Community, Compassion and Cohesion

A few weeks ago, accompanied by staff and pupils, I attended the Civic Ceremony marking the installation of the new Mayor of Blackburn with Darwen at Blackburn Cathedral. The service is an annual occasion that follows the political proceedings at the Town Hall some days before, when the Mayor from the previous year hands over the reins: this year the new Mayor is Councillor Hussain Akhtar. He was first elected to the Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council in 1997 and has represented Shear Brow Ward for over 18 years. He has been an active member of the Labour party since 1970 and was seen as a key member of the late Barbara Castle’s team and more recently that of Jack Straw. Cllr Akhtar worked at community grass roots level for over 30 years, helping local residents long before he became a Councillor – clearly a man who values serving his local community.

At the service I was struck first of all by the fact that Westholme were the most represented group and certainly the dominant school present – this made me very proud and reminded me how important it is that we take our place in the community. Our students and staff come from all over Blackburn, Lancashire and even wider afield but we all have a clear sense of belonging – we have purple blood in our veins and know how important it is to be part of the Westholme family.

The second memorable part of the service was the address by the Bishop of Burnley, Reverend Philip North. He spoke of a complete breakdown of trust between those in public office or high profile roles. The scandal of MP’s expenses; the police cover up at Hillsborough; leading celebrities exposed as serial abusers; institutionalised and widespread drug taking in top level sport….it seems that everywhere we look, there is disillusion and disappointment that leads to cynicism and disaffection. Ultimately there seems to be a complete breakdown of trust and faith in those who should have our respect and this has come more sharply into focus recently with the upcoming EU Referendum. Where do we belong I wonder?
The political arguments between the campaigns whether to remain within or exit the EU have polarised opinion across parliament, within parties and divided family views. The swaggering rhetoric used by leading politicians has become heated and ugly at times. Political posturing referencing Hitler’s anti-Semitism of the 1930’s or scaremongering with apocalyptic World War threats and compromised security have shocked decent people and done little to impress the electorate. While US Presidential campaign hopefuls Trump and Clinton continue to sling insults at each other, this does little to restore our faith in political leaders whose mission should be grounded in respect, honesty and integrity.

Therefore there may be a temptation to abdicate responsibility and not get involved – maybe even not to vote. 18 – 25 year olds in the UK are the lowest represented demographic in UK elections and many feel disconnected from the leaders that should in fact be inspiring them. On many occasions at school we remind our students how fortunate we are to live in a democratic country and that the right to vote should not be treated lightly. Most of our Upper Sixth Formers will be eligible to vote in the Referendum and I would urge them to take that responsibility seriously. At school we emphasise the importance of standing up for what is right in our community; this includes helping others and treating people with consideration and compassion. Our Westholme family is important and we are in turn part of a wider community in our region, in the UK and in Europe…..and beyond as part of the human race. Diversity should be a cause for celebration not a factor leading to disharmony and a lack of cohesion. Enjoying the sunshine with family and celebrating the endeavours of our children and staff at Billinge in Bloom just before half term, was an absolute joy – a perfect example of our community coming together to share our differences and talents. It was an uplifting afternoon with money raised for Cancer Research and cakes and treats sent to help others in our wider community – the Homeless Centre @Salvationarmyuk.

Where does this all fit with a Sunday afternoon in Blackburn Cathedral? Ultimately we all need to belong and, in a civilised society, we need to live by a moral code and share common values in order to thrive. We should have faith in those that lead us and in turn take responsibility for our own actions. Our forebears fought and died for our freedom, our communities and for us to have the right to vote, regardless of gender or social station. To disregard these precious gifts undermines the values that bind us together – whether wearing the purple and green of Westholme or not.