The students, Fred O’Loughlin and Clare Allsopp, spent a day meeting Muslim and other stakeholders and attending internal planning meetings.
Fred O’Loughlin recounts the events of the day:
During a trip to Westminster in March this year, organised by Professor Francis Davis, Clare Allsopp and I received an invitation to have work experience with the Department for Communities and Local Government’s Faith Communities Engagement team. Both of us share an interest in promoting positive contributions of faith groups in society and encouraging relationships between different faith groups. Hence, we saw this invitation as an opportunity to find out more about what work is currently being done by our government to enable this, whilst also getting a feel for what it would be like to work for the Civil Service.
On 17 May 2017, Clare and I went down and spent the day meeting with key partners on anti-Muslim hatred initiatives and staff from the Faith team. We began the day at Euston Station where we met David Jones, who was our guide for the day. David was extremely accommodating, and we were extremely grateful for the work he had put into helping us get the most out of the day. He happily fielded our questions as he guided us around London.
The first stop was to have coffee with the chair of an independent cross-government working group dedicated to countering hatred against Muslims (Anti-Muslim Hatred Working Group). This was followed by more coffee (but of the Arabian kind!) with the director of Tell MAMA, a member of the working group dedicated to supporting victims of such abuse and reporting on it. In both cases we found ourselves running over our time with the questions we were asking. It was time well spent with two very interesting individuals, who were engaged in equally valuable yet different approaches to help resolve issues around religious extremism, Islamophobia and more generally building a cohesive society.
From here we went and met with staff from the Civil Service. We attended a meeting with the wider Integration and Faith Division where they discussed some of the current initiatives they were working on. Which included encouraging networks between faith groups, commemorating significant people in the past, building links between government and faith groups, and promoting the contribution faiths make to British society. They also discussed the relevant manifesto commitments of a political party, preparing for policies that might affect the department and considering what faith initiatives to present to a potential new government. It was interesting to observe a meeting during such a volatile time; we recognised how important it is for civil servants to be non-partisan and fair in their role.
After the team meeting we sat down with individuals from the team to hear about their work and ask them more specific questions. We spoke with the lead official for Muslim engagement, who was extremely enthusiastic about issues such as understanding Women in Islam and encouraging Muslim Youth participation in society. We also spoke to the official leading on Christian engagement who informed us about its engagement with other sectors and issues such as education and housing/homelessness. It was reassuring to see the positive work that was happening with religious communities, however there is perhaps potential for the department to expand and engage in more opportunities with faith communities.
Finally, we had a whistle-stop interview with someone in their last year of the civil service fast stream programme. It was extremely useful to gain her insight on the advantages of this programme – we even managed to get some insider’s tips for applying! Overall, it was an extremely informative day that gave us a real taste for what it would be like working in the civil service. It has given us a great portfolio of contacts and left us both feeling very positive about options for the future.
Fred O’Loughlin and Clare Allsopp
The Edward Cadbury Centre is now working with University of Birmingham Catholic Society to support a visit open to all CathSocs in the Midlands and South – led by UOB CathSoc – to spend a day with parliamentarians.