Ahmed J Versi
Her Majesty’s Lord-Lieutenant for Greater London is an advocate of social inclusion and sees his role as a bridge-builder, connecting individuals, organisations and social networks, to enhance people’s sense of belonging in the British capital.
“Community cohesion is a result of building bridges. It is a consequence capital,” Kenneth Olisa said. As the Queen’s representative, he did not rule out the British monarch visiting a mosque or a major event like The Muslim News Awards for Excellence.
“She is interested in everyone in London so there is no resistance to it,” he told Editor of The Muslim News, Ahmed J Versi, in an exclusion interview.
“Her whole approach visiting, for example visiting a school in Newham, which is one of the less wealthy boroughs in London, and spent time meeting children, listening to them, watching them dance and so on, and giving that message that it is our London.”
“Not that she’s come to visit some poor people, not at all; she came in the same way she comes to visit the troops across the way in the Horse Guards. She has said being seen is to be believed is a big part of the process and spending those times on those away days going out and meeting people. And it’s not just the Queen, it’s the Royal Family keeping that whole momentum going and saying community is important as opposed to any other messages. So the evidence is stark from the way that she and the family operate.”
Apart from its pomp and ceremony, the role of the Lord-Lieutenant has evolved over history after beginning in the 15th century under Henry VIII. “We still have high sheriffs today and they are the link between the monarch and the judiciary and Lord Lieutenants today obviously and we are the link between the monarch and the population,” the representative explained.
Olisa, who has a Nigerian father and an English mother, was appointed last year to his post, which is not applied to but is left to be advised by the Prime Minister’s Office, a similar process as the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Master of Trinity College Cambridge.
He recognised that some people in London feel left out as if the city does not belong to them.
“I hope that I will be able to show the people in that penumbra that there is a better alternative than being excluded and feeling miserable about things,” the Lord-Lieutenant said, using the example of the work of charities becoming involved to stop children joining gangs and becoming involved in knife crime as an example of some of the work being done locally.
His strategy has been entitled Building Bridges for a Fairer London and helps to amplify the activities of other ways of building bridges between the dispossessed, the disadvantaged, the excluded. Those who he said “feel they’re excluded and the rest of us in London.”
It was to “recognise and support and reward those who are doing good work in London to reduce that number of the excluded and that strategy stands on three legs: faith, occupation and heritage.”
He went on to emphasise that there were “lots and lots of people of faith, leaders in the faith communities trying to improve the quality of life for everybody in London either their own followers or more broadly in the multi-faith environment. And there is a lot of common cause. “
“Lots of charities are doing those things but again the kinds of areas where I’m finding we can add value are for example in the volunteering end, there are many children wanting to join cadet organisations, for example, scouts, guides and army and so on across London.”
Another area the Queen’s representative focused on was spending time he is talking to business “who say we have lots of young people who like to give back to the community but we can’t find a way to help them but I can bring those two things together.”
“So I met some people in a charity who help children who have been excluded get back into school and mainstream education and the way they do it is to take them to museums and galleries and trips on the river. Things that are available to everybody but it never occurred to their parents to do that.”
When referring to community cohesion becoming a consequence of building bridges, he went back to the British Empire medal award and how it was used to recognise community work
“Someone in a community has spent 10, 20, 30 years doing something to help other people, running a scout troop, collecting money for the Rural British Legion, whatever it happens to be, and they don’t do it because they want to be rewarded they do it because they care about their community. But if they’re recognised and rewarded the other people go hmmm I want to do something like that or I know somebody is doing something like that and they should be recognised and rewarded.”
“There are lots of initiatives like that by going, recognising and giving a speech and showing Her Majesty cares about these things, that is just a little more glue in the communities.” The second best way to find out what the British monarch thinks after asking her is to “read what she says in her speeches particularly the Christmas broadcast.
“She is very clear in the answer to that question and it’s her will that we will do the sorts of things I was talking about. She always starts out in those speeches by pointing out about the milk of human kindness, the willingness of one to help another. She is the exact opposite of a divisive leader of the nation.”