The Mayor of Haringey Cllr Sheila Peacock, the Speaker of Hackney Council Cllr Michael Desmond, and Catherine West, until recently Leader of Islington Council and now Labour Parliamentary Candidate for Hornsey and Wood Green, supported action to build trust between generations and communities. They were guest speakers at the final session of a ‘Peace Begins at Home’ Intergenerational Dialogue workshops project, held at the Haringey Professional Development Centre on 12 April 2014.
The Chair of SIDD, Osman Jama Ali, a former Deputy Prime Minister of Somalia, opened the session by explaining how the workshops had started in 2010 in response to a need to address a break down in relations between the older and younger generations within the Somali community. However, when the riots broke out in 2011, they had realised that the problem was not only in the Somali community, and that they could offer their experience to the wider community. He said, ‘I believe that these workshops indicate a new confidence in the Somali community, that we do have something to contribute to this society’.
He was followed by Jim Baynard-Smith, a retired charity worker, who shared a personal experience of intergenerational reconciliation. He recounted how, as a young man, he had been honest with his father about some misdeeds that he had kept secret. The outcome was that his father found the courage to be open with his mother about things he had kept hidden and this had eased tensions in their marriage. Unbeknownst to Jim, the doctors had given his father only six months to live because of a stomach ulcer. But such was the relief that the ulcer healed, and he lived for another 20 years!
Adam Abacha, a postgraduate student, shared some reflections on the main themes that had emerged from the most recent workshop. He identified the causes of intergenerational conflict as mostly due to misinterpretation or misconception - ‘we misconceive what the other is saying, and then we look at others in different colours and ways’. Dialogue is the answer, and this needs to take place on three levels: the individual, family and society. At the Individual level, we are all transiting through life and we need to have our own inner dialogue to be aware of where we and others are on that journey. In the family there is a link and an order, and you need effective dialogue to understand how the family is growing. And at the societal level where groups interact, we need a greater awareness of who we are dealing with, where we are and where we are going. He concluded that for effective dialogue you need communication, cooperation and commitment, as well as transparency and honesty, awareness of the changing time and values, and the essence of love in ensuring peaceful cooperation.
Then participants in the two workshops were invited to tell of the effects that the workshops had had on them. One young woman, a teacher, spoke about hearing from younger participants that they gained confidence to speak to older people, including their parents. Another older white participant spoke about his sadness on discovering from a young woman of Asian parentage that he was the first older white man she had had a conversation with. It showed how much such occasions are needed when people can talk with those they would not normally encounter, he said.
Participants then divided into two groups to formulate their recommendations for measures that would improve relations between the generations. There was strong endorsement for more such workshops, focusing not only on relationships between the generations, but also on relationships within families, between parents, and among young people. Another recommendation called for follow up action to focus on inherited assumptions about gender roles which have a significant effect on intergenerational relations. Participants highlighted the need for creating occasions for older people to share their experiences with younger people, for example, a dialogue between residents in a care home and members of a nearby youth club. There was also discussion of ways of funding further workshops and continuing the project.
Responding to recommendations, Hackney Speaker Michael Desmond was impressed by the mix of backgrounds of the participants. He said that in general, he finds a uniform sense that there is more that unites people than divides them. He was distressed by fragmentation in the family and in society. Age is just a number, he said, and there is no reason why people who are older cannot relate to younger people.
The Speaker thought that the participants could play an important role in creating positive role models and in helping disadvantaged people. He spoke of a young woman who had been in trouble with the police, but who had since flourished with help and support from the charity ‘Housing the Homeless’ that he had founded. Young people welcome advice from older people and few older people take the time to just sat and talk to them like that, he said, adding: ‘We shouldn’t give up on young people who have made errors or done things wrong. There is always the opportunity that people can find redemption and learn from their mistakes.’
Cllr Catherine West commented that it was important for communities to do things together, when money was disappearing from the public sector. She said: “A community has to have its own life, its own vibrancy. We must maintain the physical space and find the small amount of money needed to organise gatherings. In her view it was important to have neutral premises where people can mix, as well as faith group premises. Cllr West promised support to implement the recommendations.
Dr Lul Seyoum, Director of the International Centre for Eritrean Refugees and Asylum Seekers, concluded the occasion by saying that this kind of platform would bring all communities from tolerating each other, to enjoying each other.
Report and photos by Peter Riddell