Electoral spin offs
Non political benefits
One of the huge benefits of getting involved in a local election campaign in South Shields is the opportunity to meet new people, the chance to savour some new cultures, or to reacquaint with areas that you have perhaps pushed to the back of your mind a little. Having spent a few weeks in the Beacon and Bents ward helping the Conservative candidate Mr. Ali Hayder, I was struck, once again, by the warmth and hospitality of our Bangladeshi community, I was struck too by the amount of Scottish people who have made the move down South to live and work here on the banks of the Tyne.
A few of those Scottish folks were brought down to Tyneside during the traditional “Glasgow fortnight” each summer in the 1960s and 70s, enjoyed holiday romances which blossomed and they have enjoyed lifelong love and happiness with a wife from South Shields or Whitley Bay! I also met a couple of ladies who married our menfolk down here and never gave it a thought to return north of the border, needless to say they are as much part of our tight knit community as anyone else. I recalled the days when I worked in a five storey department store in Newcastle with Eddy Russell in the 1970s when our half price shoe sale seemed to be more famous in Glasgow than it was on Tyneside! To prove a point about how good it was I showed one gentleman the antelope skin shoes that I was wearing, I bought them in 1976 for around £30 (which was almost two weeks wages to me back then), they have been resoled twice but are still lasting the course after 35 years, that is one of the reasons why Glasgow men in particular loved visiting Newcastle during their holiday fortnight!
Our Bangladeshi community in South Shields is a sizeable minority and many of them are third or fourth generation inhabitants here, those younger than myself speak better “Geordie” than I do and like all youngsters have a wonderful grasp of new technologies. I met quite a few from all sections of their community and found their warmth and hospitality to be second to none, and why should it not be? Despite having been here for around 60 years some feel they still need to integrate more and they are looking for ways to extend their links with other groups, associations, faiths, clubs, and communities throughout the borough. The want to play a greater part and want to feel more easily accepted, there are barriers of course, but over the years these are breaking down and allowing a greater two way conversation to take place.
I had a long such discussion with Rana Rahman, chairman of the Bangladeshi Welfare Association, who has very modern realistic aspirations about taking the next generation of Bangladeshis further into the wider community and inviting others to come and savour the flavours and delights of the cultures which they bring to us and add to our diversity. We touched upon faith and some of the similarities and differences between Islam and Christianity, we also ranged over community projects, education, use of community facilities, and the general lack of knowledge amongst the indigenous population about the cultures and lifestyles of some of the most hard working and charitable members of our community here in South Shields.
I hope to meeting with him and others again soon, and hope through this blog, to extend a little more knowledge and interest about their cultures, history, and faith. I am hoping to pen an article shortly that explains the role of the Islamic faith and the abstinence of Ramadan and how it affects the lifestyle of a large part of our community, the thirty days of Ramadan will begin at sunset on 31st. July this year. I am looking forward to increasing my own understanding as well as helping others to accept more readily this important part of the life of many of our citizens.
I have always thought that differences ought to be understood, encouraged, and celebrated, they make South Tyneside what it is, a hospitable place where friendships flourish and even cross the political divide. Islam has been with us in South Shields since the late 1700s when the first Yemeni sailors arrived here and began to settle in larger numbers in the mid 1800s, and because we have two distinct groups settled in South Shields I will also be meeting with leading members of the Yemeni community to learn more about their roots and the strong tie in to the region.
My greatest desire is that we can encourage more and more people to take part in a wider and more diverse selection of community activities and to partake in the political process and representation of our people. This theme applies equally to all of us who want to continue to see change and evolution in South Tyneside, I believe that our political parties (all of them) are under represented by members of minority groups and that efforts need to be increased to encourage membership generally across the demographic spectrum and to assimilate more cultures into our community politics.
In this respect, volunteering to help out in an election was worthwhile, fruitful, and educational as a result I found a spin off which left me feeling richer than I was before it started.
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