CAPTION: The Diocese of Exeter event encouraged attendees to recognise the position of organisations in relation to racial equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) and take positive action.

Exeter Peace Feast highlights ‘We Are Stronger Together’ in Committing to Racial Equity, Diversity and Inclusion

Posted: 7th February, 2024

School leaders across Devon gathered together at an inspiring and moving event, to commit to creating kinder, fairer and more welcoming communities, where people of different cultures and races live well together.

The Exeter Peace Feast, which was organised by the Diocese of Exeter’s Education Team with the support of the Church of England Education Office, was an event that encouraged CEOs, executive leaders and Chairs of Governance Boards to recognise the position of organisations in relation to racial equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) and take positive action.

The idea to run a Peace Feast event was inspired by Bridges for Communities, who work hard to create communities where people of diverse cultures, races and faiths live well together.

The Peace Feast included a number of contributions to help identify areas where practise could potentially be improved or enhanced.   These included a statistical overview of ethnicity nationally, in Devon and in Church of England schools in Devon was shared by Sue Lockwood, Diocesan Director of Education, by Elizabeth Olulari, who is the Church of England National Education Lead for Racial Justice, and by Simon Atkinson, the Church of England Head of Curriculum and Inclusion.

The Exeter event was supported by the Church of England Education Office

The statistics prompted the group to think about how they could ensure recruitment of staff, governors and volunteers create opportunities to increase ethnic diversity in Devon schools so that they are more representative of the student population.

Simon Atkinson said, “We were excited to collaborate with our colleagues in the Diocese of Exeter Education Team on this Peace Feast.

“This event brought together education leaders from across the diocese along with key partners from the wider community over food to discuss how to move forward with racial justice. We are looking forward to continuing the journey.”

Another contribution was from Lorna Legg, Offwell Church of England Primary School Headteacher, member of the Diocesan Board of Education Committee (EDBE) and member of the National Association of Headteacher’s Leaders for Race Equality Group.

This session prompted the group to think about how racism, prejudice and bias is addressed in schools, and what more needs to be done.

Lorna said, “Being British-Jamaican, the opportunity to explore equality, diversity, and inclusion with an audience of other school leaders (and the fact it would include lunch) was compelling. What I didn’t realise was that it would be so moving.”

Connecting around a Feast

The group were able to enjoy some traditional Syrian starters, mains and desserts.

Peace Feasts traditionally include a meal. The idea is that people from different cultures and faith can gather around food, and learn about each other’s traditions, viewpoints, and experience. The feast element also helps to build understanding and connections.

At the Exeter Peace Feast, catering was provided by Amne Arnaout, from Mary’s Syrian Kitchen.

The Peace Feast gave Amne the opportunity to tell her own compelling story, and she shared how after fleeing the war in Syria she arrived in Jordan before being offered the chance of resettlement in the UK through a partnership with Ottery St Mary’s church..

Once they had settled in Ottery St Mary in Devon, Amne set up a home catering business called ‘Mary’s Syrian Kitchen,’ offering Syrian food takeaways and home deliveries, and giving the local community the opportunity to sample and learn about Syrian cuisine.

The feast included hummus, falafel, kawaji vegetables with white rice, baklava and more delicious dishes.

Lorna Legg said, “To share a delicious meal, generously made by refugees, and hear the story of a young woman who had lost her son while travelling to find freedom, was revelatory.

“We can all walk in another’s footsteps, when we open our hearts and minds to their stories.”

Moving Forward

Those who attended the event found it a powerful time to come together and explore what work needs to be done and how they can make a difference.

Ian Thomas, CEO at TEAM Multi-Academy Trust, said, “Attending the Peace Feast event organised by the Diocese of Exeter was a deeply enriching experience, shedding light on the myriad ways our Multi-Academy Trust in North Devon is addressing critical issues of equality, diversity, and inclusion.

“The discussions and insights shared reinforced the powerful notion that together we are stronger, highlighting the importance of collective action in nurturing active global citizens within our educational communities. It is imperative that our schools, Academy Trusts, Local Authority, and Diocese of Exeter continue to collaborate closely, bridging gaps and confronting the unique challenges we face across both rural and urban Devon.

The event brought inspiration for positive change

“This collaborative spirit not only underscores our achievements but also illuminates the path forward, inspiring us to enhance our efforts in building a more inclusive, equitable, and compassionate future for all our students.”

Elizabeth Olulari, the Church of England National Education Lead for Racial Justice, said, “In the symphony of flavours curated by our talented caterer, we taste not just the essence of exquisite cuisine but the journey of resilience and hope.

“The Exeter Peace Feast, championed by the amazing Diocesan Director of Education and her team, who prioritise Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, and Justice, serves as a reminder that when leadership aligns with compassion, transformative change unfolds.

“Amidst the feast, the richness of stories shared by our diverse speakers becomes the thread that weaves a tapestry of understanding that we serve a God who cares for the marginalised.”

“Each narrative adds a unique hue to the canvas of unity, illustrating that true inclusion is not just a destination but a collective journey nurtured by compassion and embraced through shared stories and shared meals.”

Nicky Dunsford, CEO of Link Academy Trust, said, “The Peace Feast was an inspirational way of giving leaders time and varied stimuli to really embrace inclusion in our organisations, and consider the impact of our approach. The informality of the session and the approach, alongside the amazing food, enabled everyone to fully appreciate and consider how we can look at developing additional and new ways to be even more successful.”

Diocesan Director of Education Sue Lockwood sharing with the group

Sue Lockwood, the Diocesan Director of Education, said, “We were delighted with the engagement at the Diocesan Education Team’s Peace Feast as together, with our diocesan family of schools, we seek to creating kinder, fairer and more welcoming communities where people of different cultures and races live well together.”

“We are particularly grateful to all who contributed to the day and encouraged by the follow up actions attendees have committed to make back in their academy trusts or federations.”