A year ago, after the tragic death of George Floyd, we felt it was essential to publicly show our support the Black Lives Matter movement. We echoed the sentiment that was being shared universally: it is not enough to not be racist, instead we must be anti-racist. To do this, we made a commitment to ensure unconscious bias, racism and all forms of injustice had no place within our organisation.
In July 2020, we put together a mission statement for how we planned to support Black, Asian and ethnic minority (BAME) staff within Centrepoint. We promised to hold ourselves accountable, to look at our processes, and to speak to those at the heart of the matter: our staff.
It’s been a busy year. This process has involved a lot of introspection, and we had to ask ourselves some difficult questions along the way in order to make progress: “Where are we not doing enough?” and, most importantly, “How can we be better?”
With these questions at the forefront of our mission, we continue to make strides towards that commitment. We want to cultivate an inclusive culture at Centrepoint, one that’s centred on belonging. One that we are proud to work in. One that celebrates the diversity that our colleagues bring every day.
A lot of our work on being anti-racist begins on the inside, at the core. And so, we wanted to share an update on our progress with you, our supporters, to let you know we’re still striving towards our mission. Here’s what we’ve been up to.
The Equity Network Group
In our last post, we outlined four key actions that we could undertake straightaway. One of these was the development of a Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) working group to help inform our new approach to working inclusively.
The ‘Equity Network’ was established in August 2020, and in a short space of time have worked hard to ensure that change happened instantaneously, whilst also securing a plan for the long-term. The team immediately began work on an important anonymised survey that would allow us to examine the differences in experience of working at Centrepoint from all demographics within the organisation. This was the first step in understanding the thoughts and feelings of our staff, and has been crucial in influencing our next steps in this journey.
The group has also been a significant contributor to Centrepoint’s new unconscious bias training. This was a big focus for us: unconscious bias can be insidious in the workplace, and we were determined it didn’t remain so. The training sessions are run on a regular basis, and show people how to spot and shine a stark light on unconscious bias when they see it.
The great thing about the push for our Equity Network group? It also gave us the impetus to start working on inclusion sets for other underrepresented groups; we have since created the LGBTQ+ Working Group and the Disability Working Group. The construction of these all-important collectives (which also introduces a level of intersectionality), allows us to become a place where everyone feels comfortable to be themselves, and can seize opportunities irrespective of differences.
And with our new inclusion working groups up and running, we are planning a week of activities later in the year to celebrate diversity and inclusion within Centrepoint. We’ll be running a variety of sessions and events all under the theme of Inclusion during the UK’s National Inclusion Week, 27 Sept - 3 Oct.
Prioritising mental health
The Black Lives Matter movement was established in 2013, but in the summer of 2020 the movement found renewed drive after the death of George Floyd.
Floyd’s perpetrator is now serving a 22-year prison sentence. Whilst this is a step in the right direction, it is not justice, and we recognise the need to keep the BLM movement going with the same momentum.
But we must also prioritise our mental health. We took some time on the day of the verdict to reflect on what this outcome meant to us: as individuals, as employees in the workplace, and as human beings within society at large. We asked staff to observe a one-minute silence – a moment of stillness for silent contemplation, prayer, reflection, meditation, or something similar.
Of course, we never want staff to struggle on their own with such difficult and complex emotions, and have encouraged all employees to access our ever-important PIE team as well as our Employee Assistance Programme, if they felt triggered – at that time, or any other time.
Supporting young people
The way we see it, these are necessary steps towards equity for all businesses and organisations. But it felt particularly important for us because of the nature of our work. After all, how can we care for young people of all races and backgrounds if those standards aren’t embedded within our core values? How can we understand the lived experiences of young people of colour if the same diversity isn’t reflected within our staff? We have been conscious of the positive ripple effect our internal changes will have on the young people we help.
And they’ve needed nuanced support over the past year, too. Centrepoint’s health team had been putting the wheels in motion to provide specific tailored support to young people from the BAME community and, more specifically, young black men, but Floyd’s death was what ultimately pushed them to launch The BAME Mental Health Project.
“We focus on building personal resilience, enabling young people to take care of their mental health and well-being,” says Centrepoint’s Senior Mental Health Advisor, Natalie Spence. “We also send out a newsletter that highlights self-help tools, such as books, podcasts, and community support that is accessible for young people.”
There is overwhelming evidence that shows those exposed to racism are more likely to experience mental health problems, such as depression. Black women are more likely to experience an anxiety disorder, whilst Black men are more likely to experience psychosis, and older South Asian women are an at-risk group for suicide.
We also know that, for ethnic minorities, housing and poor health go hand in hand – both the mental and the physical. The BAME community are more at risk of contracting Covid-19, and poor housing standards is at the root of this exacerbation.
But research by mental health charity Rethink also shows fear, stigma and cultural insensitivity are all factors that stop people from Black, Asian or ethnic minority backgrounds from accessing help. “That's why we launched this project,” Natalie adds. “To focus on prevention specifically. We want to avoid young people becoming so unwell they need to access services.”
Of all the steps that help young people become independent, thriving adults, overcoming poor mental health is one of the biggest. Independence is our hope for all vulnerable young people who come through our doors, and it is only from working with a wide breadth of people from all races and backgrounds that we can create successful programmes like this.
Of course, achieving our mission is an ongoing process, and none of us should see our learning as finished. We all still have work to do. So we’re going to keep having crucial conversations like this – they can be uncomfortable, but they always lead to something better. Conversations that feel difficult and uncomfortable are always the ones that need to be had.