Vernon Samuels (BBC Presenter Black Echo) Interview

Interviewer: Magdalena

Organisation: BBC Presenter Black Echo

Date: 18/01/12

Interview: 55:99

MAGDALENA: Ok, recording started. Um, so first question is, if you can tell me, if you introduce yourself so tell me what’s your name and where were you born?

VERNON: Well, my name is Vernon Samuels and I am a Bristolian, born and bred.

MAGDALENA: But which part of Bristol are you from?

VERNON: Well, I was actually born in St Paul’s a little road just off um, Sussex Place called Cairns’ Crescent.

MAGDALENA: Ok, so heart of Bristol.

VERNON: Oh yes, right in the very central of Bristol, yeah.

MAGDALENA: That’s great, but I heard that you moved afterwards to a different area?

VERNON: Yes, my, um, my folks came to Britain in the early sixties like so many immigrants from the West Indies and um, they started off perhaps where they could economically in the centre of the town where things were a little cheaper. Um, and then we moved out to a place called Fishponds in Bristol, which is kind of suburbia, yes.

MAGDALENA: And how was it err, like to growing up in, in Fishponds and in Bristol in general?

VERNON: Well, growing up in um, Bristol in general. I mean my first sort of two or three years I was um, in St Paul’s and although people say that you don’t really um, remember a lot about that time, I think for me what was quite nice was the school that I went to was New Fowling Road um, Infants, Nursery School and um, you just kind of got on with playing, you didn’t think about being Black or not Black or, you were just a kid in the playground, playing with the other kids, all sorts of stuff as kids would do. And um, it wasn’t until we actually went to Fishponds that I realised I was Black in the sense of people picked me out, um, singled me out, err, in school. Um, then it was a little tough for a while um, but ah, I was quite resilient, quite thick skinned. Um, so although it was a first awareness if you like um, discrimination between being um, not part of the, the wider society. Um, it was still I think an important part of my growing up and just adjusting to understanding that there is diversity in society and that everybody isn’t just the same or thinks the same, which is actually quite important. So moving to Fishponds I think was where my thinking was perhaps broadened somewhat by the challenges I had from others with their racial comments that they would, would um, ah put out to me and I kind to learn to temper my responses most of the time um, to abuse. But um, I think by and by the key conclusion that I came to from my childhood in Fishponds where I grew up from about 4 until sort of 18, 19 when I went to College was um, you have to um, except people will see you differently but um, you’ve got to also draw a line to what your willing to except um, in terms of people treating you differently and you’re your willing to stand for. So there was few occasions growing up, quite early, sort of 8, 9 when we had a few, I say we because my brother and I are about 2 years a part, so we kind of grew up with the same sorts of things at the same time and err, we arrived at the place where we um, um, we actually stood up for ourselves in the playground and um, meeted out a few blows shall we say to some of the err, local bullies and it changed their prospective and they realised that we were not gonna run away into our shells but we were here to stay, were part of the fixtures. They had to deal with it and they had, and they dealt and they dealt with it and we moved on and we kind of carried on but it was a really crucial time in just forming my identity and as somebody who had a legitimate place in society. That place would often be questioned and I have to say throughout my, from then until now, there are still times when I am still questioned but I’m still pretty confident about who I am in my identity and I think err, that’s helpful.

MAGDALENA: So that was err, definitely a good lesson for you?

VERNON: Yeah…

MAGDALENA: Cool.

VERNON: Good, yeah good, um, not just the book work but the social interaction was a very good lesson.

MAGDALENA: That’s great. Err, I wanna jump now to your sport career because that’s, that’s quite amazing what you’ve achieved. Um, can you tell me how did it start, why, why you start a sport career?

VERNON: I think probably a number of reasons why I got involved in sport. But, but not least of which, I was one of those children at school who was not academically gifted. I, I was very challenged in trying to um, perform um, to a decent level in terms of qualifications and I did eventually get good qualifications after a while but I started off in a very low set at school. Um, and within my classes I had a lot of young people who were to be honest were probably of the mind set that they weren’t really gonna be err, the next err, CEO of, of any multi, multi national company. So they were pretty much using school as a place they had to be so they were gonna enjoy themselves and mess about etcetera. So I found myself at quite a marginal place as far as um, potential to um, achieve academically with a view that, that academic achievement would lead to a job, um successes. But I was also not very gifted at football, which is a national game. Err, I had two left feet. I could play in goal quite good but in terms in being out on the pitch and trying to um, pass the ball or shoot the ball, don’t pass it to me because I was just terrible at football, much to my frustration cas I wished I could of played so I never picked for the sports teams, I was always usually one of the last people to be picked. So for me, um, I found myself in a very unusual position where I um, gone to a games lesson and I remember very vividly to this day and we tried to do a triple jump, um, which is the event that I um, managed to move into my international career in. And from the very first day, I was not just good I was excellent at it and suddenly people recognised me and its funny isn’t it, success or fame or beauty or money tend to um, bring attention to one shall we say. So all of a sudden from being a nobody in the lime light, which was the last one to get picked for the sport teams and not very academically bright and not really been giving the opportunity academically, suddenly I was in demand in far as you’ve got to go onto the sports team and that’s sports team and I would be there and I would win and I would win at the school level and win at the local level, then I would win at the regional level, national level, then I would win at the international level and you know, all of a sudden we had the media coming around to my mothers home to interview me about my career and ask me all sorts of things about society. I suddenly had some weight to my opinion because of my sporting prowess if you like at the time. So um, never let me it be said that I am not an opportunist because I think if the limelight is upon you, you need to use at and I did and I think I used it effetely to perhaps um, reflect my opinions about um, sports and integrity in sports and um, the need to err, apply oneself to get to where you wanted to get to. So for me sport was a fantastic vehicle to um, raise my profile, open doors for me, err, both in my sport but also in my um, um, secular or my job, um career choices. And um, it afforded me the discipline to be able to apply myself to a lot of different areas and actually have the capacity to cope with a lot of the stresses and strains in everyday life as well. So, sports been very, very good to me in the, the years that I’ve been involved and 10 years as an international athlete has seasoned me quite well I think. To then come back into Bristol and try to apply and transfer some of the skills for coping and managing myself and influencing situations into a um, um, community life.

MAGDALENA: Um, thank you so much. It’s really nice because I ask you one question and you answer one question and then the next few questions I wanted to ask, so that’s great, thank you.

VERNON: (Laughter).

MAGDALENA: You say, you’ll just doing my job…

VERNON: Excellent…

MAGDALENA: the same time.

VERNON: a pleasure, a pleasure.

MAGDALENA: Um, you mentioned that you came back to Bristol. Um, maybe you can just err, say a few sentences about um, your career in the United States because you said you went to international level and you’ve been offered a few places in the United States?

VERNON: Well, for me going to err, America um, was about um, expanding my um ability and potential within my sport. I think it’s important for any individual and I’m no different to recognise what it takes to achieve a level of success that you feel you’re capable of doing. Um, its one thing to dream and I think everybody has to have a dream but then the dream has to hit reality and one has to ask themselves do I have what it takes to achieve my um, potential. And in sports there was no other Bristolians at the time who had achieved international success to any level. I had achieved a lot of success at school level but that was just a level underneath um, senior international success. So for me going to America was a landmark in recognising that actually there was a system in the States that I could tap into that would allow me to get the necessary coaching and support structures to allow me to elevate my career to the next level. Part of, it was quite interesting. I don’t know quite how people got my number because I lived with my mother who was ex-directory phone number and a number of university intuitions from the States called my mothers home and offered me scholarships because at that time I was probably one of the top 3 in Europe given my Triple Event Triple Jump. So in once sense I a had a lot of profile in the sports press but in another sense I still slightly bemused how they managed to get my phone number, but I guess if your persistent you can do anything. So I had a number of offers and the one I chose was a place called Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas. Part of the reason it was a lovely hot place and I do not like the cold weather, (laughter). So winters a real challenge in Britain. So um, more importantly far as my career um, the then world um, leading Triple Jumper was based at um Southern Methodist University and his coach was based there as well. So to me you could not get a better setup then actually being coached by the coach of the world leading Triple Jumper and actually having a bit of mentoring from them all and the world leading Triple Jumper as well so it was a no brainer. We managed to set things up and before I knew I was on a full year scholarship to the States. Um, what was quite nice about that experience, it wasn’t just about sports, of course I got very good sports um, support, but I was able to do a very, what I considered a good degree at a University that has a lot of um, reputation in the States. So, when I, since I left, when I tell people I went to Southern Methodist University, very often they say, ah yes, I know that well. So I’ve came out with a degree in sociology and business that’s um, well respected. So people recognise that it wasn’t just to fill in the time. Somebody filled in some paperwork in the background they know I had to graft to get my education and it’s got some weight in the market place and that I’m really grateful for. My sporting carers finished now but the um, studies and the academics that I got under my belt, still to this day serve me very well.

MAGDALENA: That’s really good. Sounds all most err, too good to be true, yeah you’re past; it’s amazing and inspiring as well. Ah, but ah, finally you finished University and you came back to England and you stared to support local business. Um, may be you could tell me a bit about this?

VERNON: Yes, well the transition back to, to England, some people often say well, it was hot over there, it’s a nice place Dallas, you know, rich place, why didn’t you stay. But um, part of the reason for coming back was I was still committed to competing for Britain. So in the summer when I was there as student I used to come back competing for Britain where the Britain fastest etcetera (not able to interpret, not clear. Need to check this last sentence). So in 1998 when I came back that was the year of the Olympic Games and I err, was coming back to claim my place, I had to go through the Olympic trails etcetera. And um, of, of the Brits I think I finished 13 place, which isn’t too bad in the world. Um, the first British um, ranked um, finisher in the Olympic Games. And after the Olympics I really wanted to some how share some of the experience that I had of being able to be successful in the given field. So because I did sociology and business um, marketing was an area I took to quite well and um, I had the opportunity to work within an enterprise agency in Bristol called Community Services Volunteers, which provided small business support for primarily small business start ups, and some existing businesses around how to um, to develop their business plans and how to look at, at building their performance in sports. So for me it, it was an almost direct relationship between sporting performance and then looking at business because in business you’re not looking to say get um, more inches on your jumps or you’re not looking to get a faster time. You’re obviously looking to get more money or something that was performance related so it was a very good relationship I think between my sport and small business support. So I probably did a lot of that business support for 4 or 5 years as core of what I was doing and I felt very pleased with working with, with people who had a faint idea of what they wanted to do but didn’t quite know how to put into some sort of a structure and err, the process and format and be able to launch a business and to try and make it work. So that for me was very um, gratifying to work with people and to empower them, for taking some responsibility for being their own boss, which is quite a big deal even today I think. And um, just from there that um, ability to listen and council people in terms of business and organisational development, is something that has always stayed with me. So I haven’t just stayed with the very small micro businesses I have worked with a whole series of community based businesses, stroke organisations with a view of trying to help them, support them in order to improve their performance wisely so they can be more sustainable and hopefully they can survive and thrive as well.

MAGDALENA: And how did it end up? You’ve been helping those companies and did they err, did well?

VERNON: Well, I mean again there’s a variety of businesses in, in Bristol, typically in terms of the Black community I would say that um, um, I spent um, a fair few words, years working with the CEED Charity LTD um, and um, I was there as it was forming and setting up. Um, I was instrumental in setting up the business um, support unit within the um, CEED um, organisation and that went for some years and I was glad that I managed to set that up. I was also instrumental in helping to set up the multi media err, facility at CEED. Some of the contacts, networks that I was err, involved in um, afforded me the opportunity to um, look at how um, technology can be exploited within the inner city so much to the extent that there was one occasion where we have a visit believe it or not from the then Prime Minister John Major who came to meet literally 2 or 3 people who were working within the CEED Media project in Bristol. To look at what we were doing and how we were doing it. So I was quite honoured with what we were doing. It was quite amazing. Um, so that was just one instant if you like of perhaps some of the interest in the projects that I was involved in. I also worked with um, the community centre in Easton in Bristol. Um that was more of a multi culture nature. Um, the time that I was there I was involved in the acting Director and we had a number of projects, we had the youth project, we had err, an environment project, we had major project and IT project. Um, and we used to let the facilities for various functions. It, it very much a community hub and I was very honoured to be at the helm there. It was very, very hard work but what um, was amazing was the people that I worked with. The jobs were not highly paid jobs that people put a lot of their heart and soul, commitment into. Excellent services for the local people. So I started off within that particular um, um, organisation Easton Community Centre as a Community Development and Community Safety Officer, which was really trying to pick up the concerns of the local community and then feed them into, from a strategic point of view, how the Council err, um could help to make life better for local people. So for me there’s sort of the direct stuff of managing resources, managing organisations but then as time gone on, I’ve gone onto more strategic jobs which have more influence to the policy makers those people that hold the big money to try and influence how they spend things in the right way for the benefit of all people. And that’s really the thing that I’ve got my teeth into over the last probably 3 or 4 years especially, to try and make a difference, not just in an individual organisation but actually in communities and society more broadly.

MAGDALENA: That’s absolutely amazing. Um I want to talk now about err, Black Echo.

VERNON: Um.

MAGDALENA: Because you had an opportunity to support um, Black Ethnic Minorities um, in Bristol on Southwest on the big arena, which is BBC Radio Bristol. Um, how did it happen and um how did it started?

VERNON: Well, Black Echo I believe was something for me is an opportunity that came about because I was um, well known as a sports person primarily and also it was known that I was doing things in the Black community. Excuse me. I’ve always maintained that it’s really important that people have a voice um, so when the opportunity came to present Black Echo um, I was mindful that it was a platform where we had a we, we could tease out the voice of the people from the Black community of Bristol, in terms of things that they were interested in, in terms of the issues that they had. Um, and also in terms of the many wonderful things that were going on under the radar of mainstream media, that most communities, must people in Bristol never knew about. So for me it was a great honour to be able to have a whole range of guest in who could um, raise the profile of the organisations that they were working for, what the organisation is doing, if there is any were any events that were coming up that people could go to. And I just felt that although it was just 1 hour a week in an 160 hour week, that was the thing I was always frustrated at 1 hour to cover the whole of the Black community in Bristol, it was still an opportunity and we did manage to cover some fascinating err, subjects we met some great, great people over that 3 year period that I was a presenter at black Echo. And I think I would like to feel that my contribution was giving voice to people who wouldn’t have a voice so that um, the wider society would better understand aspects of the Black community.

MAGDALENA: Um, and did you get a good response err, from the Black community about err, the, the radio programme then?

VERNON: Well, we have some direct response in terms of some of the issues that we covered. I mean, there was one um, particular area that had resonance with me that was Yvette Gates and she had a very rare um, blood err, disorder and needed bone, a bone marrow transplant and unfortunately she didn’t get it in the end and passed away and that was really sad. But um, we heard about the story and we covered it and we asked Yvette to come in with her parents and we raised the issue and I like to feel that it wasn’t just because of Black Echo and the fact that we picked it up at the time that I was there. But it did raise the ah, attention on Black peoples bone marrows donors or potential donations and it did highlight the issue of, of the lack of perhaps um, the support stoke interest of the Black community to be donors err, more broadly. So that’s was one of the things I think that really did bring some attention to an area that was a bit of a gap that needed to be address somehow and I think it was in part addressed there but also there was you know, amazing um, music and arts that was going on in Bristol that we would cover. So we would cover so we would cover some stuff about of course St Paul’s Carnival and we would feature a number of the artist who would be involved um, in the Carnival itself. And we were always involved in, just doing a run up to the Carnival. Um, I guess, although Black Echo was primarily about um, connecting the voice of Black Bristol to a wider audience, one of the frustrations and it still exists even for me today um, there is a real danger of marginalizing the Black voice only to a restricted area of a programming seclude or a restricted area of the media reporting. And I guess one of the things I always dream about is, is more mainstreaming I think the term, the term is called. Getting voices of different parts of a diverse community um, more broadly accessible to ah, the wider community, the wider society, but equally making sure that the services and the voices of the wider community are heard and understood by the Black community. So better understanding on all sides to create better trust, with a view hopefully that, that leads to better relationships, better collaborations, better partnerships, which have got some mutual interest, mutual understanding, empathy err, is greater so there the results are better than what we get at the moment.

MAGDALENA: Do you think um, many thing change in this field ah, since you’ve been on the radio since um, I don’t know, 80’s, 1980’s?

VERNON: Well, um, it was a little earlier that…

MAGDALENA: Yeah.

VERNON: I hope I don’t look that old (laughter). But um…

MAGDALENA: I’ve got the information when you were born so don’t worry.

VERNON: Ok. Well, since the 80’s, since the 80’s I always been sort of there or there about aware that something needed to change. I think it’s only been the 90’s up into um, 2,000 or the noughties as they call it that I’ve become more interested in making a difference myself. Um, and um, how things changed I think, to be honest even before I was, well just before I was born, literally the day I was born according to my mother; err, my father was the first Black bus driver in Bristol and he took his test the day I was born so I think there was a little bit of something going on there in the heavens. Um, and, he was, it was quite controversial from what I understand um, the testing process. But um, he passed it and he was given his licence to drive a bus in Bristol. It was so much of a novelty that people lined the bus route to watch him driving because they never seen a Black man behind a bus, which is quite incredible. Now why I raised that is, you know, that was a good, good few years ago and um, I am pushing closer to 50, than I am um, to 40 let’s say. Um, and after all those years it is still a novelty to see Black people represented in the areas that they usually are not represented in i.e. senior management, there’s a few more in middle management. But I have been very fortunate over the last 8 years with respects to the voluntary community sector to be involved in a national initiative as a regional manager and that’s afforded me the opportunity to set up a number of partnerships and strategy tables. And there are very few Black people who are at those tables. Now for me I’m not so much caught up in the sense of Black tokenism so that you can count the numbers and say well politically we’ve actually got the numbers of the representation, representation that we should under equal opportunities law, that’s not so much an issue for me. What the issue is about representation, views about diverse communities. And my fears very often is that theses strategy partnerships tables have their discussions and make decisions upon, on um, million, billion of pounds of commitment, will no real understanding of the needs of some of the Black communities and some of the diverse communities that we have in Bristol and in the Southwest. So there is still a frustration for me, even today after so many years that you get the odd Black face that will be prominent and I think um, there was a project err, commissioned by Bristol City Council called Black Bristolians a few years ago, which tried to profile a number of um, um, um, high profile Black people, yeah, in, in err, the City to give a sense of achievement, what they’ve done, how they’ve done it. Um, and schools have begun to use some of those resources and for me that’s good because hopefully picking through a little bit of the history of people that often to don’t get when you see the snap shot, the headline, the picture and the rest of that. But it has to go further, than that, excuse me, for me that going further is how do we create the situation where there is a greater voice of influence of Black people in the City. And what I talk about when I talk about voice of influence is primarily leadership so visible, credible leadership from the Black community in the City but not just in the City. I mean, Bristol I think perhaps it has the greatest population of Ethnic Minorities in the Southwest. So I think in many ways you would hope to see the more prominent voices, a bit in London, you begin to see a few MPs etcetera from London. I would expect to see a few more prominent, perhaps Councillors and others, who represent the views of people in those, um, err, strategic arenas. So that the services that are offered, partially those that are public services because if we pay, if we all work we pay tax and we pay tax then we’ve all invested in the delivery of public services. And what I want to see more if nothing else is that there is a greater influence from the leaders that are credible from the Black community about how public services should be delivered. So now how should adult social care be delivered, how should new services be delivered, how should um, primary care be delivered. Um, those sorts of questions for me are really important because they affect greatly the quality of life of people. And if you work all your life in this country and pay into the system you should have services that meet your needs just like anybody else. So there’s still a lot of work to be done. I think we inch forward every now and then but I think um, how it happens I don’t know, but I do feel that we need to somehow have more people who have a legitimate mandate from the Black community to um, move amongst, to sit amongst those decision makers who make decisions on behalf of the whole of the City um, with a view that we see a broader and broader recognition of who and what makes up the City. And we don’t get the disparity where we see that a lot of new migrant communities seem to um, be condensed in one area of the City, while there are more affluent areas of the City, which seems to be dethatched from a responsibility to those migrant communities. So you have, you know, have quite wide contrast in the economic sort of surroundings that people find themselves in, the social surrounding that they find themselves in. And I have to ask myself the question does it always have to be that way. Do we always have to have all the poor people, seemly poor segregated in one place and the rich um, out and dethatched from the cares of um, those who are in need. And if we can somehow address some of that disparity we will never eradicate it completely, but I would like to think that in this 21st Century we should have a better notion, of fairness and we should be able to see it more evident in the, um, society that we are living in Bristol at least.

MAGDALENA: That’s really beautiful, what you’re saying and err, honestly I would like to see it myself. And after you said I, I can understand that the change, the change is here but it’s too slow for you?

VERNON: Absolutely too slow and the fear that I have. I mean one of the hats that I wear is that I sit on a national um, strategic group for um, young people and children in the church that I’m a part of, a Church of God of Prophecy. We probably have about 60 or so organised youth and, and children’s groups across the country and my fear is that the generations comings up as teenagers and younger are more impatient than I am. There not willing to um, be as tolerant to a society, which seems so apparently unfair. And you know my fear is that um, we are not moving quick enough to accommodate the hunger for aspiration that they have. Um, I would hate to see all the problems that we saw in the summer for example the in terms of the riots. Now I won’t blame the riots completely on the fact of the lack of voice, lack of opportunity of the younger Black communities and I know it wasn’t just the Black communities. But I do have a concern for Black young people growing up in terms of their ability to access the opportunities in society, whether it be for jobs or for setting their own business up or whether it even be in terms of their service to the community that we some how need to move fast enough that we can embrace their dreams and their aspirations and channel them in ways that they are recognised by the wider society and that they are, um, rewarded if you like, for focusing on things that are big enough, advance them, gonna advance others in Black community in the wider Bristol area. If we don’t do that I think there’s a real danger that young people will become even more disillusioned. And I’m not saying all young people are disillusioned. But I’m just feel that as a young person growing up in Bristol, rather like myself, one should have a sense of entitlement to opportunity and its for those who are a little bit longwinded in the tooth, perhaps a little bit more experienced, a bit more knowledgeable about how things can be done, to recognise that we need to be able to um, extend that ladder to those youngsters to climb up it. I was very fortunate as an individual, people spotted a potential in me and are willing to invest in me. In reality I don’t know how many young people will ever have as much good fortune as I had. So the question I ask is how we can create those opportunities. How can we bridge those gaps, which are there in terms of the education system, in terms of opportunities for young people to experience um, life in the way that it opens up their eyes to say that it isn’t just us and them. But actually we should all be able to push together in Bristol knowing my, their contribution is helping Bristol to move up in the national and international arena. But in tern it means that it provides a living for them. A sense of fulfilment, in terms of using their talents and their gifts that they’ve got you know, and ultimately you have people who feel that they are very much integrated as part of the society, not marginalised, not kept in their subculture but actually a part of, actually a part of the wider culture. Err, that um, is more than just saying I’m a Bristolian, it’s actually saying well I’m a Bristolian and I feel comfortable about that title because this is how Bristol accepts me and this is how I embraced my Bristol.

MAGDALENA: So do you have any ideas how people can mix more with minorities and, and Black people with establishment and in general how people can mix and communicate better with each other?

VERNON: It’s a very good question and I think that’s an age old one. Um, I’ll be the Prime Minister if I had the magic wand. However, I will say that um, one of the um, areas that has created immense pleasure for me um, has been err, an involvement in the community gospel choir in Bristol. Why its um, provided so much pleasure and potentially some hope to me is that very often music is one of those um, rare err, media that, that cut through a lot of the day to day and people connect with and I think gospel music is very, um, powerful in that sense. I’ll like to call it a tonic for the soul. And whether you’re Black, White, rich, poor, wherever you come from um, music and I think gospel music when it’s sung with real passion, has the ability to kind of reach those parts that other things can’t quite reach. And what I mean by that, that if you look at the diversity of the choir called Renewal choir, that I’m a part of um, we have probably have some50, I think 60 people on our register um, and we have Black, White, rich, poor, old, young, um, we have some 12 or 14 different denominations so its not like its just one church. We also have people that don’t even go to church. Err, recently we had additions to the choir from the Asian community and what does it tell me, it tells me that, you know, here is collative of a community service so to speak of people who are passionate about singing and singing has connected us together, um, and has brought un into contact with each other, where we wouldn’t have been in contact with each other before. And so I do feel err, those areas of, of music and other creative fields like um, sport as well, do have a capacity for us to be able to collectively celebrate and I do think that um, we as a City, I mean we are one of the cool cities of England, 1 of the 8 cool cities considered to be prosperous with a lot of potential. We should have an infrastructure in this City um, that is able to um, better accommodate the talent basis here so for example the Colston Hall holds 1800 people. Compare that to the O2 Arena in London it’s holds a lot less to the O2 Arena. Compare that to the NEC in, in London or the National Indoor Arena, sorry, in Birmingham and again our largest concert hall is tiny. How can you contain um, a huge talent base weather its home grown or from outside. Again you got these 2 quirky football teams, Bristol City and Bristol Rovers and you just look and you say its fragmented commitment if you like. Rather than something that’s over arching that we can all identify with. Just to re-enforce an example and I think it’s important just to look at sport or music, those creative areas as a metaphor that others can look at. Um, I don’t know if we can say it’s a good fortune or bad fortune but I went to Manchester with my family and I, went up there to Manchester for holidays, to the, I think its called the Trafford Centre, a big shopping centre in Manchester. The thing that struck me was the number of families of people walking around in their Manchester United top. Now you could say Manchester United as a club, it’s a global club, you know, it’s a global brand so they wear it like Nike etcetera but it strike me that we were in Manchester and young and old, all families were wearing proudly their um, you know, um their local team colours. Alright I know there’s M.U. City there. But I didn’t see many M.U. City tops. But it was evident that they were proud of identifying with their local and me I just thought why don’t we like that in Bristol. Why don’t we have clubs, people that we stand behind and say yeah, I support them, there from my City. And until we start getting to that place, of identifying with the City more proudly because were clear about what were identifying with and were clear that its actually diverse, it isn’t just monoculture, I don’t think were really have the passion to push through the, the challenges and the problems of the day. So its starts with heart, its start with inspiration, its starts with dreaming, but it also starts with the connection with each other. And um, my experience of being in the choir is just a small microcosm of possibility what could be on a wider scale. But people need to dream big, people need to look and identify themselves by being part of a wider community. Not insular, not monoculture, not just Black minority, ethnic over here and wider mainstreams society of there. But actually saying, you know, I’m a person of worth, I have talent, I have potential, I have gifts and I have something that I can contribute it with others to produce a result, which is better than I can produce either as myself as an individual or just as part of the majority ethnic community. So I’m not an advocate per se of separatism um, for the sake of it. I’m Black so therefore I will only do things that identify with the Black community. I actually say look, at the end of the day um, I see resources out there that belong to everybody and we just need to look at how we organise ourselves to tap into those resources and get the results that we can all celebrate.

MAGDALENA: I wish there was more people like you with the same, (laughter), with the same way of thinking. Um, I’m gonna change the subject a bit and I would like to talk about um, Black Minority organisations in the Southwest. And can you tell me what’s, what’s your opinion. Do you think they are useful, are they doing the job well?

VERNON: I think it’s a big, big question that in a sense in areas that a whole spectrum of organisations exist out there as Black Minority um, organisations. I think some of them serve a purpose, a useful purpose in that um, back to point about public service delivery. If you’re a tax payer you’re entitled to a good public service. There are gaps in public services because of a lack of understanding, the lack of connection, the lack of reach of some services and I think some Black Minority Ethnic organisations they provide um, that connection within these Black communities. So for example one of the organisations that come to my mind in Bristol is SARI, Support Against Racist Incidents, now we know that racism is still alive unfortunately and, and, and well in Bristol just like other places even if it is perhaps more subtle than in the 60’s and without those organisations, which are out there that are able to um, help the victims and also the organisations institutionally that, that assault people then um, it means there are parts of the community which are denied reasonable public service. So that is just one of many examples of organisations that have um, grown up where there has been a gap in service um, clearly identified and they bridged that gap. Other organisations I think and I won’t necessary name any because I think that would be a bit unfair. But I think there are some that have, have set up for the right reasons but perhaps have to review their mission because they’ve either fulfilled their mission of, of things that moved on and I think for me there are a number of Black organisations I’m quite happy to say who have drifted from their mission um, possibly because they just haven’t really got the money to support the base that they’ve built. Um, possibly because they’ve been fulfilled in another way and um they are not growing to be sustainable and sometimes I think it’s pretty sad when we see the big back drop of the economy shrinking and that many people and organisations are really strapped for cash. In that some organisations are out there seeking to secure funding on a grant basis where I’m not necessarily clear on the benefit that they provide to society. And I think’ it’s really sad if you can look at an organisation, hear what they say and but then ask the question so what is it that you provide that’s useful. So I think there are a number of organisations out there where perhaps there’s been a time when they were very needed and necessary but they’ve outgrown their usefulness and need to look at how um, they change with the times rather than staying where they are. And it is difficult and I think partly that again is about the leadership of those organisations and the governance. Those people who are in the position of responsibility for making decisions sometimes you have to user a new broom as they say to sweep clean and to change perhaps the thinking of those who leave the organisations so for example, social enterprise is a way of doing organisation, which recognises the need to generate self generated income not just credit funding. But time and time again I have seen organisations who lack the skills within there um, their board or their committee to look at the implications of embracing social enterprise. So for example an organisation that um, wants to um, provide services to social services who perhaps have been just used to grant funding before, um, alone will find it perhaps very difficult to look at how they can um, create a competitive tender to compete against a private company like the likes of SERKA, which is national and they’ve got a huge resource that can put all the facts and figures in a nice neat package, present it to the funder and say we can do that, we can do it for this sort of money etcetera. And when you don’t have those skills behind you and you don’t have that resource behind you, it’s an uneven situation to a point but even behind that the whole thing of how do we broaden our services, how do we make sure we remain relevant to the people we said we set up to serve. How do we become more relevant to new people, how do we reach new people in a real and sustainable way and I do find that a number of Black Minority Ethnic organisations compared to some of the more prominent White organisations. I’m not saying for one moment that White organisations are all great because some of them are struggling just as much but I think that a number of key prominent Black organisations in Bristol and indeed the Southwest who really struggle for the capacity to really engage with um, generating income, um, they lack the network that some of those mainstream counterpoint organisations have. They lack the time to invest in building the scales internally to be more skilful at um, contracts and um, competitive culture. So you know there’s a number of organisations that are languishing and you look around, you have CEED, has struggled, um you look at the Malcolm X, has struggled, you look at KUMBA, has struggled. There’s a whole host of organisations in Bristol, not just Bristol, not just the Southwest. My job that I had as a regional manager in capacity building has afforded me the look right around the country and many have struggled to um, weather the storm of economic um, hardship and they’ve not necessarily had that capacity to work themselves out by themselves a new model for doing business so there be around for the next 5, 10, 15 years. So that’s a real struggle but I do also see that it’s an opportunity for organisations from the Black Minority Ethnic community to recognise where they’ve maybe able to collate some collaborations with mainstream organisations. It’s often difficult for an organisation give up its sovereignty when you say that I was an organisation that was formed that date and we’ve done xyz. It’s quite difficult to give up sovereignty of being able to make unilateral decisions about what you want to do and how you want to do it. But in reality if you feel that what you do is important, I think you have to look at how you can collaborate with other organisations that have more stability, more capacity, greater networks, greater access to resource, why. Because if you can somehow work with them to secure the necessary resources for you to keep going that’s another way of you continuing to provide what you have done if it’s important enough to those communities that you need to. So I think there are some lessons and some challenges that are faced by err, many Black Minority Ethnic organisations but equally you do have um, a lot will, not saying a lot, a number of organisations out there who are still pushing against the grain of hardship to try and make things happen. And um, I hoping that this current economic time will shake up things that are irrelevant and are a waste of time and allow these organisations to really focus back in on what matters, who there serving and who they can work with to try and bridge this time of hardship for the next 3, 5 years to, to reinvent themselves so to speak for err, the challenges of the future.

MAGDALENA: That’s really nice. I just want to tell you err, one sec that you’re quickly moving, constantly moving away from the microphone (laughter). Um, I really like what you said because um, people especially now are getting really frustrated about the situation, economic situation and they tend to reject big companies and established companies instead of rather connecting with them. And so maybe the last question because we already exceeded the time (laughter). Um, I really like um, your idea of looking at companies in a holistic way. Do you think this is the future of err, Black Minority organisations? Do they, do maybe they do need to look into different kinds of areas and?

VERNON: Well, let’s look at it this way. If you look at the private sector um, many organisations of the past have been there for decades, for a centaury or more. Err, evolved quickly, you have mergers; you have acquisitions, why do they happen. Because there is something that’s recognised that’s benefit within organisations in terms of their asset base and those assets are pulled together, acquired by somebody else to, to build something bigger or more sustainable and I think the private sector do it obviously because there is a bottom line in it and very often is a bottom line for the shareholders. With a number of community and voluntary organisations they exist for the benefit of the people who receive the services. And that’s number one, it has to be number one, in my book, it has to be. Why do you exist, you don’t exist to employ a bank of people as employees. You don’t exist so that your name brand is dotted about and people talk about you. You exist primarily to serve the people who you have been set up to serve. Now if that’s your primary concern and there is a pressure of how you operate, you have to look at new ways of working. I don’t see you have any other choice and for some organisations it is very difficult to look at doing things differently. Err, and they are very often threaten by new ways of working. So typically um, I’ve worked with a number of, um, smaller Black organisations um, again I don’t think it would be fair to mention names but there is a real reticence to work with bigger organisations, which are mainstream organisations who are private because there is a fear that they may be subsumed completely and disappear. And I say that you have to then look back at the way the organisation is governed in how you secure the rights of the beneficiaries you’ve been working with. So very often um, when funding is applied to a project or organisation it’s for a fine art time. If you’re lucky it could be a year or 3 years, whoa ho. Then at the end of that people talk about how you gonna make it sustainable. Well, I think that um, one of the challenges that the leadership of these organisations need to face is that sustainability doesn’t necessarily mean sustainability of the organisation but it should be at the very least about the sustainability about the benefit that you offer. So part of the exit strategy to funding could be how do you ensure the learning, the experience, the um, knowledge base that you’ve built up working with your cliental could be somehow be how preserved in another form potentially in terms of lessons learnt that is passed onto another organisation. So you yourself as an organisation may not stay but you’re legacy is the advantage, the benefits, the learning that you’ve gone through that can be implied within um, in a new more stable, more thriving environment. Why, so you can preserve the benefit beyond the life of the organisation. To many organisations just want to say we have to exist, we have to exist and we have done. And for some if they can prove the case that’s fine. But like with private business if, if you were my customer and you were selling you cups of water and you decided that you didn’t want my water. I would die as an organisation, quite rightly because you found somebody else.

MAGDALENA: I’m sorry to interrupt you but if can maybe concentrate more on Black Minorities…

VERNON: (Laughter).

MAGDALENA: Organisations and, and the future there.

VERNON: So you got me going there.

MAGDALENA: Yes.

VERNON: Well, again but, but, but the implication of that is, is the same I think to Black Minority organisations. It’s the principle and how it’s applied. The principle is you have a group of beneficiaries that should um, um, see a real or experience a real benefit from the things that you do. Um and when your ability to provide that benefit is threatened whether it’s economically, whether it’s politically or otherwise you have to look at how you secure a benefit, a lasting benefit towards those people who you were motivated to do something for. And that’s a challenge for many err, Black Minority organisations. How do you continue to connect with your beneficiary base um, and in the first instance, how do you reinvent yourself or your model of, of operating to be more effective at being sustainable in providing that benefit. And if you look at the scenario and actually it doesn’t look like a great outcome for the future existent of organisations. Do you revisit your mission and actually ask yourself, have we fulfilled our primary mission in providing what we said we would do. Is this actually a point in time an opportunity to say we as an organisation we need to cease in our current form. Do we need to merge with others? Do we just close and then look at a transfer process, where we are transferring intellectual capital to other organisations with hopefully certain conditions that those beneficiaries that were served before are still preserved. But the point is about um, how do we safeguard a benefit to people who needs services. I think Black Minority Ethnic organisations exist usually as all sorts of other organisations because it is felt that they are best able to serve the needs of certain types of people. Now if you’re supplier to the market place goes then the question we would need to ask is who then supplies to that market place. And if you’ve are not around to do that, I think the least you can do is to see who can safeguard what is needed to ensure that you provide a good quality of service to these beneficiaries even if you have to close the doors. It’s a sad reality but it’s a reality none the less. Some of the organisations will have to close and its better doing that in the realisation that you actually captured some of that learning and that you’ve looked at something that’s actually created some level of, of um, process of transfer across the other organisations. And there’s one other element that’s really important for Black Minority organisations to consider and its more to do with these individuals that work within those organisations, err, and its about how do you become more politically active. Because ultimately when it comes to commissioning of services, when it comes to policy, um, if you don’t have a voice and you’re shaping different policies than potentially what you are doing is creating difficult sets of conditions ah, through, which you are constrained in how services could be provided for those beneficiaries that you care about. So, on the operational level it’s about looking at the things that I’ve just mentioned but on a strategic level I thinks it’s very much about how do more Black minority ethic people or people who have an understanding of the needs of Black minority ethnic communities, how can they be more effective on that decision making um, boards and partnerships to secure the rights of those people who would otherwise be overlooked.

MAGDALENA: That’s great. Thank you so much for this interview. I’m gonna stop it now, its 55 minutes.

VERNON: (Laughter).

END

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