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Oldham, United Kingdom

Peacemaker: All People, All Communities

Peacemaker

November 12, 2009

Empowering youth to over come racial self-segregation in their own communities

“Increasingly what we saw was a situation where communities were becoming isolated and were looking more and more inwards; fear and resentment were taking place over a generation.”

When Rajah Miah returned from university to the Oldham neighbourhood where he had grown up, he found a community dangerously isolated by its differences and headed for serious breakdown.

Self-segregation between the Asian and White communities had created a social divide that was now encroaching on the neighbourhood’s spaces. Public areas were increasingly occupied by one or the other group with little to no contact between the two.

There were housing complexes where white children had never met an Asian friend and vice versa. Most of the primary schools were single race and many of the secondary schools 99% White or 99% Asian.

When they did interact, it was with mistrust and suspicion.

Deeply concerned by the depressing slide into segregation, a group of young Asian men took action by forming a small voluntary organization with the simple objective of halting this decline by creating opportunities for young people to meet and befriend other people from different communities and ethnicities.

Community contact

The PeaceMaker founders believed that when youth from the two communities began to interact, they would befriend one another and realize that their similarities far outweighed their differences.   They started by using their informal networks and youth club contacts to bring groups together and promote a culture of dialogue and interaction.

After the 2001 Oldham race riots which were some of the most severe that the UK had ever seen, PeaceMaker’s work took on an entirely new importance.  They emerged as the voice of hope amidst the tensions that Oldham and the surrounding northern towns were experiencing.

The importance of their message suddenly became clear.  Sitting back while different ethnic ‘communities’ developed parallel but entirely separate existences was no longer an option.

The human, social, and economic costs were far too high. Communities were waking up to the fact that, for too long, they had concentrated on what divided rather than what united them. Today, PeaceMaker is increasingly called upon by national government and by regional and national policy makers to find out what Britain’s diverse communities are saying about their lives and aspirations as British citizens.

To do this, PeaceMaker turned to youth. They had their young ambassadors enter communities and engage in debate, not only within Black and Asian neighbourhoods, but also directly with some of the most demoralised and disenfranchised White communities.

By going directly to the communities for input, PeaceMaker was able to create programs that directly addressed their needs. Since its founding in 1997, PeaceMaker has matured into a service delivery agency in its own right, setting up and running projects that formally recreated the opportunities for multicultural experience.

Youth Focused and Youth Driven

The challenge with all youth focused programs is making sure that they remain relevant to the groups they are seeking to involve.

With the foresight that first prompted their creation, Peacemaker began involving youth, their target audience, directly in their programming as well as the organization’s leadership. PeaceMaker prides itself on having real leadership by young people from their target communities and has two permanent youth seats on their Board of Directors.

To ensure the relevancy of their work, Peacemaker has had peer educators and the young people that participate in the projects conduct a comprehensive review of their work.

These young people work with trustees and senior members of staff to review the programs for relevance and impact both in Oldham and as it relates to the interests and concerns of young people across the country. This program scrutiny allows PeaceMaker to identify gaps in service delivery and create new project ideas to address the changing needs and concerns of young people both in Oldham and across the North of England.

Success

With the launch of a small grants programme, PeaceMaker is now further empowering young people from the local community to create their own initiatives and share their own stories. This work actively helps combat the stereotype that young people, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, do not care about their community. By putting young people from the community in positions of public leadership, PeaceMaker supports the view that youth are a valuable resource that can shape the future of the town.

To compete for this funding, the applicants had to explain what they would do with £1,000 to benefit their local community and then design a plotline for a documentary film about their community.

The three successful groups – a local football team, a white working-class youth group, and a local secondary school media group – each participated in PeaceMaker’s inter-community mentoring programme. Through this project, they were connected to PeaceMaker’s diverse group of mentors, participated in film lessons and workshops and then designed and filmed their own documentary about their community.

These films were screened to an audience of local service providers and decision-makers to allow them to hear young people describe their needs and concerns for both themselves and their communities, in their own words. The films were submitted to British and international film festivals for young people to showcase their work to a wider audience.

Two years ago, 24-year-old Shipon Uddin began to mentor Ryan Newton, 16, who lives on Oldham’s Holts Village estate. Through the Peacemaker programme, they made a video, Separate Lives, which documented the experiences of young white and Asian people in Oldham. The video has since been presented in Burnley, Bradford, Newcastle upon Tyne and London.

Uddin says: “Where I live is a mixed area. But when the riots started, I used to walk past the white kids and they used to put their heads down. I would also put my head down. I was not drawn into any of the trouble, but one of my friends was sent down. When you live in Oldham, you see how different people stick together. I didn’t like that. It’s just the colour of our skin that is making us live apart.”

“When we got together with the guys from the Holts estate, we noticed we did have a lot of things in common, like the sports and films we liked. And some had the same opinions as myself. Before Peacemaker, I used to see people differently. The project really makes you think about British people.”

Today Peacemaker’s motto is “All people, all communities” and their integration agenda is positioned as the “way forward for Britain.”

Making it Work for You:

  • Recognise the danger that community self-segregation represents
  • Identify and empower youth leaders from within the community to help bridge the divide between the groups

Maytree