Over the past few months most of my time has been spent on fieldwork relating to the European Migrant Integration Academy (EU-MIA). The academy, to take place in Turin in February 2014, will be based on case study material from 10 integration projects in different EU-countries. Together with FIERI – a Turin-based research centre – we have, over the past few months, been visiting these projects, carrying out and filming interviews with key stakeholders and beneficiaries.
Whereas FIERI is doing five field missions in southern Europe (France, Italy (2), Spain (2)), we at COMPAS have so far visited projects in Austria, Britain, Germany and Sweden, and this week I will be off, together with Ida Persson, to Vejle, Denmark for the final mission. In the next paragraphs I will attempt to summarise the experiences from the missions that I have been part of : Bermondsey (Southwark), Hamburg and Vienna. (The mission to Visby, Sweden was carried out by Ben Gidley, Ida Persson, and Simon Rowe.)
St. George’s Festival, Bermondsey
For our pilot mission, we returned to Bermondsey where we previously have done fieldwork as part of the Concordia Discors project. Whereas the St’ George’s Festival, staged every April since 2006, was the central event that we focused on, it was important for us to establish a broader understanding of how the festival is nested within a broader context of community development. These are primarily the South Bermondsey Partnership, implemented 2004-11 and led by a small locally based team from the London Borough of Southwark, and, since 2012, the Big Local, led by two well-established organisations with a long history in the area – Bede House, and Time and Talents.
Talking to different stakeholders enabled us to understand how different meanings were invested in the festival. At policy level the aim was to challenge the association between Bermondsey and the British National Party in a manner that didn’t denigrate the neighbourhood. But among local residents there was a feeling that while a wide range of events were taking place to celebrate diversity, nothing much was done for the local white population. The St. George’s Festival served both purposes, ‘reclaiming’ the English flag from BNP while also providing a hugely popular, and inclusive, community event in a neighbourhood that is increasingly diverse. Furthermore, as many told us, while St. George is closely associated with English identity, he is also the patron saint of many other countries.