By Jenni Davidson
Independent councillor Christina Summers has been selected as Brighton and Hove City Council’s first champion for faith groups.
She was elected unopposed to the new role at a council meeting in Hove Town Hall on Thursday (24 October).
Councillor Summers proposed that the position be created as part of a motion on partnering with faith groups.
She said that faith groups do “things that the council can’t do, can’t afford to do.”
Councillors were split on whether the role was needed.
The Conservatives and most of the Labour group supported the motion, while much of the Green group voted against it.
Speaking in support, Councillor Dee Simson said that she had never realised what faith groups meant to the city until she took a council role with responsibility for communities.
She mentioned some of the services that faith groups provide, including food banks, money advice, pregnancy counselling, mother and toddler groups and help for sex workers.
“We need to recognise what these people do, people of all faiths,” she said.
Councillor Mary Mears highlighted loneliness as a key issue that faith groups could help with.
However, some councillors felt that the role was not wide enough or that it duplicated work that was already being done in other ways.
Councillor Emma Daniel pointed out that there were many volunteers who did not belong to faith groups and argued for a champion to cover volunteers of all kinds.
Councillor Leo Littman expressed concern that a faith champion would overlap too much with what he did as the council’s black and minority ethnic (BME) champion.
Because faith plays a significant part in many ethnic identities, Councillor Littman said, he often found himself acting as “de facto faith champion”.
Councillor Bill Randall felt that the motion placed too much emphasis on Christians.
“We need to make sure this is a multi-faith approach,” he said.
He tabled an amendment listing different faith groups.
However, Councillors Les Hamilton and Tony Janio pointed out that by listing specific faiths, any faith not mentioned would be excluded.
The amendment was rejected.
Christina Summers begins her role as faith groups champion immediately.
She will seek to build a closer relationship between the council and faith groups around the city and gain a better understanding of the motivations and concerns of different faith groups.