His Royal Highness, The Prince of Wales, attended an event at St Philip’s Church in Leicester this morning to promote on-going work between the armed forces and ethnic minority communities across the city and the UK.
Army formations from around the country gathered to showcase a range of activities that have been undertaken over the past year in attempts to strengthen the army’s relationship with minority and faith groups.
Present at St Philip’s Church were Brigades from Nottingham, London, Catterick, Preston and Donnington, all of which have delivered engagement activities and events including youth and adult military challenge weekends and a visit to a military field hospital.
HRH was also introduced to community leaders working with the brigades to open up the dialogue and build trust between the army and people of different faiths, such as Nottingham’s Karimia Institute, one of 16 organisations from the area to sign the Armed Forces Covenant in December of last year, a voluntary pledge from business, charities and organisations that wish to demonstrate support for the Armed Forces Community.
On addressing the crowds, the Prince of Wales expressed his gratitude to the army for the event, and for their continued work in community relations.
HRH said: “I hope that this particular initiative will flourish. I hope that we can build on the contacts with some of the organisations and charities that I have started over the years, so that we can make the most of all these connections in order to encourage a greater understanding between the different groups in this country and the military.”
Senior British Army officer, Lieutenant General James Bashall, thanked HRH for his presence and his role in launching the event before expressing a commitment to diversity. He said: “From an army perspective, we remain committed to having an army that represents the society that we defend and we are looking to increase the representation from many communities, because it makes us a stronger army , a more diverse army and an army that is better understood by the whole nation.”
Also in attendance was Asim Hafiz, Imam and Islamic Advisor to the British Armed Forces, who was keen to promote dialogue and respect between the military and Muslim communities. He said: “There is a perception that the Muslim community are hostile towards the armed forces and because the army has been engaged in Muslim countries, people think the army is hostile towards the Muslim community.
“I think by showing that the Muslim community can respect the armed forces and the armed forces respect the Muslim community, we are able to break down those bridges and challenge those misperceptions.”
Colonel Stuart Williams of the Nottingham based 7th Infantry Brigade has been working to build relationships between the military and communities across the East Midlands. He said: “I think Leicester is really important, because of the make-up, the population that exists, the different ethnic communities and faith groups that exist in Leicester, there’s no better place to showcase what we as an army are doing.”
With its emphasis on relations with faith communities, the event raises questions as to how the army are working to counteract Islamophobia. Colonel Williams added: “We’re breaking down that ignorance and we are spreading that word across the country. So I think today when people see who we’re talking to, it will go some way. It won’t answer it all, it won’t solve it all, but the only barrier is someone else’s ignorance.”
Earlier this morning, the Prince of Wales also visited the City of Leicester College to engage with young people taking part in personal development programmes and this afternoon, paid a surprise visit to Narborough Road, named the the most multi-cultural street in the UK in 2016.
By Jennifer Morris