PINNED to Stephanie Dermott’s office wall is a poem which reads:-

Lest we never forget we are brothers

Lest we never forget why we came

Lest we never forget that we all belong

Lest we never forget we’re the same

It’s a credo she lives her life by, making her the ideal co-ordinator of Bolton Interfaith Council.

Originally from Leigh and now living in Westhoughton, 28-year-old Stephanie credits her mum for inspiring her: “She always encouraged me to tackle prejudice.”

Growing up, she was fascinated by faith and religion and passionate about anti-racism, but her route to her new position was somewhat unusual.

“I used to work in the Next store at Middlebrook. My colleagues came from a variety of faith backgrounds and I was fascinated by the conversations we used to have. I thought: ‘This is what interests me, why don’t I make a career of it?’”

She enrolled on a degree course in comparative religion and social anthropology at the University of Manchester. A masters degree in South Asian studies followed, and only the other week she completed a PhD in religion and social cohesion.

The PhD enabled her to deepen her understanding of community cohesion policies at local and national levels and allowed her to examine the role that faith groups can play in delivering community cohesion through social action.

As part of her fieldwork she spent a year as a volunteer for the Faith Network for Manchester and was put in charge of one of its programmes involving school workshops, something that she is keen to develop in Bolton.

“I’ll be continuing the council’s faith trail scheme which enables people to visit religious buildings they may never have stepped foot in before.”

The faith trails have proved particularly popular with school pupils but Stephanie stresses that they are open to all ages and all groups.

“Nothing beats learning through experience. It’s a way of meeting and learning about people from different backgrounds rather than just reading about them in a text book.

“A lot of prejudice stems from ignorance which is why I think education is one of the most important branches of the interfaith council’s work. The more that you know and understand about people, the less prejudice and apprehension you hold towards them .”

Having no faith background of her own is something that Stephanie thinks is advantageous for her role.

“It gives a new perspective and it means I’m not attached to one particular religion over another.

“The interfaith world comes with a tagline of ‘all faiths and none’ so to include people of no faith is important in developing cohesion because you have to work beyond the boundaries of faith. You have to reach out to the wider community and get people involved in learning about other faiths by enabling them to engage with people from different backgrounds.”

With the current divisive political climate, Stephanie believes the work of the interfaith council is more important than ever.

“Division, diversity and difference is not something to shy away from or eliminate, it’s something to celebrate and share. It’s important to develop cohesion, not just in terms of religion but for bringing different communities together through social action projects.”

One of the things that she finds especially appealing about the job is the opportunity for face-to-face contact.

“I’m not just sat in the office sending emails out, a big chunk of my time is spent going to different places of worship, visiting organisations and meeting people. I think that’s the way to do the job, to make real connections.”

Stephanie said that she did not arrive with an agenda and, during this settling in period, she is eager to continue the legacy of her predecessor Chan Parmar.

In the long-term though, she will be looking at new ways of engaging young people and developing more projects across Bolton that bring people together.

She also hopes to increase the number of partnerships the council has. At the moment it works closely with Bolton Christian Community Cohesion, Bolton Council of Mosques, Bolton Hindu Forum and Bolton Town Centre Chaplaincy.

It also works with non-religious organisations such as City of Sanctuary, which supports refugees who have fled war and persecution.

“The more partnerships you have the stronger and more effective you become.”

On her immediate horizon is Genocide Memorial Day on June 19.

“Lots of councils mark Holocaust memorial Day but I think Bolton is one of the few places to actually mark Genocide Day.”

The event commemorates victims of genocide, such as those who experienced Rwanda, Darfur and Srebrenica. It coincides with Refugee Week which raises awareness of the plight of refugees who have been displaced not only by genocide but by conflict or war.

Stephanie is also looking forward to a community walk around Clifton Country Park, which is planned for July 21.

Chan Parmar’s tireless efforts for the council set a high benchmark for his successor but due to Stephanie’s clearly evident enthusiasm, integrity and commitment, Bolton can look forward to a future which further unites all of its diverse communities.

For further information about Bolton Interfaith Council please call 01204 546110, or visit