Faith Guides are volunteer/staff tour guides in places of worship across the West Midlands, training on a programme devised jointly by the Faith Encounter Programme and the Institute of Tourist Guiding. The Trust supported the evaluation of the inaugural course.
Name of Project: Faith Encounter Programme
Your Name: Ruth Tetlow
1. What was the context or challenge which led to you developing your project?
The context is the multifaith communities of the West Midlands and our awareness of the large number of groups, particularly from school, visiting places of worship for educational purposes. Although those places of worship receive the groups hospitably they are seldom equipped with the skills needed to interpret their faith to outsiders and to give a tour of professional standard. We were aware of the need to deal with prejudiced attitudes towards people of different faiths and cultural backgrounds, and the danger of these developing into conflict situations.
2. What did you do, and how did you go about it? How was it doing something new or creative?
We set up a 12 week training course to train people as Faith Guides for their own places of worship in order to enhance the quality of these visits. The course was accredited by the Institute of Tourist Guiding and has now run 9 times in the West Midlands and twice in Leicester. By the end of the current course over 100 people of 8 different faiths, will have been trained. The faiths are Buddhist, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Jain, Jewish, Sikh and Unitarian. It was entirely new and creative. We have run the course at several different venues around the region on minimum budgets, with well qualified tutors for each faith and for Guiding Skills. Ruth Tetlow, the Coordinator of the Faith Encounter Programme has acted as the Programme Director and tutor for interfaith understanding. We set up a website which enables teachers to see those places of worship which have trained guides and to contact the Co-ordinator for advice.
3. What difference has the project made or is making? (Both immediate, short term impact, and any longer-term or continuing legacies – particularly where the project was a few years ago)
It has meant that the many thousands of children, young people and adults who visit places of worship each year have been given an inspiring educational experience that they would not have received otherwise e.g. the Birmingham Central Mosque alone received over 10,000 such visitors last year. It has also benefitted the Faith Guides themselves, who have made friendships across faith boundaries and learned about other faiths, while gaining transferable skills. The trained Faith Guides have also been a resource for speaking engagements elsewhere, particularly in school assemblies. Recently 6 short films have been made in partnership with Paul Davies of Vyka films, to be made available for those who are preparing for a visit or cannot make an actual visit. They show a short tour of 6 of the most visited places of worship, presented by 6 of the most able Faith Guides.
There is still a demand for more courses but unfortunately funding difficulties have become overwhelming and it is unlikely that the project will be able to continue in 2014.
4. What difference did support and/or funding from St Peter’s Saltley Trust make to your project and its impact?
The funding in 2007 from St Peters’ Saltley enabled the project to get off the ground, so it was vital.
We also benefitted greatly from the support offered by the Director Ian Jones, who acted as Vice Chair of the Steering Group during 2007 – 9. He observed sessions of the first Faith Guiding course and interviewed several of the participants as the background for writing a very useful report on the project, jointly with Ruth Tetlow, the Co-ordinator. This was later published as an article in Inter-Religious Insight (July 2009 Vol 7 No 3), entitled ‘Interpreting Faith to Visitors: reflections on a pioneering faith guiding course’ .