We stayed with a couple in their home through Airbnb. Tom was a sport and motivation coach and Kerry a Yoga teacher, last year they had walked across England from side to side. We spoke of fast and slow walking and explained the concept of a listening pilgrimage. Tom was interested in doing something similar to raise awareness and funds for homeless people.
We also stayed in an amazing stately home, thanks to a friend of a friend. William was a kind and unaffected host who made light of the richness of his surroundings. His ancestors were Norman Neapolitans and his son is married to a Polish woman. His wife employs a Syrian baker in her school of artisanal food. We spoke of the turbulence in Italy where the criminal gangs exploit asylum seekers as slaves and sex-workers in what he described as their biggest business opportunity since heroin.
We walked through Cresswell Crags, site of human and Neanderthal occupation for hundreds of thousands of years. A woman from Sheffield offered us shelter in Whitby, impressed by our long walk and our ‘weird’ appearance.
Near Sheffield we met two old men, one from North London and one from mid Scotland. They both migrated to Sheffield 28 years ago and met through the community of Jehovah’s Witnesses. They were delightful company and clearly firm friends through all the years and many trials.
Near Rotherham we saw more evidence of Roman settlement as well as populations before and after Roman occupation. We also saw the impact of heavy industry on the environment and the evidence of its decline in the unlovely town centres.
We met a local counsellor and her friend who helped us on our way and spoke about cross-cultural programmes in their communities.
In Dewsbury we met a local vicar, Kathy, who told us about her church which was built with funds available after Waterloo in celebration of the defeat of Napoleon. The Brontes used to worship there. A huge memorial in a nearby park commemorated the soldiers who died in the World Wars of the Twentieth Century. Katy told us that following these losses local mill owners employed large numbers of Asian migrants. The descendents of these migrants are now owners of mills employing Eastern European labourers. The Church of England School nearby has 70% Muslim pupils. A nearby suburb has 90% Muslim families. We spoke of the impact on the ‘indigenous’ white population who have become a minority in just a couple of generations. Later in Leeds we told some white male pub-goers we had visited Batley and they jokingly asked if we had eaten curry there.
The Batley Press carried a headline about young people from the area who had become radicalised ‘Court Confession of Batley man on Terror Charges, “I PLANNED TO FIGHT FOR ISLAMIC STATE”. An editorial inside railed against Jeremy Corbin, Cambridge graduates and the hijab with obscene and emotive language. Kathy explained that this was a very right wing paper and there is another newspaper which leans to the left.
Also in The Batley Press were articles about the recently opened Jo Cox Centre, a community resource for older people named in honour of the MP. Her legacy was also celebrated in another article describing the launch of The Great Get Together backed by Eddie Izzard, an initiative to bring communities together in the spirit of Cox’s statement that ‘we have more in common than that which divides us’.
We were privileged to meet Jo’s sister Kim as well as their mother Jean and Jo’s former P.A. Azila. They were celebrating the Tour de Yorkshire, rerouted through Birstall in honour of Jo, with a Great Get Together tea-party. A large and diverse crowd of community members were gathered in a spirit of celebration and we felt humbled and special to be part of such an uplifting event. Kim and Jean were warmly hospitable and full of positive energy, as were Jo’s friends, and all spoke with passion about the good work that was going on in Jo’s name and how such work as well as the support of friends and strangers had helped them through their darkest times.
What’s more, Kim and Jean spoke kindly about our walk and were evidently grateful that we had been able to fit Batley into our itinerary on this particular day. We have pledged to continue to spread the word about MoreinCommon and The Great Get Together, and hope to be on Iona in time to join a community party to honour Jo on 17th or 18th June.