Shaftesbury Library has offered residents an insight into different beliefs and cultures from around the world. On Thursday, Dorset Race Equality Council presented their inaugural multi-cultural awareness session. Alfred attended the Diwali themed event.
Diwali is a much-anticipated calendar date in many UK communities that have a sizeable Asian population. The five-day celebration of light is a colourful event, marked by millions of Hindus, Sikhs and Jains all over the world.
“We’ve chosen Diwali as a theme for this session because of the time of year,” said Jane Jones from Dorset Race Equality Council. Her project is aimed at bringing together people from different cultural backgrounds in rural areas of Dorset.
“We are hoping to attract people from ethnic minority backgrounds, people from religious minorities and people of colour living in the local area, who would like to come together to meet other people, share experiences and celebrate their culture, language and faith,” added Jane, as she laid out pens, paper, scissors and glue for crafts, and themed food, a bowl of samosas and Bombay mix, for attendees.
In some parts of Dorset, local residents have provided the food of their birth nations. Here, the snacks were sourced from the supermarket. The 2011 census reveals that Shaftesbury is not an area with an ethnically diverse population. 93% of locals identify themselves as ‘White British’ and 92.1% of townspeople were born in the UK.
Jane says that’s why these events are important. “There are fewer people from non-white British backgrounds living in rural Dorset. It is a growing demographic, but it is much less then in Bournemouth, for example. For that reason, it can be very isolating. That’s why we want to create a space where people can mix and share their experiences.”
While most people would find those aims commendable, I asked Jane whether there was really any connection between local residents with different backgrounds, cultures and religions. What would Shaftesbury residents born in Nigeria or India, or Romany people, really have in common?
“Being from a different country or from a minority ethnic group within the UK is a commonality. There will be an amount of shared experience because of that. But this is also an opportunity for people to learn about different cultures,” explained Jane.
The opportunity to learn more about different cultures proved attractive to Shaftesbury resident Joanne Murray. She insisted that her family headed straight to the library event. “I made them come straight from work or school,” she said.
“Diwali means a lot to me because it’s about love, light and life. It’s about different cultures and everybody coming together. We should have more events like this in the community about different people’s lives and how we can mix together,” said Joanne.
As a Londoner, she was surprised that Shaftesbury is not more diverse. “When I moved here fifteen years ago, I was very disappointed that we didn’t have any things like this. I was surprised,” said Joanne.
Her six-year-old grandson Mason was busily cutting out paper shapes as he took part in the Diwali craft session. “We are going to make some paper lanterns,” said Jane, although attendees weren’t able to illuminate their creations in the traditional manner. “Unfortunately, we won’t be setting fire to anything inside the library,” assured Jane.
She’s put the next event in the diary. “Our next multicultural meet up will be Monday, 25th November at 10.30am until 12 midday in the library. It will be a coffee and a chat.”
Jane is hoping for a good response because, if demand is shown, the project could continue after the current funding runs out. “This project is funded until February 2020 but depending on the take-up and interest in the local community, we might be able to look for additional funding to continue beyond that day,” she said.