminate in Newcastle where delegates will meet with representatives from the local authority, community leaders, ARCH, and the police who together form the Community Safety Partnership.

For the last year Talk for a Change have been working closely with a small international NGO, Peaceful Change Initiative who have a base in Libya. They approached us because of the work we have done across the UK on good relations. Together with local government and community leaders in Libya, our director Raj Bhari has adapted some of the learning and tools Talk for a Change developed in the UK for the Libyan context. The words ‘social peace’ in Libya correspond with what we mean in this country when we talk about ‘good community relations’.

This learning exchange forms a key part in supporting the Libyan government and local community leaders in the roll out of their strategy for Social Peace and Local Government, especially given the current volatile context.

Untold Stories of Good Relations – our final report

We’ve been talking about Good Relations with 235 organisations in 11 different localities. What kind of work is ‘good relations work’? Who is doing it? What are the challenges and issues? And how can we strengthen community relations in local areas?

Untold Stories Final ReportWith our national partner International Alert and local partners; Stockwell Partnership, Newcastle Conflict Resolution Network, ARCH, Centre for Good Relations, Together for Peace, Programme for a Peaceful City, Who is Your Neighbour?, Just Lincolnshire, Foundation for Peace, Aik Saath, Barton Hill Settlement, Community Resolve, Social Action Research Foundation, Global Education Derby, Wolverhampton Network Consortium, Conflict and Change, Involve and Resolve, The Kitchen Table Café, we supported local events.

Over 340 people attended from the voluntary, community and public sectors, including police, youth justice, and local authorities.

Our final report details our findings, and outlines our plans for developing a national alliance for Good Relations.

You can download the executive summary here

And the full report here

If you want to know more, or to discuss how you can get involved contact:

Our latest report: “We need to talk about….”

We have just published our latest report: We need to talk about….can discussing controversial issues strengthen community relations?

This details the findings from our JRCT funded research project with organisations across England who are involved in strengthening community relations; and of our experiences of having worked as specialist cohesion advisers in 65 Local authorities for over 10 years. Our research has shown that controversial issues are often avoided, ignored or not dealt with in a timely and effective way. This means that sometimes misleading and potentially divisive local narratives continue to prevail, escalating community tensions and corroding community resilience.  Continue reading “Our latest report: “We need to talk about….””