'Decade of reconnection' is only way to heal country's deep divides, leaders say

The Rt Revd Nick Baines, Bishop of Leeds, pictured at Holy Trinity Church Boar Lane Leeds. Photo: Simon Hulme
The Rt Revd Nick Baines, Bishop of Leeds, pictured at Holy Trinity Church Boar Lane Leeds. Photo: Simon Hulme
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Two of Yorkshire’s most senior clerics have joined leading figures from the worlds of culture, sport, civil society and business to demand the 2020s be a “decade of reconnection” to heal the devastating divides blighting our society.

The Bishop of Leeds, the Rt Revd Nick Baines, and Imam Qari Asim, a Senior Imam at the city’s Makkah Mosque, join key leaders such as Carolyn Fairbairn of the CBI and Sir Hugh Robertson, who chairs the British Olympic Association in urging people to make a New Year’s resolution for the new decade “to start rebuilding connections between neighbours and fellow citizens”.

The letter, published on the first day of a new decade, pleads with every citizen to “reach out to just one person we don’t know, or from whom we have drifted apart.”

And comes ahead of a major initiative launching later this year to increase social connection across the country.

Signatories to the letter range from leaders of different faiths to the heads of the Scouts, Girl Guides, business, trade unions, sporting and cultural institutions, and major charities, as well as James Mitchinson, the editor of The Yorkshire Post.

It also includes former heads of the Leave and Remain referendum campaigns in 2016, Matthew Elliot and Will Straw, who competed for votes in a poll feared by many to have helped divide the nation.

They all acknowledge that “our country feels more fragmented than any of us would like” and that it falls to all of us to do something about it.

But their message is also one of hope, as they said: “While our politics and media have become more polarised we, as people, have not. There is much that we share with each other.”

Rt Revd Nick Baines, the Bishop of Leeds, said: “The beginning of a new decade offers an opportunity for a new start with a new resolution – to reconnect, to be an agent of healing in a fractured society. Yes, this is a big challenge, but we all know someone to whom we can reach out afresh. Whoever we are, we can all do our bit to rebuild for the common good.”

Surveys show there is a sense of division and disconnection in the country today, with 69 per cent of people saying they are more angry about politics and society than they were before the EU referendum and 21 per cent of the adult population – nearly 11 million people – reporting that they often or always feel lonely.

Yet trust in each other remains high and has even increased as 82 per cent of people agree that their area is a place where people from different backgrounds get on well together.

Imam Qari Asim, Chair of the Mosques and Imams National Advisory Board, and Senior Imam at Makkah Mosque in Leeds, said: “What worries me, in these polarised times, is that our growing distance from each other can breed fear of those who we don’t know or are seen as different.

“At my mosque in Leeds I see many efforts to connect with others - when we mark Remembrance or the Great Get Together, for instance. But I see the gaps too - people who don’t have much contact with those from a different background to their own.

“The start of a new decade offers us a moment of change and of hope - that we can all reach out and find a connection with someone new.”

Sunder Katwala, director of the independent think tank British Future, said: “As a society we may be more divided than we’d like but perhaps we are less divided than people keep telling us. Look beyond our angry politics at people’s everyday lives and there is so much that we all share. There’s a risk that polarisation becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy if we let it define us – we can’t ignore our differences but we can focus on the things that do bring us together.”

The letter in full

As we start this new year and new decade, our country feels more fragmented than any of us would like. Too often we hear that our divisions – by class or geography, by politics, age, race or by faith – have come to define us.

If we are not happy with the state of our society, it falls to us all to do something about it. New Year is the time for resolutions and on this first day of the 2020s, we urge others to join us in making a resolution for the new decade.

Our resolution is to reconnect. To reach out to just one person we don’t know, or from whom we have drifted apart. To start rebuilding connections between neighbours and fellow citizens.

While our politics and media have become more polarised we, as people, have not. There is much that we share with each other: sit any two people down together and they will find some common ground.

So the power of reconnection will depend on how many of us, as citizens, step up together. Every institution, too – not just government but education, business, sport, civic society and faith – should play its part in helping bridge social divides.

Today is about a small first step that we can all take – to leave behind a decade of division and begin our decade of reconnection.

Yours,

Amanda Watkin, General Secretary, Rotary Club International Great Britain and Ireland;

Angela Salt OBE, Chief Executive, Girlguiding;

Dame Carolyn Fairbairn, Director, CBI;

Emily Eavis, Organiser, Glastonbury Festival;

Sir Hugh Robertson, Chair, British Olympic Association;

Jacqui Smith, Chair, Jo Cox Foundation;

James Mitchinson, Editor, Yorkshire Post;

Jasvir Singh OBE, Chair, City Sikhs

John E McGrath, Artistic Director, Manchester International Festival.

Karl Wilding, Chief Executive, NCVO;

Kwame Kwei-Armah OBE, Artistic Director, Young Vic;

Lynne Stubbings, Chair of the National Federation of Women’s Institutes;

Matt Hyde, Chief Executive, Scouts Association;

Matthew Elliot, former Chief Executive, Vote Leave;

Maurice Ostro OBE, Vice Chair, Council of Christians and Jews

Mike Sharrock, Chief Executive, British Paralympic Association;

Mustafa Field OBE, Director, Faiths Forum for London

Rt Revd Nick Baines, Bishop of Leeds;

Rabbi Nicky Liss, Chair, Rabbinic Council of the United Synagogue and Rabbi of Highgate United Synagogue;

Paul Reddish, Chief Executive, Volunteering Matters;

Imam Qari Asim MBE, Chair, Mosques & Imams National Advisory Board;

Sabir Zazai, Chief Executive, Scottish Refugee Council;

Sanjay Jagatia, Chair, Hindu Think Tank UK

Sunder Katwala, Director, British Future;

Professor Ted Cantle CBE, Chair, Belong – the Cohesion and Integration Network;

Tim Roache, General Secretary, GMB;

Dr Victoria Winckler, Director, The Bevan Foundation;

Will Straw CBE, former Executive Director, Britain Stronger in Europe.