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News / 2021 Reflections

2021 Reflections

Blog / Director's blog

F&BF

07 / 12 / 21

By Phil Champain, Director of the Faith & Belief Forum

This time last year there was growing uncertainty about whether families would be together over the winter break or be separated by a lockdown in the face of growing COVID-19 cases. Sound familiar? That was just before the vaccination roll out. Since then, we have been learning how to live with the virus. Lives have been lost and disrupted. It has been a long, challenging year.

The pandemic has underlined and, in some cases, exacerbated exclusion, aggravating prejudice towards stigmatised groups, highlighting uneven access to social services, and increasing mental health problems, especially for the more marginalised (Frontiers in Psychology, October 2020). Whilst minority faith communities have been on the frontline, offering support, they have also been disproportionately affected (Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health Vol 75, issue 10).

Social cohesion has also been knocked. Recent research by Kent University and The Belong Network finds that the pandemic has increased perceptions of division (albeit more nationally than locally) despite an initial surge of unity. The study includes some worrying statistics about discrimination experienced by black and Muslim respondents (Beyond Us and Them – Societal Cohesion in Britain Through Eighteen Months of COVID-19, November 2021).

The need to bridge communities, build trust, and tackle the barriers to inclusion and belonging is arguably greater now than before COVID-19. Recognising the contribution of faith groups to this task has been, and remains, important. It has been a privilege, therefore, to shine a light on some of these contributions through our annual Faith & Belief Community Awards (you can read about 2021 Awards here and watch the ceremony here), supported by the Greater London Lieutenancy’s Council on Faith.

It has been equally as enlightening to work with schools and universities this year, as they have navigated difficult conversations about identity and diversity. The importance of this was stark back in May when the spike in hate crime spilled over into educational institutions during the Israel/Gaza war, with Antisemitic incidents rising 500% and anti-Muslim incidents 430% (Independent, May 2021). Being able to talk well about issues that touch our identities and values so deeply remains something we are passionate about at F&BF and something that drove our founder Sir Sigmund Sternberg. This visionary would have been 100 years old back in June when we celebrated his inspiring contribution to interfaith.

As we look ahead to 2022 it’s hard to imagine a more testing time for everyone. We think about those who have suffered most. We remember leaders we have lost, such as David Amess, and look to new leaders coming through. We thank all those who are working so hard to support others. There remain serious societal issues (including persistent racism, social exclusion, and the impacts of climate change) that require inclusive, creative, approaches if we are to find lasting solutions. Interfaith has an important role to play.

Thank you to everyone who has engaged with our work in schools, universities, and communities in 2021. Have a restful end to the year. We are ready for 2022!

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