Steve Darling: No society is invulnerable to prejudice and intolerance

Graffiti on a wall near Travnik fortress referring to the Srebrenica massacre in July, 1995, during the Bosnian war

Graffiti on a wall near Travnik fortress referring to the Srebrenica massacre in July, 1995, during the Bosnian war - Credit: Getty Images

Torbay Council leader, Cllr Steve Darling, writes for the Torbay Weekly

Cllr Steve Darling

Cllr Steve Darling - Credit: Archant

'You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view... until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.'

One of my favourite books is To Kill A Mockingbird, which details how social injustice, prejudices, and class discrimination ruin social harmony.

The quotation above is one of my favourites as it provides a personal challenge within our own lives to attempt to empathise with others and have a deeper understanding of their experiences.

Sadly, Michael Gove ended the inclusion of this book in the English literature syllabus by only permitting British literature. Our nation's youth are the poorer for this ruling.

At our last full council meeting, for the first time, we welcomed an imam to hold an Islamic prayer in memory of the innocent lives taken in Srebrenica 25 years ago.

On July 11, 1995, Bosnian Serb forces captured Srebrenica in Eastern Bosnia, which had been declared a UN Safe Area. In the days following, more than 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys were systematically murdered and buried in mass graves, the worst crime on European soil since the Second World War.

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To mark the genocide, councillors paid special tribute with a minute's silence led by the imam from Torbay Islamic Centre. It was very moving.

The lesson from Srebrenica is that no society is invulnerable to prejudice and intolerance.

We must all remain vigilant against these forces, and take positive action to build stronger, more resilient communities.

As a council, we will not tolerate hate against another person and I would encourage anyone in our communities who experiences a crime because of their race, religion, sexual orientation, disability or transgender status to report it to Devon and Cornwall Police.

Covid-19 has had a massive impact on all our lives and we are now doing all we can, with the TDA, to help local businesses get back on track.

As part of this, a temporary information officer has been appointed to help Torbay high street businesses to reopen safely.

Funded from the European Regional Development Fund, Alan Smith will focus on providing guidance on health and safety compliance and in-store best practices acting as a key contact for our businesses.

He'll be supporting our high street shops until January and I wish him well.

Listening and responding more effectively to the needs of people in our local communities is incredibly important to me and other members of the council administration and that is why we recently held our second Ask Us Facebook Live event of the Covid-19 crisis.

The session gave people the opportunity to ask questions about how we and other organisations are preventing and responding to coronavirus in Torbay.

The panel, made up of representatives from the public and private sectors, helped to explain how we are all working hard to get people back to work, our children and young people back to school, local businesses reopened and as a tourism destination welcoming the return of tourists back in a safe way.

Information was also provided on response plans to tackle any local outbreaks.

Thank you to everyone who took the time to join us and ask questions.

If you missed the session you can view it on Facebook or on the Torbay Council website at www.torbay.gov.uk/health-and-wellbeing/public-health/coronavirus/covid-live/live-21-july-2020

Finally, with the relaxation of lockdown rules, I have been able to get back to what I believe is at the heart of being a councillor, grass roots engagement.

This can range from helping with the Hele litter pick with my fellow ward councillors or participating in our first socially-distanced community partnership meeting at the Medway Centre in Watcombe, to hear from residents how Torbay Council can enable them to tackle the challenges in their communities.

After 25 years as a councillor, I am sure keeping well-grounded in our communities is the key to effecting positive change in our Bay.