Local knowledge

The Government's new 'whole community' initiatives will help fight extremism, says Kamlesh Patel. John Gill reports

April 10, 2008

With academic expertise and two decades of practical experience working on community cohesion issues, Kamlesh Patel has been appointed as a government adviser on one of the most politically sensitive issues of the time.

The director of the Centre for Ethnicity and Health at the University of Central Lancashire, has been asked to advise Hazel Blears, Minister for Communities and Local Government, on the prevention of violent extremism.

His new role is part of an attempt by the Government to create a "whole community" approach to tackling extremism, with a focus on working at a grassroots level.

"The first task is to help develop a strategy to better engage with local people," Lord Patel said.

"Tackling extremism is very sensitive and, whatever we say, it does home in on Muslim communities. Over the years at the University of Central Lancashire we've developed extremely good models for engaging with vulnerable or marginalised communities.

"We've been working with the black and minority ethnic community on drugs, on mental health, on sexual health and crime, and we've done that very successfully by engaging local people who have lots of intelligence, lots of knowledge and lots of good ideas."

Prior to moving into academia, Lord Patel set up and ran a mother-and-baby drug rehabilitation centre and worked in the mental health field and as a social worker.

He joined Uclan in 1995 as a senior lecturer in health and social care policy, and set up the Centre for Ethnicity and Health in 1998.

The centre employs more than 50 people with a research focus on inequality in the fields of health, criminal justice and social care. Lord Patel was made a peer in 2006.

He said the Government's decision to call on his expertise as an academic was a positive step. "It falls into Gordon Brown's agenda of a government of all talents.

"There are civil servants who have lots of experience but who, with all the will in the world, are not experts in particular areas, and this needs specific expertise and a fresh approach," he said.

The Government has pledged £45 million over three years to help communities build resilience against violent extremism. Lord Patel is adamant that his advisory role was based on a real desire to engage with people locally.

"Hazel Blears does passionately believe in this - it's not spin. She really believes that local people should be influencing policy at local and national levels. When you've got someone who believes that and will support you, you can achieve a lot," he said.


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