Babs Williams (BDA) Interview

Babs Williams, Director of Black Development Agency

Interviewer: Vita Terry

Organisation: Black Development Association

Date: 28/1/12

Interview: 0.05:38.2

BAB’S: My name is Bernice Williams but everyone calls me Bab’s, um, and I’m currently working for the Black Development Agency, um, since October um, 2010 when I left the Home Office. Well, I’m from Bradford West Yorkshire um, and I came to Bristol in the 1980’s um, to go to University here. And from University, um, I went into the media industry so I was working mainly, started off as a researcher um, and did quite a lot of research around mental health and race in Avon and um, then I went on to work as a freelance um, television producer and worked for Television South West. Um, then also worked a little bit, HTV used to have social action broadcasting programmes, which I did background research etcetera for those programmes and then I went to work in Cardiff um, and that was working on um, current affairs and documentary programmes, um, mainly from communities. Um, so a lot of those programmes was around at some of the current issues for communities in South Wales like the Mining issues for example what happened to the communities after the disaster in Aberfan for example. Um, and those documentaries were made for Channel 4 because Channel 4 didn’t have its own production company. It didn’t, it didn’t produce its own programmes so basically it has franchise workshops and were one of those workshops set up in South Wales, which is in Cardiff. Um, in Chapter Arts Centre again, which is one of the largest Arts Centres in Europe. Um, so a lot of those programmes look at something unique and some of those um, social actions for communities for example there’s a Black community in Cardiff who speak Welsh, you know, which a lot of people don’t know about. Um, but a lot of the programmes that we did was ran. I’ve always, I’ve always been involved or really interested in Social Action co, cohesion, equalities, that kind of agenda. And I think throughout my life I’ve actually maintained that kind of, um, either in my personal kind of life or in my working life has been um, to do with, anything to do with equalities, social action that kind of area. Then um, in 2001, I completed a piece of research which was um, as a consultant, I worked on a piece of research that was um, for BDA but it was, it was, um, sponsored by the Home Office and the community development foundation and that was to um, research um, into Black communities across the region and to look at the kind of structure that needed to be established in order for those, um, for, in order to effectively um, advocate of behalf of those communities. And the result of that piece of research was this establishment of Black South West Network. Um, then um, about 6 months after doing that piece of research um, I was contacted by the Home Office um, to look at the possibility of setting up what used to be called the community empowerment networks across the South West region. So I went into um, working, with um, the Home Office um, and I was, I was the base; I was based at government office South West. Um, so the first piece of work was actually looking at um, some of the, um criteria’s around establishing empowerments networks across the region. So we had networks um, um, established a network here in Bristol, um, Plymouth, Cornwall, etcetera. I have been in the Home Office also for um, 11years um, so, um, the work there was also working and looking at other equalities um, structures to set up and I know the piece of research that I did was, um, was around equalities South West, which is the only regional um, equality organisation, um, in the country that looks at um, um, all the equalities strand um, and deliver programmes around those strands. So the, the framework for equalities South West establishment came through the piece of research that I…

Interview transcribed from 0.05:38.2 as the first part was transcribed separately in Part 1.

BAB’S: Did again from the Home Office. Um, Barbara Roche for example was a Minister, the Equality Minister at the time and that was, I presented that piece of research to her and then as a result of that Equalities South West was established. Last year um, and I’ve also led on many programmes for the Home Office. I led on community cohesion, um, following the aftermaths of the riots in the northern towns for example and a lot of people didn’t realise but there were snippets smaller um, of manifestation of those disturbances that was happening in Bristol, um, Barton Hill for example and also um, in Plymouth um, there’s lots of riots that was going on there. Plymouth itself is a naval town um, and there was quite a lot of um, err, after the war in Iraq there was a lot of attacks on um, BME people in that area. The Home Office then um, started looking into the community cohe, the community cohesion programme. I led on community cohesion and there was quite a lot of activities that was happening in the 3 areas that I was in charge of within the South West, Bristol, Gloucester and Plymouth so there’s quite a lot of programmes that are delivered in there and a lot of best practice came out of some of those programmes. Um, err, working with young people for example across generation was really important because there was this big void between the different, different communities, young, old etcetera. And what was amazing um, some of the things that was being done was looking at performance by young people, how they actually will deal with um, issues of um, cohesion issues for example, one of the, one of the, performance that I saw was um, in, in Gloucester where young people translate Shakespeare into modern day um, and it was like on the mobile phone, etcetera, etcetera and how they would actually act out if um, for example, if they were playing football and the football went into somebody’s garden and um, you know, that was kind of, there was potential for there something to break out like a disturbance to happen, how would they deal with it, that sort of thing. I also led on equalities, developed some tool kit for the government office, but that was really um, um, well taken on board because again that was around community cohesion and that was an interactive tool kit where people would be able to um, to go into the different sections of the tool kit to find out what they could do, if there were certain issues and how they could deal with those. In May 2010 when um, we had a change in government, I started leading on um, the government Big Society so I started leading on the government big Pol, um, Big Society Policy agenda for the South West region, but I left the government office, stroke Home Office um, in October um, but during my 10, 11 years or so working with the Home Office, every 2 or 3 years I’ve actually come out of the Home Office on secondment um, and um, I’ve been to Gloucester for example secondment um, for neighbourhood, neighbourhood management um, but I’ve been on secondment twice to the Black Development Agency. Um, the first time was in 2002 when the Director left, I came in and they tried to recruit um, and I came in and took over from Menirea Chowdhury who was the current Director, she left and um, after 2 or 3 unsuccessful attempt of recruiting for the Director um, without success, um, I was um, the BDA approach government office and ask weather or not I could be seconded here to fill that role till they were able to recruit somebody. So I here for um, at the Black Development Agency for 18 months um, and during that period of time I, the organisation, what I did was put in quite a lot of structures, new structures within the organisation in preparation for the um, the new Director coming in to the agency. Then again um, in 2007 when the current Director um, took leave because she was adopting a child, she took leave so I um, the agency came back to government office again and I came back in but at that time when I came in there was um, also the radial changes within the voluntary and community sector was taking place and what was needed here um, was transformation because um, one of the new structures that was being put in is the um, Race, Equality Human Rights Service. So again it was um, what was required was to look at the structure and transform the organisation and to take on board the Race Equality Human Rights Service. And that service um, was running for 2 years um, after I left and then um, it run out of funding, funding and it wasn’t refunded by um, City etcetera. There was other um, structures put in place externally and so I’ve got a varied history with this organisation um, and I kept dipping in and dipping out. I’ve never been employed by it, first as a consultant, then secondment, on secondment twice. In September 2010 I came in to help the organisation wrap up one of the, their capacity building programmes um, I’ve left the Home Office basically, I thought I was going to have a break for a while because I was writing, I’m writing a book and um, I was approached and says can you come in because again the Manager of that project, um, its, it’s the Welfare Rights Project had left and they needed somebody to, the program, there was 6 months to go on the programme, deliver, finish delivering the programme. So they came in and said can you assist us in doing this, so I came in and said fine. So once that programme was wrapped up in February of this year um, the City Council and um, and this has been going on for a long time, the City Council transferred onto the TUP, TUPE regulations all the BME, not BME but all the Black Development Agency staff from the BDA into a single main provider, organisation for the city of infrastructure services and that’s VOSCUR, So all the staff from here left and that presented the board with a huge challenge um, and the reason for that was basically we still had um, programmes to deliver but all the staff now have been shipped out um, under a new organisation um, so the board of trustees um, then approached and asked whether I would come and assist them or help to transform again the organisation from a charity into a social enterprise. So that the programme that was here can continue and the main reason for transforming it into a social enterprise was basically we had programmes um, funded for um, £150,000 Euros um, from Europe . We also had tenants in the building um, that rents space from us um; we were also delivering a Eyes Right Programme for RNIB nationally. Um and there’s some other um, small programmes that we were delivering but there weren’t any staff and there weren’t anybody else here to do it. Um, we also have um, trainees from um, European countries in Italy and France that was coming into the um, agency and they basically um, I said ok I will actually take on the role of um, the interim Director of um, Social Enterprise Development um, and then some of the trainees that we had delivering some of the programme, the European programme were offered a contract um, to continue to deliver these programmes. So my role here now has actually transform the organisation. I don’t think its right to say from a charity because it’s still got charitable purposes but more about into an organisation that looks at um, the sustainability of itself um, so rather than an organisation that’s always gets funding from um, government, were looking at an organisation that taking on a business ethnic, a more about how and what do you put in place here to generate finances and to put, reinvest that finance back into your business, so basically that’s what I’m here doing.

I think the main reason, the main thing for me about um, working in an organisation like this, it’s about, I think that we all owe a responsibility to each other, to people, to um, ensure that those who are much more able um, articulate on behalf of those you are not. And if you’ve got a voice and if you’ve have got um, experience and skills that you can actually help to bring about to more um, equal society then I think you’ve got a responsibility to make sure that happens. Um, so my, because this is a Development Agency, it’s a Black Development Agency its not exclusively looking at Black people and their development, its looking at Black and other disadvantage communities. So whether you’re um, young or old or white working class etcetera, etcetera and walk through the doors here um, then you will get a really warm reception from here. Um, and its also looking at and seeing potential in people and believing in and empowering people who feels that there isn’t anywhere else to go and indentifying some of those qualities and bring them out basically. So I think as human beings we have a responsibility to each other to ensure that we continue supporting each other partially people who are most venerable. And when I come to and work with the BDA that’s what I get out, I can go home at night and I can sleep sound knowing that I’m am not selfless but selfless because I’m am actually doing things that um, would help another human being like myself.

My interest in here is actually sort of worked on um, where I’m actually making the policy, um, what this gives me is more tenability of seeing and touching what um, I’m producing um, where as when I was working and um, writing policy the way they impact on people’s life, I was much more removed from that, I couldn’t see it, I didn’t know what it looked like and to an extend um, sometimes I did care but not as much um, about how those things manifest themselves on the ground. Um, when you’re on the ground and your working, you can see much more clearly so my role now in actually working at the strategic level is to say um, to the policy writers, people sitting around the strategic table, actually this policy is rubbing up against what your trying to do. What we need to do is we need to actually shift and change some of this in order for you to get the outcomes that you’re looking for. So in a sense you can say, I am, I’m, I was a game, I was a game keeper and now I’m a poacher so it’s actually flipping it on its head. So I’ve got, which I’m quite lucky in a way because what I’ve had in my career is a rounded view of how things work from making the policy and writing them to the implementation of all of it. So I think what BDA gives me is the grounding of where these things working on a more human level.

Some of the frustration that I had when I was working at the Home Office and I think some of the frustration that a lot of people who have worked on the ground and then go into the Home Office have is actually the ivory tower syndrome where you’re be saying, you’re be at a meeting and you’re be saying no that wont work because of, and you do know and you can see it on their faces that they, there not with you, they don’t understand where you’re coming from. You can see what there trying to do and you’re trying to say ok that won’t work because of this. Um, however, there might be several of them that are creating a barrier um, to um, then delivering or to, to, to that policy being delivered and you’re trying to say that these are some of the barriers. But I think also a lot of that work and a lot of this work as well, is around relationship management. So I think, like, you know when you’re doing um, cohesion work for example, you might want to get, say, say for example you want to, you want to um, produce these beads there’s a very straight line that you can actually put them together. However, there might be um, some obstacles, so in order for you to get the straight way to do it and the quickest way would be that but because of the obstacle you may have to go round here in order to get them onto the chain, um, which it a longer way of doing it but actually um, sometimes taking the long way round to do it, you’re actually picking up more experience, a lot more things along the way. So you’re actually becoming stronger than actually just doing this because you miss out on all the other possibilities that might occur as you’re actually putting the chain together.

In, in making policy sometimes it’s not as straight forward as to say because it doesn’t work on the ground because of this, there might be also, so you have to listen and look at all the different kind of possibilities and answers that people are coming up with because it’s not very straight forward. I think um, the agency is really good at identifying needs because they work very, very closely with um, people. There are networks, we’ve got networks and networks of people that comes together for example the Consortium of Black Groups. The Consortium of Black groups are, is a network of networks, so you have people from the housing, um, um, you’ve got young people that’s there; you’ve got older people that’s there. You’ve got people that are from the target audiences that you’ve trying to reach and what we do is that we consult and were a membership organisation as well. So we will consult with our members, we will consult with our core groups that were trying to reach and um, we will consult with say for example if were doing something around older people and younger people um, we will actually, because we’ve got those networks were right there on the ground where they are so they can feed straight into um, everything that you do. And we don’t act on our own, were an organisation with lots of members so our constituents are the people who tells us what is actually going on. So if there’s something happening um, we wont run and go and articulate because the BDA itself it an organisation that enables those things to happen. So what we will, what we will do, is that were talk to the different um, groups that we need to talk to in order to get their take on any particular situation or find out how those things are effecting them and then we will be the ones that articulate that on their behalf.

Well the aim I think overall, is, is a Equality and Human Rights agenda so it’s about ensuring that um, people have a voice, that there are training available for people who wants to um, build up their skills that we advocate on behalf of those who can’t do it for themselves because I mean were not a perfect society, there is discrimination that happens within society all the time. Um, and even if there’s a small minority that discriminate against people um, in employment for example, if there’s an issue with their employers and they feel as though they have been discriminated against because of their race, because of their gender, because of their sexuality, because whatever, um, even though we haven’t got that brief anymore um, when the communities go to the different centres, like they will go to the Law Centre, they would go to SARI for example um, to try and get some help and they don’t get that help and they will always come back here. For example one guy, well it wasn’t 1 it was 5 Somali um, young men that was working for the security firm um and they were dismissed um, they were owed, one of them was owed um, 5 months salary, another was owed a couple of months salary and um, there was a variation between the 5 how much money they were owed. The company closed down and then it reopened a couple of days after. Um, they weren’t being paid so they went to the Law Centre, who sent them to ACAS, um; they went to SARI who sent them to the Law Centre etcetera, so they ended up here. Um, came to see me um, and I said um, well we haven’t got any resource, we don’t do that anymore and he basically said I came here because of this, I’ve been everywhere else, pointing to the colour of his skin, I’ve been everywhere else and nobody was able to help me and I come here because you are my last result. So basically we had to go and represent um, those young men in the tribunal, you know, we did win the case um, however, what, what tends to happen is that what we find and the reason why it is absolutely crucial until we have equality, a organisation like this is absolutely essential. What I would like to see is that, there’s a day when you don’t have to have organisations like the Black Development Agency but right now that’s not the case. Um, there’s racism that is endemic within our society whether we like it or not, um, there’s been lots of changes that’s taking place over the last 20 years for example but its still here and until we can actually get rid of it um, there’s always going to be a need for an organisation like this to articulate on behalf of those venerable people that can’t do it for themselves.

Well, the BDA is the only um, Council’s voluntary services, it’s the only organisation of its type in the UK. So um, the work that we do is, well it’s like we do lots of things but we work for those organisations, more and more we start working with individuals now but we work with organisations rather than individuals. So there will be organisations like the Malcolm X Centre, but they do something different from what we do, but they are on our membership so they are a member organisation so every one of those groups that’s out there, that is actually delivering for BME communities um, are delivering a service that is needed for their communities basically um, even if those organisations are delivering a service that there mainly White organisations and they deliver services that touches the different BME communities there still delivering services for the communities. I think most of the organisations out there that are delivering the services, there delivering services because there’s a need for those services to be delivered. So I would actually criticize any of those because a cross section of those, are our members.

I would say they’ve got, they had more impact because there closer to their communities because the local authority is removed as well from um communities and that’s why local authorities fund the groups to work closer to their members or there constituents or whatever on the ground um, and that, that is a fact is that there not closer to the communities than community organisations are. Um, so in, in that way I would say there more effective because there, because if you have for example a women’s organisation, a women’s group that look at issues to do with women, I would say that they are more effective at doing that because they’ve got the skills, they’ve got the background, they’ve got the, the constituents of women that are working for, they are focused in that area. So I would say that they are the expert in those areas so if I want to find out some information about um, a particular aspect of gender um, I’m would more, I’m more likely to go to that organisation because every, if they’ve got focus on it obviously they would know more about the issue, well you’ve would have thought they would know more about the issues then, then somebody else that’s not as close to the issue. Were in a climate where we need, because there, this is all the, the things about um, efficiently savings in terms of the government, we have no money, it’s the boom and bust um, were heading in another recession, etcetera, etcetera. Um, but um, on Wednesday I was in Swindon and I was doing a presentation to um, um, the Race Equality Council, AGM, the Race Equality Council AGM and the focus of that presentation was around um, greater collaborations and mergers between um, those BME organisations in Swindon um, I would say the same thing needs to happen here in Bristol because there’s lots of duplication that’s going on etcetera. The great challenge though, is around um, and this is what came out of the meeting in Swindon was the fact around there is territorialism going on. People who have worked with their organisation for years build up their organisation and what they are afraid of is actually um, coming together with others, there’s an element of trust, there’s, there’s this thing about trusting something that you, I suppose has been your baby for years um, and trusting that in a collative um, I don’t think the community is there yet. I think in Bristol we started the journey um, at the COBG meeting, Consortium Black Group um, last September um, and there is a, there’s a strategy around collaboration where um, the group identified that they should start sharing more of their resources etcetera. An example of sharing some of those resources would be, if you’ve got 10 organisations and you’ve got 10 HR Officer, um, why not bring all that together in one unit. What you would have then, you would probably have a HR Manager and a couple of HR workers. Obviously, you’ve cut down from the 10 to 3 but what those 10 organisations can then do is to put all their resources to build that unit and what they would have within that unit is um, a skilled body of people that is actually working on behalf of those 10 organisation, not only on behalf of those 10 organisation but they can start of looking at ways of getting contracts in from the public sector, from the private sector and from the voluntary sector. So you’re actually creating as an organisation that is very skilled in HR practices so those organisations can actually key into those organisation rather than your 10 officers in 10 different places, you see what I mean, so those kind of strategy and ways of working. The other ways of workings which we start doing here is for example, if you’ve got 10 finance managers, what the hell are you doing with 10 finance managers across 10 organisation, why not have 3. It’s the same principle um, they do the payroll, they do the um, your accounts and they do all those things but, in, in one unit. So you’re, you’re saving a lot of money, you’re saving a lot of time, you’ve cut some of the salaries obviously but all that savings is going in to build up the quality, the standard and all of that within that organisation, that I think makes a lot of sense. So the answer to your question is no I don’t think the Black communities are working together and I don’t think there is the genuine, genuine desire for that to happen but what I do know is that unless is does happen you’re going to see a lot less of those organisations about.

Well, right now I think the future is very, very bleak. Another weakness for all of these charities and it’s not just the BME ones; it’s also um, the White mainstream ones as well. Its about leadership, it’s about the government um, body. I don’t think we have enough um, trained or skilled governance within the sector and what we need to do is that we need to create and ensure that there is more people who can actually lead some of these organisations and lead them effectively, I don’t think we’ve got that um, and I think we need more of it. I think also the future is around um, your ability to move forward. One of the things, one of the things, one of the things that I um, end my presentation with um, in Swindon the other day is um, something that I’ve taken from Darwin and it was basically err, that’s says its ‘not the strongest that’s survive or the most intelligent but the ones that are most adaptable to change’ and that is absolutely essential for that to happen and I think at the moment I don’t see the community being um, embracing that enough and I don’t actually see um, um, young people coming into that. I think what you see in the sector is people around my age and older. Um, I don’t see a lot of young people; I don’t see the sector um, presenting it self attractively enough to encourage young people to come in. Um, and unless we can replenish what we’ve got and unless we can start trusting each other, unless we can start um, working wider than we are, you know, getting involved more with the businesses, getting involved more involved with um, the public sector and what’s going on there, err, I don’t think were going to survive. Um, but I do feel though that we have got um, a very, I would say a very small percentage of people who are really good leaders um, and it would depend how effective they are in, in, in ensuring that people are following behind and that we have a mass that is actually capable.

END

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