Cllr Lynn Denham Interview: Equality and Diversity in Worcester
2020 was an important year in the fight for racial justice. Across the world protests against police brutality and institutional racism have sparked debates across society and within institutions about how we can all actively combat racism. Inspired by those protests, and the incredible work locally of Black Lives Matter Worcester, Councillor Lynn Denham has worked hard to implement practical ways that the Worcester City Council can do more to support the fight for racial justice and equality. She spoke about this work to Worcestershire Transformed:
How important do you think BLM Worcester has been in highlighting issues of racial inequality locally?
I think it has been really important. The scale and size of the original protest in Worcester following the death of Geroge Floyd and other national and international protests was really significant. Physically on the day it brought a lot of citizens and residents together and showed that there was general support for the movement and the message.
I think the second BLM Worcester protest had less impact, in that physically there were far fewer people who attended, but the voices and the contact with those voices has continued growing. For example, Transition Worcester published the speeches from the day which then enabled them to be shared with other agencies and reached people in different ways and in a variety of places. There was a clear increase in awareness of the key issues as a result of both protests.
In terms of taking things forward from those protests, I wanted to turn that energy into something practical. I looked around at the evidence and the information that was available and went to Worcester City Council with a motion that was deliverable by the Council and would make a difference to Council services, residents and different communities in Worcester.
The motion was slightly amended on the night but essentially is about reviewing the collection of data by the Council on race and ethnicity, implementing training to tackle racism, working towards ensuring that the Council’s workforce is representative of the community it serves and ensuring that equality law is applied in relation to all policy areas and decisions. So that itself has had an impact and I have noticed a change in how a number of City Council Officers are approaching equality impact assessments.
In February 2021 the City Council also agreed to appoint a member working group to support officers in this work and to adopt the Local Government Association Equalities Framework—essentially a self assessment process in which we continue to review how we are engaging with equality issues, different communities and looking at the diversity of our own workforce.
Was there much opposition within the Council from members against the practical steps you and other Councillors were taking? And do you think the BLM protests had an effect on the how Councillors were now engaging with these issues?
I think with the protests there were Conservative Councillors who just did not engage with it and it was seen as subversive, problematic and a dangerous gathering of a crowd during a pandemic. However, in terms of the motion and the way it was framed and put to the Council, it was accepted and there was a recognition that things needed to be done moving forward.
I do believe that as a result of the protest in Worcester there was a greater awareness that this is a Worcester issue as much as it is an issue anywhere else in the world. The use of personal stories and poems at the protests was really powerful. I think that the motion passing was in some part down to the fact that the protests that summer had started a societal wakeup in terms of looking at racism in this country.
I hope that these changes in the Council will lead to positive and lasting change but we all need to work at it. I think it’s massively important that City Council officers have now got a better understanding of these issues and have started making changes. Black History Month in Worcester for example was really impressive as an example of the Council engaging with different groups to set up an incredible string of events around such important issues.
Within all of these changes where is the South Worcestershire Hate Crime Forum placed? Was this something that was already set up and what work is it doing in the area?
So it’s been set up for sometime. District Councils have a responsibility to look at community safety and work with the Police on that. As a result, there has been a Hate Crime Forum at South Worcestershire level for a while and in the past has been focused largely on LGBTQ+ issues. It works as a combination of officers and organisations looking at education, prevention and victim support in terms of hate crime. But as a result of the Black Lives Matter protests we started to look at the data and interrogate the data from Police about hate crime and hate incidents. If you look between July 2019 and June 2020, for example, over half of all recorded hate incidents and hate crimes in South Worcestershire were racially motivated.
As a result, the Hate Crime Forum is expanding its focus and has engaged with different organisations to see how it can improve in different areas. For example they are now working with Tell MAMA to encourage people to report Islamophobic incidents.
How is the Council ensuring it can reach out to communities that feel alienated or discriminated against in wider society? And is public consultation an effective way of doing this?
I think that’s clearly an area which needs improvement and we need to be proactive about it. Take for example the Annual Survey Report which the Council uses to determine budgets and where to prioritise funding. We try hard to reach a variety of groups and people from all backgrounds. For this year’s survey the Council even hired a consultant to lead discussion groups as well.
So the number of responses for our last survey was 526, which as a proportion of the population is quite small. In terms of representation of the city it wasn’t great either, as 94% of respondents were white British and only 0.75% of the respondents were in the 18-24 age bracket despite making up 14% of the city’s population.
So we need to look at the way we are reaching out to these communities and making sure that these communities are represented and their views are represented. I’m hoping that some of the work coming out of the equalities framework will lead to us reviewing how we reach out to people and ensure a variety of voices are heard.
On a slightly different topic but linked to building bridges with communities, ONS data has shown that a lot of European Migrants are leaving the UK. In Worcestershire the European Migrant population has dropped from 25,000 to 17,000. Are the Council and the general public doing enough to make these communities feel welcome?
It’s really difficult because the overwhelming national narrative and the national laws are creating a toxic environment for migrants, so what you can do locally to counteract that is limited. I’ve been talking to a number of people, and in fairness to Worcester, we have used a significant amount of the Government funding we’ve been given to prepare for Brexit on migrants and migrant communities rather than it all going on just business. The funding has been used to try and better understand migrant communities and the issues they face.
I think the role for the City Council is to make sure those communities and groups are supported in every sense and are able to access help, employment and we are seen to be encouraging economic development. For example, there are lots of migrants with certain developed skills but without the correct British qualifications of paperwork, so we also need to identify ways we can help and support people in different ways. This is all work that is essential in supporting migrants in their efforts to integrate into life in Worcester.
Lynn Denham is a Worcester City Councillor (Cathedral Ward) and ran as Labour’s Parliamentary Candidate in the city in 2019. If you want to get in contact with Lynn to discuss her work and how you can help email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. She has also written previously about bringing up a mixed raced daughter in Worcester and also the importance of Black History Month.
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