Tunde makes a passionate plea for religious unity

Thurrock is a diverse community, It has grown from its original population of 126k in 1981 to 145k in 2004. The Office for National Statistics (ONC) consider that this will continue to grow and it is estimated that this year Thurrock will grow to 152K and by 2021 Thurrock will have about 161k.

The last census in Thurrock in 2001 put the population as 143k, but as we all know, there is a census exercise this year which will clarify the figures.

The main point here is that Thurrock is growing and it is becoming more and more diverse. The stats did not cover religion or regular attendance at religious services, but it was taken as read that majority of the residents of Thurrock had a religion, and a substantial percentage were church going.

We now have a community, where Christianity is not the only religion. We have Muslims, Hindu, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jews, Taoists, atheist etc. We are all in Thurrock and we all have to accommodate each other.

The ONS stats indicated that Christians were 72% of the population in the UK in 2001. That transcends in Thurrock to about 109k residents. It means we have c42k residents who practice other religions. 42k people whose voice needs to be heard by the Council and councillors. 42k tax payers who need to be reflected in our polices.

The Council has a massive role to play too

How do we do this? We have to ensure that our schools via SACRE (Standing Advisory Council for Religious Education) provide adequate education on all religions. Our children (and adults) need to be aware of other religious, their practices and feasts. We need to tolerate, not fear people of all faiths. (Even Prince Charles now sees himself as the defender of all faiths). We need to embrace people of religions other than ours. Once we understand them, we won’t fear them, we will accommodate them.

In 2009, the LDF launched a consultation about the needs of faith groups in Thurrock. It was a well attended meeting, with representatives from about 150 religious organisations; and I think Cllr Gupta and I were the only members present. The outcome of the consultation was that:

The Council’s planning policy should provide clear guidance on the appropriate locations for faith-based activity and key issues to be addressed in any proposals for new facilities arising from new development or a change of use of existing premises.

The LDF could usefully provide clear policy criteria for the determination of new, or conversion of existing premises for use by faith groups, particularly in relation to the change of use from employment land.

Policy could be made more flexible to acknowledge that the release of employment land could serve community needs as well as Council needs. Decisions on where such changes of use could occur should consider the Employment Land Review and be in consultation with those faith groups interested in large spaces.

One of the key messages emerging from the study is that immediate and on-going dialogue with faith groups is needed to identify and meet their needs. This will help engage faith groups in assisting with the development of planning policy, identifying regeneration sites and funding, and integrating into other areas of public policy.

These need to be considered and implemented in the LDF.

In conclusion, members should please note – Thurrock is a growing community. We know we face of of the largest growths in the East of England. We can see that in our Schools were many (especially in the West of the Borough have more than 50% non-white on roll);

It means we cannot do things as ‘they had been done before’. Change is about embracing the situation, not denying it, loathing it or fearing it. Let us start today by embracing the various religions in Thurrock, attend the Diwali events; the joint Christmas carols; the Sikh temple. Learn about these religions and together we will live in peace and harmony as we understand each other.

(Oh in case you were wondering, I’m a Christian).

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