Peace campaigners are to unite against the English Defence League when they hold their biggest march of the year through Tyneside.
Hundreds of members of the right-wing organisation will walk from Newcastle’s Central Station to the Bigg Market in protest over plans for an Islamic School at the former Byker Grove building in the city’s West End.
Now faith leaders and councillors are gathering to organise a peaceful city centre festival on the same day to celebrate Newcastle’s ethnic diversity.
City councillor Dipu Ahad, who is leading the event alongside anti-racism groups, said: “The community are very frustrated that the EDL have the right to come and protest in our community where multi-culturalism and diversity thrive and is something that we believe in so strongly in Newcastle.
“Our event will be a festival and a celebration of the diversity in the city. People have lived here for generations and make a very strong contribution to the city and our counter event is all about celebration.”
A final location is yet to be finalised for the counter event, which is supported by Unite Against Fascism and various trade unions, and will be held on Saturday, May 25.
Fellow campaigners and religious leaders are also in talks with officers from Operation Swan, Northumbria Police’s specialist unit set up to police the protest.
This week it emerged the English Defence League’s controversial leader Tommy Robinson will be attending the rally in person.
There is now a petition signed by more than 800 people across the North East asking for the organisation to be made illegal.
Councillor Ahad, who represents the city’s Elswick ward, said: “We know they are able to demonstrate legally because of freedom of expression. However, other groups with hard-line views have seen their protests broken up.”
The EDL announced in December they would hold a rally in the city after council planning chiefs gave the go-ahead for plans to convert Bishop’s Palace – used to film popular TV series Byker Grove – into a fee-paying faith school. The BAHR Academy will cater for up to 340 boys and girls between 11 and 16 in Benwell.