Steve Chalke, the Croydon-born founder of Oasis, the social action charity, has urged people to ignore the English Volunteer Force demonstration due to take place outside the Home Office immigration HQ in Wellesley Road next week.
Chalke’s opinion runs counter to some politicians and local trade unionists, who have called for bans and counter-protests.
The EVF says that its July 27 demo is “against Islamification and mass immigration”.
Chalke holds the world record for the most money raised in one charity event and has built Oasis into an institution running social housing for homeless young people, including in Thornton Heath, and operates 13 school academies.
The evangelical Baptist minister this week called a community meeting at the Oasis primary school in Woodside to discuss how to deal with the challenge set for Croydon by the far-right protest.
“I grew up in Croydon. I am Anglo-Indian. I am the son of an Indian man and an English woman. I owe my whole way of thinking, my vision, my aspiration, my vitality, my mission in life to growing up in a household that was diverse,” Chalke said on the Croydon Radio programme Croydon Press and Events.
“I learnt from my father, who was very dark skinned, how to reach out with compassion, extend the hand of friendship to the person who would betray you.”
With past experience working with the BBC, ITV and Sky, Chalke argued against “providing the oxygen of publicity” to the EVF that a counter-protest would provide.
“Protest is cheap, involvement is expensive,” Chalke said.
He argues for building community cohesion “minute by minute, week by week” by effort in educating young people in the merits of a diverse community rather than through holding protests. Chalke called for people to start, “Rolling our sleeves up, embracing others and working together rather than protesting and counter-protesting.”
Chalke did not call for a ban of the EVF protest though he did concede that there would be value in asking the police whether the protest should be permitted only away from the more confrontational location of Lunar House, where, a Croydon trade unionist had told the audience at the meeting, both staff and people visiting about their migration status would feel intimidated by the EVF.
Croydon Trades Union Council is organising a counter-protest “to stand up for our diverse community”. Mike Fisher, the leader of the Conservative-controlled council, and Labour’s opposition leader Tony Newman have both called for the demonstration to be banned. London Assembly Member Steve O’Connell said at last month’s Mayoral Question Time at City Hall that a ban should be decided by police.
But Chalke prefers that people should look at the progress made locally in promoting good community relations rather than being antagonised by protestors from outside the borough.
Chalke contrasts the advance being made at the Oasis Academy Shirley Park with a very negative view he has of the previous Ashburton school on the site his academy now occupies. “In March 2009, just before we took over, there was a riot in the school,” he said. “Thirty-four police cars were called to the school because there was a race riot, a fight between two rival gangs of students and it was all over ethnicity, language and culture.
“Today, it’s one of the best performing schools in the borough, filled with pupils who celebrate their diversity. We represent a huge diversity, diversity of ethnicity, faith and culture.
“Diversity is a strength, a many-stranded cord is a stronger cord than a single-stranded cord. We are always saddened by voices which we believe create weakness and not strength.”
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