As Black History Month draws to a close, Robert Greene, Assistant Director of Programme Delivery at PA Housing, explains why he wants black history to be seen as an integral part of British history – not something just to be celebrated during one month of the year…
I have been impressed at the way this year’s Black History Month has been promoted and celebrated at PA Housing and in the wider UK housing sector. There have been some great efforts to actively showcase the positive contributions that black people have made to society.
As a profession we can be proud to be taking a lead, but we must make the most of these foundations and do more. Much more.
Although Black History Month has been celebrated since 1987, it wasn’t until 2002 that I noted any real efforts being made to promote it in the workplace. This timing coincided with my move from the private sector to a development team within the housing sector. All three of the London-based housing associations that I have worked for celebrated Black History Month and diversity in some way.
Over time, I have seen this as an opportunity to challenge racism and educate others about the parts of British history often missing from the textbooks. In the two years that I have worked at PA Housing, I have enjoyed the events we’ve arranged to share our different cultural celebrations, sample food, and learn about the significant contributions black figures have made to British society in all areas over the centuries.
Progress to date
We have come a long way in the past three decades. In common with most housing providers, PA Housing has mandatory Equality Diversity and Inclusion training, and our ‘Everybody is unique’ mantra ensures we celebrate everyone’s differences across our organisation.
I was proud to see my colleague Dorothy Smith run Zoom sessions throughout Black History Month to address the issue of white privilege. But, importantly, this is just the start.
Other colleagues are leading on ideas to actively target support at BAME communities, as they have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19. For instance, our ‘Being Your Own Boss’ course is run in partnership with social business Enterprise CUBE, with the aim of supporting customers to get their own business up and running.
The course is delivered remotely via a web-based platform, so all our customers need in order to take part is to commit around eight hours per week for the duration of the 12-week course and the drive to work with us to help make their dream a reality.
“I would like us to celebrate black history as part of British history continuously – that way we can all learn about and celebrate the contributions made by all races to British history and culture”
We were particularly interested in hearing from those with a BAME background and overtly encouraged this group of applicants. As a result, 69% of course participants are from the BAME community.
This is in addition to the direct financial support we have offered to BAME-run foodbanks in Leicester and Nottingham, where PA Housing has donated £1,000 to each of five foodbanks. We have also donated to the Trussell Trust, which operates across our communities.
Equality beyond the pandemic
As we hopefully emerge from the pandemic over the coming months, we must ensure the hard-won momentum on equality is not lost. As a minimum, I would like us to celebrate black history as part of British history continuously – not just in October. That way we can all learn about and celebrate the contributions made by all races to British history and culture.
At PA Housing, we have made a commitment in our new Corporate Plan to ensure much greater representation in senior roles from the 40% of our people from BAME backgrounds.
In a similar vein, I’d like to see more initiatives across all sectors – especially development and construction companies – that actively promote BAME employment at all levels in order to better represent the communities they serve within the housing sector and beyond.
Also, I am pleased to see professional bodies, such as the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), actively promoting diversity and celebrating Black History Month.
We are making strong progress, but it’s up to all of us to continue pushing the boundaries.
Image: Robert Greene, assistant director of Programme Delivery, PA Housing
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