On a sunny Friday afternoon in East Birmingham, hundreds of pupils from two diverse schools linked arms to form a heart shaped human chain as a camera drone circled and buzzed overhead. It was a symbolic gesture of togetherness and hope to kick off The Great Get Together weekend in memory of the late MP Jo Cox.
This event organised by The Challenge, was a chance for pupils from all different faiths and backgrounds to come together to celebrate their differences. For many pupils this was the first time they’d ever met despite their schools’ close proximity. Pupils whose families had lived in England for generations stood next to those who had recently arrived as refugees from Afghanistan.
15 year old Shayma Begum from Cockshut Hill School, said she had decided to take part because “it is so important to show that we support each other, no matter which faith we are from”.
At a time of national grief in the wake of the tragic Grenfell Tower and recent terrorist attacks in Manchester and London, there is an urgent need to build and strengthen our communities. Oliver Lee, the Chief Executive of The Challenge, said: “Now, more than perhaps before, we all need to come together at events like The Great Get Together.”
The two schools who took part – Ninestiles and Cockshut Hill – used this event as an opportunity to promote the importance of social integration. Jason Bridges, the Interim Principal at Cockshut Hill School said community cohesion and integration mattered more than ever. He said; “This is a difficult time for our country because a small minority are trying to divide us but an event like the Great Get Together is a show of strength and a statement that we have more in common.”
Jess Phillips, the labour MP for Birmingham Yardley, who joined the event said: “This is a chance for pupils to speak up about the needless divides between us”.
Events like The Great Get Together are important and needed to help build a more integrated society. Our recent research on the education system shows that as a society we are less inclined to mix with each other. More than a quarter of our secondary schools are segregated along class and ethnic lines. Yet our schools are one of the few places where children from all faiths and backgrounds can meet and mix. Our campaign ‘Equal Not Divided’ helps to engage schools to improve the mix in their school.
The Great Get Together showed the value of bringing people together from all faiths and backgrounds to build trust and break down prejudice. Now we must learn the lessons of The Great Get Together and continue to celebrate all that we hold in common.