Summary of "Face to Face and Side by Side"

This is a summary of Face to Face and Side by Side: a framework for partnership in our multi faith society, launched July 2008, which we hope you find useful.

You can download the document in full here.

This document aims to:

  • Encourage inter faith dialogue which builds understanding and celebrates the values held in common such as integrity in public life, care, compassion and respect
  • Increase the level of collaborative social action involving different faith communities and wider civil society where people work together to bring about real and positive change within their local communities
  • Maintain and encourage the further development of good relations between faith communities and between faith communities and wider civil society
  • Overcome barriers which may be faced by young people and women in participating in dialogue and social action

It is underpinned by three core principles:

1. Partnership - together we are stronger. We want to help build strong and positive relationships between people from different backgrounds.

2. Empowerment - We want to create more opportunities for more people to get involved.

3. Choice - Government's role in developing this Framework is not to set out rigidly what needs to be done, but rather to ask questions, listen to answers and use this information to develop a Framework which encourages people to take part and inspires local solutions to local issues.

The Framework builds on other policy documents including the Empowerment White Paper, Communities in Control, launched July 09, (download here) and other research and policy statements, notably the Commission on Integration and Cohesion's report Our Shared Future, and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation report Faith as Social Capital: connecting or dividing? and the Faith Based Regeneration Network UK research on the role of Regional Faith Forums and the scale and scope of faith based social action (see below).

The Framework uses many of the responses to the consultation process as well as case studies to add depth and a touch of reality. There is also a careful and considered appreciation of the long history of inter faith activity and faith based social action in England, and of the role of faith institutions in this.

The Framework gets its title from a distinction made by the Chief Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks:

  • Face to Face dialogue leads to people developing a better understanding of one another, including celebrating the values held in common as well as acknowledging distinctiveness
  • Side by Side collaborative social action involves people working together to achieve real and positive change within their local community

Both face to face dialogue and side by side collaborative social action can help to build cohesive, active and empowered communities. The Framework is structured around four building blocks and CLG aims to encourage opportunities for dialogue and social action by focusing on strengthening each of them:

  • Building Block 1 Confidence and skills to bridge and link
  • Building Block 2 Shared spaces for interaction
  • Building Block 3 Structures and processes which support dialogue and social action
  • Building Block 4 Opportunities for learning which build understanding

Each Building Block concludes with suggestions for practical ideas for faith communities and local authorities. These are intended as a menu of options and to stimulate people into thinking what would be appropriate for their own situation.

Block 1 Confidence and skills to bridge and link

This building block explores how we can work together to:

  • Strengthen and increase the bridging and linking social capital within local communities
  • Help to develop the confidence and skills needed to build trusting and active relationships between people with different religions and beliefs and none
  • Help to develop the confidence and skills needed to build effective partnerships between faith based organisations and local decision making bodies

A quote from the Citizenship report reinforces the Framework position: faith communities create many opportunities for participation in society and they have long been a force for positive social change…...They provide additional resources for dealing with social problems. And where they work across faith divides, they contribute to creating a greater sense of a shared purpose and inhibit the emergence of a "them-and-us" outlook.

There are three categories of social capital (drawn from The Well Connected Community by Alison Gilchrist, 2004)

  • Bonding - based upon enduring, multi-faceted relationships between similar people with strong mutual commitments such as among friends, family and other close knit groups
  • Bridging - formed from the connections between people who have less in common, but may have overlapping interests, for example, between neighbours, colleagues, or between different groups within a community
  • Linking - derived from links between people or organisations beyond peer boundaries, cutting across status and similarity and enabling people to exert influence and reach outside their normal circles

Significantly for the debate on the value of work within a single faith community, there is a recognition, coming from an evaluation of projects funded through the Faith Communities Capacity Building Fund, that bridging social capital can often take place within what are seen as single faith communities where these are made up of many different ethnic and cultural backgrounds.

This has important implications for the Faiths in Action Fund, which will support some of the work outlined in the Framework. The many ways that faith communities can build social capital are recognised including:

  • local networks with links to those who might otherwise be left out
  • knowledge of local needs and ideas for how these might best be met
  • management capacity
  • a major source of volunteers
  • leadership in organising their communities to be active, linking the development of citizenship to faith traditions 
  • focal points for engaging the wider local community in projects to improve the neighbourhood and the quality of life for those living in it 
  • intergenerational activities, so young and older people can be brought together to learn from each other

Who needs to take action? Everyone who is genuinely interested and believes in the need for inter faith dialogue and social action. This is not action that demands some hierarchy, it must come from within.

Extract from Burton-upon-Trent Inter Faith Network and Burton-upon-Trent churches consultation response. The consultation asked about issues that limit the ability to bridge and link. The summary of answers includes the following:

  • nervousness about offending others
  • gender issues
  • anxieties about a single faith dominating
  • poor local access to skilled facilitation and capacity building
  • difficulties in engaging "worshipping communities" in other activities
  • difficulty in recruiting new people to inter faith work and social action
  • negative reporting of faiths in the local media

This list is important for faith based organisations intending to seek funding from the Faiths in Action Fund, as it will have as one of its aims, the supporting of local grass roots activity to develop bridging and linking.

A further resource is the National Empowerment Partnership, which is already funded by CLG to promote improvement in the quality of community engagement and empowerment policy and practice. This is managed by the Community Development Foundation, which also administered the FCCBF and will administer the new Faiths in Action Fund.

Building the skills and confidence of young people to bridge and link is seen as vitally important and linked with initiatives by the Department for Children, Schools and Families.

Block 2 Shared spaces for interaction

This Building Block explores how we can work together to:

  • share resources and expertise
  • use resources to bring people together
  • recognise the role of physical and virtual spaces.

The term spaces includes:

  • sacred buildings
  • neutral rooms within faith buildings
  • shared and mutual spaces
  • church halls
  • community centres
  • civic and secular spaces - town halls, civic centres, shops, sports centres and leisure facilities
  • personal spaces such as homes and gardens
  • enclosed environments that encourage dialogue and sharing experiences.

Being in the same physical or virtual space is an essential ingredient for meaningful interaction and we know that one of the key factors in successful spaces is that they are safe. Safe spaces are not just places which are secure from physical risk but spaces that have an environment or ethos which allows people to be themselves and:

  • be honest yet respectful
  • be comfortable but not complacent
  • be constructive in recognising difference
  • be open to sharing concerns and values
  • and help people to move out of their "comfort zone" when, and if, they are ready to do so.

The consultation helped to establish that "most people of faith are not anywhere near as easily offended about their faith as many others assume" (quote from a consultation response).

The issues discussed include the range of local authority responses from those that take practical steps, such as making civic space available for faith based organisations, and those where faith groups find it difficult to engage.

Of particular interest to faith based organisations wishing to engage more fully in civil society particularly through the use of their buildings, is the inclusion here of the idea of Community Anchor Organisations. These are multi-purpose community organisations that were the subject of the Quirk Review in 2007 which resulted in the Government commitment to promote an increase in the transfer of public assets to community management and ownership, for use as community centres and other multi purpose community facilities (FbRN will be producing a briefing on this).

Block 3 Structures and processes which support dialogue and social action

This Building Block explores how we can work together with national, regional and local organisations to:

  • Strengthen existing ways of bringing people together within local communities and supporting the development of formal and informal structures and processes where these do not yet exist
  • Ensure that structures are effective in engaging a broad cross section of people from within the local community and result in real and positive change

Research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation found that "one of the strongest indicators of increasing bridging and linking social capital has been the rapid growth of formal and informal associational structures within and between faith communities and the increasing connections with wider civil society" (JRF 2006).

Where these work well, they can lead to positive and enduring relationships developing between people from different backgrounds - including people with different religions and beliefs and those with none. Responses to the consultation revealed a wide range of formal and informal structures and processes including organisations, groups, forums, meetings, visits, sporting and cultural events which are proving effective in bringing people from different faith backgrounds together.

In many places different structures have evolved to carry out different activities. These include inter faith dialogue, promoting understanding of shared values, mobilising community involvement in social action, or acting as a consultative body to feed community views into decision making by the local authority.

The consultation also asked what was needed to strengthen existing structures and develop and support them where they do not exist. The answers included:

  • increase awareness of organisations/structures, the roles they play and their achievements
  • improve information flows between national, regional and local bodies
  • improve representation and governance arrangements
  • support more strategic working with statutory bodies and the wider third sector
  • identify routes towards sustainability
  • ensure structures are not seen as an end in themselves, but rather bring about increased dialogue and social action involving people from different backgrounds within the local community
  • supporting inter and multi faith activity in areas with little apparent diversity

The respondents to the consultation were clear that faith leaders have an important role to play in encouraging people to get involved in dialogue and social action. In keeping with the core principle of Choice, the Framework recognises, and supports the right of partners and communities to choose how to organise themselves. They value existing effective arrangements and want to support the sharing of good practice.

The role of the Regional Forums of Faiths is clearly recognised, particularly in:

  • linking local inter and multi faith structures by acting as a "hub" or focal point in the region; supporting the development of networks and partnership approaches; and sharing effective practice
  • creating strong links to regional governance and strategies enabling faith communities to make a positive contribution
  • encouraging faith communities to take part in local and regional inter faith and multi faith activity

Government will work in partnership with Regional Forums of Faiths, the Inter Faith Network UK, the Faith Based Regeneration Network UK, the Community Development Foundation and Government Offices to build upon the existing achievements of the Regional Forums and further develop their capacity to act as a resource for local projects and groups and to encourage complementary working at national, regional and local levels.

To support this, Government will provide a three year package of investment and support for Regional Faith Forums - worth £1.89m from 2008 to 2011. In December 2007, the North West Development Agency took on the new RDA lead role for faith nationally.

In addition to the package of investment and support for Regional Forums of Faiths, Government will support formal or informal local structures and processes which support dialogue and social action through the Faiths in Action Fund.

A key role is envisaged for local authorities and the full report of research carried out by the Local Government Association in partnership with the Inter Faith Network for the UK on the extent and nature of existing local authority involvement with faith communities, is eagerly awaited.

Block 4 Opportunities for learning which build understanding

This Building Block explores:

  • the important role of schools in building understanding
  • the opportunities for learning within Further and Higher Education
  • the role of faith communities and inter faith initiatives in promoting informal learning
  • the important part played by libraries, exhibitions, the arts and cultural activities

Learning opportunities need to be provided, accessed, structured and facilitated in a considered and sensitive way. This will help ensure that the potential risks of inappropriate or selective learning which may result in misunderstanding and antagonism are both anticipated and carefully managed.

The important role of schools is recognised and of the local Standing Advisory Councils on Religious Education (SACREs). The contribution of faith organisations and the potential for them to encourage learning across faiths is discussed.

There are examples of good practice from Further and Higher Education including the work of Chaplains. There is a welcome (but small) section on opportunities for learning within the local community and the role of local inter and multi faith organisations.

Multi Faith Centres, like that at Derby are included. Other agencies identified as having a role in this Building Block are, libraries and public exhibitions, arts and cultural activities, and prison chaplaincy.

CLG Commitments

Throughout the Framework, CLG identifies actions it will take. In some cases they are specific to a particular building block, others are more general. The main commitments are:

  • Funding, total £7.5m over three years: The Faiths in Action Fund to support local activities and initiatives that have a direct link to one or more of the four building blocks. The Fund will be open for all types of organisations, but activities must take place in local communities. Single groups will be eligible, but partnership will be welcomed. CDF is administering this Fund, more information is available at A three year programme of investment support and capacity building in regional faith forums.
  • Providing supportive guidance to local authorities within the Cohesion Delivery Framework on the practical steps they can take to support bridging and linking at the local level. This will incorporate the ideas for local authorities set out within each of the four building blocks within this Framework
  • Working in partnership with the Inter Faith Network UK to organise an Inter Faith Week. This will encourage communities at national, regional and local levels to hold events to celebrate and raise awareness of the positive inter faith work that is being undertaken.
  • Supporting the development of a web based resource for people to make connections with each other and get ideas for activities which support the four building blocks.
  • Working with the Local Government Association, the Inter Faith Network UK, the Faith Based Regeneration Network UK and the Community Development Foundation to update the existing Faith and Community guidance for local authorities.
  • Supporting improved links with VCS structures and access to VCS resources through the publication of Believing in Local Action - guidance and good practice developed with the Church Urban Fund and the National Association of Voluntary and Community Associations.
  • Working with faith communities, the LGA and Charity Commission, to produce a standardised version of a charter for excellence in public service, building on existing models.
  • Organise a national conference to support networking and promoting effective practice in relation to each of the four building blocks.
  • As part of the implementation of the Quirk review publish guidance on local authority asset management and supporting local partnerships to demonstrate good practice.
  • Support the development of Regional Faith Links for local authority faith leads within each of the English Regions.