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June 2005
Getting rid of Rambo...
Commonweal Storyteller Peter Moore in action in the Big Top during the 2005 Bradford Mela
If you've been along to this year's Bradford Mela you might, like us, have come across things you never knew existed. Chancing in to the Big Top to hear the story-telling we discovered a unique library working for peace and a better world was based right here in Bradford.

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The Commonweal

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The first Bradford Mela took place in 1988 . It is the oldest in the UK.

The word Mela comes from Sanskrit and means "to meet."

People come to Bradford from across the world to learn how to stage a successful Mela.

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Down in the Big Top the stories were being read by a group of people calling themselves the Commonweal Storytellers. Our curiosity was aroused so we asked Commonweal Children's Outreach Worker Peter Moore to explain what it is all about.

Why 'Commonweal' storytellers?
What we are doing now is a project that has been funded by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation - we got a special experimental grant from them - and the idea is to bring socially-conscious ideas about how we can live sustainably, how we can live in peace and how we can resolve conflict in a non-violent way. We've been building up a collection of stories that have these messages and we've been trying to make them available to parents, teachers, community leaders and anyone who is interested.

University sign
The Commonweal Collection housed at the University of Bradford is "one of Bradford's best-kept secrets."

What exactly is the Commonweal collection?
It's a non-violent library for social change. We've been based at the University of Bradford for thirty years and our objective is to bring resources to the community in Bradford and throughout England around the idea of how to change society without resorting to violent struggle.

Where do these stories come from?
A lot of publishers are now clueing into the idea that we don't have to have action sequences and violent resolutions, and that parents are actually looking for stories with a positive, non-sexist, non-violent message. We also want to get storytellers from the area to bring along their ideas and mix Bradford and Yorkshire into the stories in any way we can. It's a great way of engaging the kids who really get into it. We had a group yesterday who were putting off their parents and saying, 'No, Dad. We want to stay for another story' because they were interested in the very, very positive message.

Is it important for kids to find out about ideas like this when they are as young as possible?
You need to give young people alternatives. The funny thing about video games is they are very straight and there is only one way to go and there are certain ways to act. Kids want alternatives, they want other ways of dealing with problems. A Rambo approach is not going to work in the playground so what do they do then? How do they respond to bullying? How do you respond to somebody insulting you or making fun of your race or your colour or your sex? Kids want alternatives.

George Foreman
Boxer George Foreman has written inspirational stories for young people.

Could you suggest any suitable authors to parents reading this?
One author is George Foreman, the boxer, and we're doing one of his stories today called Dinosaurs And All That Rubbish, and it's about how one man's greed can destroy a planet and we have to look again at the way we live in our world so we can all enjoy it, and that's from an old boxer. It's a great story and really inspirational.

What is the origin of the Commonweal ideal?
It came from David Hoggett, a carpenter, who was building homes for refugees in Austria in 1955 and he had always been interested in the Ghandian non-violent ethic and how it could be applied in society. What would a non-violent United Kingdom look like? As a result of some charity work he was doing on one of his vacations he fell from a roof and was paralysed. After a few years of recuperation and getting to know his new limits he came up with a better way of relating to the world for him, he also came up with this idea and said "I'd like to do this."

It started as a postal library for the peace movement but when David Hoggett died the trustees moved it to Bradford because the University's Peace Department was just starting up at that moment. It's an amazing resource for our community and it's one of Bradford's best-kept secrets. It's a unique collection. There's biographies of peace-makers, it's one of the largest collections of Gandhi's writings in Britain and you also have lots of ways of looking at a lot of different issues from nuclear disarmament to vegan cooking, to sustainable development and a healthy environment. I think anyone who walks in could find something they would want to look at.

The Commonweal Collection at the University of Bradford's J.B. Priestley Library is free to use and open to the public during library open hours.

More information about the Commonweal can be found at the Commonweal's website.

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