AFTER twelve years with Bolton Interfaith Council, Chan Parmar is retiring, writes Neil Brandwood.

As the organisation’s strategic officer, he has been at the forefront of efforts to promote harmony, understanding and co-operation between all members of the Bolton community.

“I’ve always liked people and I’ve enjoyed helping to bring people from different backgrounds together,” said Chan, 69.

In a busy career, he spent 27 years with the Gas Board, worked at Asda, RBS and then Age Concern, which is where he realised the voluntary sector was for him.

When the Rev Michael Williams, then the Vicar of Bolton, decided to bring different faiths together at regular meetings, Chan – a Hindu - was a natural choice.

He found those meetings very valuable so when it was suggested 12 years ago that he apply for the role in charge of the newly-created Bolton Interfaith Council, he successfully applied.

“Initially, there was funding for just one year and I was already in my mid-50s. It was a gamble but it’s what I wanted to do. I always believe your heart guides you into doing the right thing.

“I applied because I’m always interested in community cohesion and people coming together.”

One of the innovations Chan is most pleased about is the Faith Trails where, mainly young people learn about the religions and cultures of others.

“Everyone has the opportunity to visit a place of worship where they are welcomed, shown around and are able to ask questions.

“What comes out of this is the realisation that whatever our religion, we share common things. There are more similarities than differences.”

Through the trails, 4,751 people visited a mosque, a temple, a church and a synagogue last year.

“We’ve always done things that bring people together but we have only been able to do this because of the many partnerships we have,” said Chan.

He added: “The work we do with schools is also important because the children of today are our future. It’s important that they understand that whatever the colour, creed, appearance or dress code, we are all people. What we share is humanity.”

The Young Ambassadors scheme, begun in 2007, is another project that Chan helped to establish.

“It’s a way for young people to learn about the world and about the implications of poverty. They also learn the the importance of challenging themselves and taking ownership of their actions.”

The Interfaith Council organises open discussions, presentations, information-sharing and, above all, a coming together of like-minded people to help others.

Chan cites National Interfaith Week, International Peace Day and Wednesday’s Holocaust Memorial Day as important examples of partnerships and events that the Council plays a significant role in.

Born in Nairobi, Kenya, Chan went to live in his family’s village in India in the 1960s. He had a British passport and when, at the age of 18, it looked like immigration might be under future threat, his father sent him and his sister to England, to live with his uncle in Bolton.

A retirement party will be held on Saturday, attended by many of those who have been involved with, or had their lives touched by Bolton Interfaith Council.

Although Chan intends to support the Council on a voluntary basis, he is first looking forward to touring India with his wife.

Tellingly for a man who strives to break down barriers, he is looking forward to going to the Indian/Pakistan border.

“There’s an iron barrier between them but the soldiers from each side exchange gifts and salute each other every day.”

Chan says his experiences with the Interfaith Council have made him optimistic about the people of Bolton and their future.

“You see the goodness of the people. Goodness always triumphs.”

Holocaust Memorial Day

WITH the theme of Torn From Home, this year’s Holocaust Memorial Day in Bolton was a poignant event for the town.

Hundreds attended yesterday’s service at Bolton Town Hall’s Festival Hall. 

The Vicar of Bolton, the Rev Canon Dr Chris Bracegirdle, told the assembled: “It is important to remember the victims of the Holocaust and genocide as we need to work together to build bridges of peace, harmony and respect in our communities.”

Candles of hope were lit by civic dignitaries, representatives of community and religious groups and children from schools across Bolton.

Following a number of poignant and inspiring readings, including one by 94-year-old Marianne Phillips, a kinder transport refugee, Cllr Linda Thomas, leader of Bolton Council addressed those present.

After describing the Holocaust, and more recent acts of brutality as “a blight on humanity”, Cllr Thomas highlighted the goodness she has witnessed.

“We in this country, and in particular our town of Bolton, have always been a welcoming place for many families and communities who have lost everything and been displaced from their homelands,” she said.

“As in the past, those who have settled here have enriched our town with their traditions and cultures.”