In the wake of record levels of religiously motivated hate crimes, Yorkshire mental health charity Touchstone is rolling out more training in 2019 to help staff and volunteers better understand Islamophobia and its impact on individuals and communities.

The training will continue next month to equip attendees on how best to the charity’s support service users experiencing Islamophobia.

Last year more than 100 people attended the training, which looks at the effect of Islamophobia on local Muslims, including the charity’s employees, volunteers and service users.

With figures from West Yorkshire Police showing that reports of race-related hate crimes have doubled in five years and are at a record high, Touchstone has four training sessions organised for this year.  In 2016/17 police recorded 3,260 such crimes in West Yorkshire – up from 2,597 the year before. In Bradford reports of attacks or threats against race, religion, gender, sexual orientation or disability rocketed from 544 in 2014/15 to 1,788 in 2017/18.

Arfan Hanif, Touchstone’s operation’s director, who leads the initiative, explained: “The figures are not surprising and reinforce the view that Islamophobia is on the rise with 52% of recorded religious hate offences aimed at Muslims.  Despite the shocking nature of the figures, it is positive that more people are reporting incidents and police forces are recording them.

“With so much negative media and social media coverage around Islam, there is always a danger that we become susceptible to believing misinformed views and opinions. These could find their way unwittingly into how we treat our work colleagues, and how we deliver services to our Muslim communities.

“One in six of our staff and service users are Muslim, we know the impact of Islamophobia on this community. By giving employees and volunteers a better understanding of Islam through our training we aim to ensure that Muslims feel welcomed and supported, both inside and outside Touchstone. This inevitably has a positive effect on their mental and physical wellbeing.”

The training, which Touchstone runs in partnership with the organisation Muslim Engagement and Development (MEND), addresses negative stereotypes and views of Islam.  Courses cover the basics of what Islam is, dispel myths, looks at causes and cures of Islamophobia and the impact on mental health.

“As a mental health provider Touchstone’s advice to service users is one of re-assurance that such incidents are thankfully rare and that support is available if they were to experience or witness a hate crime Incident,” commented Arfan.  “Support will also be offered to any service user who feels distressed by the general rise in hate crime incidents including Islamophobia.  We will continue to deliver our Islamophobia and mental health training in partnership with MEND to all our staff so that we can continually meet the needs of our diverse communities.”

Susan Nota, from Touchstone’s Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT), who attended a course, said: “The myths and stereotypes were both shocking and informative. I learnt so much around statistics and legislation. Everyone should do this training.”

Nafeesa Jogee, one of Touchtone’s administrators, a Muslim herself, commented: “I feel a lot more ready and equipped for my own personal safety.”

Islamophobic hate crime has risen in recent years, especially after events such as the Brexit referendum and terrorist attacks, and it is estimated that 88 per cent of recorded hate crimes are religiously or racially motivated.

Arfan Hanif concluded: “For Touchstone it is less to do with actual incidents as in reality a minority of people (which is growing) are subject to direct abuse.  It is more to do with the climate created where people and communities feel fear, insecure, anxious and under attack. This in turn can have a detrimental impact on the wellbeing of individuals and communities.  The matter maybe further compounded for individuals experiencing mental health conditions such as anxiety and panic attacks.”

The training is already paying dividends for the charity. In a staff feedback survey for the Sunday Times Best Company to Work For 2018 93 per cent of staff feels Touchstone values diversity and 97% agreed they could make a valuable contribution to the organisation.  Touchstone is ranked eighth in the Sunday Times Best Company to Work For Top 100 Not For Profit Organisation to Work For list.

Touchstone regularly wins national accolades for its best practice in diversity and inclusion. The charity was recently ranked 20th in the Stonewall Top 100 Employers list, and in December 2018 – for the third consecutive year – it came top in the Inclusive Top 50 UK Employers List.