By Rosie Dawson
The 2023 series of the Religion Media Centre’s Creating Connections initiative launched this week in Bradford with about 80 people attending the event at the city’s Kala Sangam Arts Centre.
Creating Connections aims to enable journalists, religious and community representatives and other interested parties to make new contacts, forge stronger relationships and break down any misunderstandings.
The 2021 Census revealed a rapidly changing religious demographic in Bradford:
- 33.4 per cent of people described themselves as Christian (down from 45.9 per cent in 2011)
- 30.5 per cent described themselves as Muslim (up from 24.7 per cent in 2011)
- The fastest-growing group was “non-religious”
- Sikhs and Hindus each comprise 0.9 per cent of the population while 0.1 per cent are Jews.
The Anglican Bishop of Bradford, Toby Howarth, addressed guests via video. “Bradford is a great place to be a bishop because it’s relatively comfortable with religion,” he told them. “Faith is important for our lives and communities, and therefore city leadership takes faith seriously.
“You can’t do Bradford without doing religion. Journalists can’t communicate about the world unless they understand faith. It’s not difficult, but it takes a bit of effort.”
He said Bradford was best understood as not simply a multicultural city but as an intercultural one, a phrase repeated several times during the day as people sought to describe the complex nature of people’s cultural, ethnic and faith identities.
Khalida Ashrafi, the strategic lead for equality with Bradford Council, who chaired the day, said: “If you want a flavour of what faith has to offer in Bradford just take a drive or a walk up Leeds Road.”
“It hosts two different denominations of Sikh gurdwaras, the city’s largest Hindu temple, three denominations of Muslim mosques, three denominations of Christian churches” as well as food and clothing businesses.
The keynote address was given by Professor Uduak Archibong, pro vice-chancellor of Bradford University. She began with an African proverb: “When two elephants fight, it’s the grass that gets hurt.”
Communities suffer if religious groups see the media as a secular threat or the media perpetuates stereotypes, she said.
She appealed for nuanced reporting of faith, emphasising the need to look, for example, at different denominations and traditions within one religion, or at the impact the growing number of African students and the cultures they bring with them are having on the city.
A panel of young people from many faith traditions shared their experiences of growing up “young and faithful” in Yorkshire.
Those from what one contributor called “minorities within a minority” had markedly different stories. Jaskirat Singh Dilon said he was grateful for his Church of England school in Bradford in which he never felt out of place as a Sikh. Shivali Patel, on the other hand, was one of only seven people of colour in her market-town school, and the only Hindu. When her class was taken to visit a mosque, her teacher assumed she was in a familiar setting.
This sense of not belonging was shared by Fatima Patel who took part in the media panel. She was born and bred in Bradford — her family ran the a newsagent. Her job as a teenager was to deliver papers for her parents, which didn’t reflect her concerns or experience.
She responded by founding a south Asian newspaper, Asian Sunday, in 2011, “because representation matters”. Communities tell her that they trust the newspaper to tell the stories that they want to be told because “you’re like us”.
Also on the media panel was Mary Dowson, the founder of BCB community radio station, who said the station was set up to enable people to tell their own stories.
There was a difference, she said. between stories about faith and stories told by people of faith, but in both cases “a good story is one that makes us see the world a little bit differently or helps us to see the world of difference that we live in — and Bradford could not be a better place for that”.
Changes to BBC local radio mean that there will be fewer local religious programmes. Sanjiv Buttoo, managing editor BBC Yorkshire and Lincolnshire, said the quality and breadth of the two regional religious shows that will replace local output will continue to demonstrate the BBC’s commitment to religion and community programmes.
Two workshops provided participants with the opportunity to think more deeply about their engagement with the media.
A workshop on critical thinking, led by Adiba Rashid from Bradford Council’s Stronger Communities team, helped people learn how to assess the reliability and accuracy of the information they come across, verify sources, and spot when images have been manipulated. “That was the session I found most useful — finding out about fake news, the spreading of fallacies and how to spot them,” said one participant.
Another workshop — led by RMC journalists — focused on what made a good story, one that would appeal to newsdesks and content producers.
Participants were invited to suggest stories they would like to see covered. As it happens, the conference fell on the same day as Hindus in the city were celebrating the birthday of Lord Ganesh, symbolised by an elephant. Journalists helped to tease out specific angles on the story which would encourage them to cover it — such as the Hindu community’s concern with elephant conservation, or the domestic ritual of making clay statues of Ganesh to immerse in local rivers on the 10th and final day of the festival.
All the journalists present could see potential in the story provided by the Linking Network, which aims to make Bradford an intergenerational district by connecting every school with an older person setting.
And what could have appeared a fairly non-newsworthy event, a fun day at the black majority Chapel of Grace church, became a news story when seen through the eyes of a church member, a police cadet, who saw an opportunity to help to build relationships between the police and the community in an area where levels of trust have been low.
The need to tell the positive stories about Bradford and its faith communities was perhaps the dominant talking point of the day.
But the BBC communities correspondent Sabbiyah Pervez said journalists must do the job of scrutiny and investigation. “There are good news stories but I’m not here to do Bradford’s PR,“ she said.
“We’ve got lots of challenges in the city … [bad] stuff still goes on in faith communities and it will keep happening.” She called for intelligent, solutions-focused journalism which would make the city an even better place to live.
Our event in Bradford was the first in a series of six. Further details here
• Coventry, Thursday 5 October, meeting room, Coventry Cathedral
• Newcastle and the North East, Wednesday 18 October, Cathedral of St Nicholas
• Liverpool, Thursday 9 November, the Black-E
• Bristol, Wednesday 22 November, Conference Hall, City Hall
• Norwich, Tuesday 30 November, Weston room, Norwich Cathedral