More in Common
Today was the Chair of Harlow Council’s Annual Civic Service, in St Paul’s Harlow.
In the light of recent events, here was my address to the service, attended by the Lord Lieutenant of Essex, Lord Petre, the High Sheriff of Essex, the Chair of Essex County Council and the Mayors and Chairs of a number of local Councils.
The last few weeks have been a difficult time.
Not least for the family and friends of Arek, who was killed in the Stow just over two weeks ago, for the Polish community, and for Harlow as a whole.
In the wake of this, some sections of the media, and some other voices, inside and outside of Harlow, have labelled Harlow as a divided town, as a town with one section of the community pitted against another, as a racist town.
I must admit that, for a while, I stopped wearing my Proud of Harlow badge.
There are undoubtedly some people, a tiny minority, who are indeed racist.
Others, encouraged by some politicians, some sections of the media, genuinely believe that their situation, low pay, the difficulty getting a job, a council house, or a place at their preferred school for their children, is the fault of ‘others’, of migrants, of people who are ‘not one of us’.
I’m not pretending that this is a problem that doesn’t exist, and I’ve recently heard testimony from people that have been on the receiving end of abuse and discrimination.
I’m also not saying that it shouldn’t be challenged, that it shouldn’t be tackled head on, but it is not a problem confined to Harlow, it does not define Harlow, it is not a picture I recognise of the vast majority of people in Harlow.
When I marched in silence and respect with the hundreds of people last Saturday, in a show of solidarity with the Polish community, from the Stow to this church, with the Harlow community that always comes together at times of difficulty, this is the Harlow I know.
When I get together with volunteers to help at a drop in centre for the homeless and the vulnerably housed, as I will this evening, or see the many people working to help others less fortunate than themselves, this is the Harlow I know.
When I see a convoy of Harlow people leaving to provide supplies to refugees in Calais, for people who have fled a war zone in Syria, this is the Harlow I know.
Harlow is an open, compassionate, and welcoming community.
For every voice that preaches division, for every voice that blames others, for every voice that tries to drag our community down, there are a hundred voices that are welcoming, who want to strengthen our community, and seek harmony.
Voices that provide support for others, regardless of where they were born, their faith, or the colour of their skin.
The voices that seek to divide our community, that denigrate others, that resort to violence, are few, but they are loud.
It needs to be made clear that these voices don’t define Harlow, they don’t represent Harlow, these voices are not welcome.
They need to be drowned out by the voices of unity, of community, and of harmony.
Drowned out by the voices that declare that we have more in common than that which divides us.
Everyone one of us, community leaders, the police, each of us as individuals, needs to make it clear that everyone that contributes to our town, everyone that works in our hospital or our warehouses, that volunteers for a charity, everyone who is trying to do the best for their family, is welcome in Harlow.
Harmony is a soft, gentle concept, but it needs all people of good will to work together, to have a loud and united voice, to have a Heart for Harlow.
To declare that we have more in common than that which divides us.
I know Harlow, all of us here and across the town, will rise to the challenge.
That’s the Harlow I know.
That’s why I am, and will remain, Proud of Harlow.
We have more in common than that which divides us.
I will do everything I can, working with the Council, the Police, and others, to get beyond this, to restore the faith of everyone in Harlow – in Community, in Solidarity, in Harmony.
I hope, I know, you will too.
There is much to do.