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Campaigner, Writer, Trainer, Management, Consultant & Director - Working for Equality


COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT WORK IN A CHANGING ENVIRONMENT - COUNCILLOR JIM THAKOORDON


Introduction

Since the July, 2003 bombings in London we have had lots of debates, discussions, suggestions, explanations and ideas regarding the reasons for extremist behaviour by Muslims in Britain and ways in which such behaviour and ideology should be challenged and eliminated. Reasons identified for the problem include lack of community cohesion; poverty and deprivation; the impact of cumulative disadvantages; under-achievement in education and socio-economic status; opposition to what has been described as 'British' or 'civilised values; commitment to terrorism; alienation amongst young people and lack of integration within mainstream society.

The Government from the Prime Minister down have supported even more drastic legislation to restrict the rights and liberties of citizens to combat what they perceived as terrorism. At the same time they have largely ignored the national and international issues, which have contributed to dissatisfaction amongst a substantial minority of Muslims and black youths. The so-called war on terror, at home and abroad and subsequent actions by security forces are examples why so many Muslim and black youths are alienated. Continuing poverty, discrimination, high unemployment, under-achievement in education is also important in shaping behaviour and attitudes.

Solutions include more legislation to restrict certain types of immigrants from entering Britain; greater security surveillance and monitoring of certain individuals and groups; deporting and or prosecuting people perceived to be terrorist or terrorist sympathisers and extremists; encouragement to the Muslim elders and community leaders to identify and inform on Muslim extremists, and a host of measures aimed at restricting further rights, liberties and freedom of certain people and groups in Britain.

Unfortunately, very little time and space have been given towards building community cohesion, reducing alienation amongst young people and creating a more just, fair, equal, inclusive society, free from fear, poverty, discrimination and extremist behaviour. In many towns, cities and even in rural areas of Britain, people are living in fear of anti-social behaviour, crime, violence, racism and poverty. There is a limit to what changes in law and order, immigration rules and security measures can contribute towards addressing the issues and solutions associated with the problems relating to lack of community cohesion and fear of terrorism.

The Muslim community and sections of the African Community have been characterised as criminals and threats to so-called “British values”, whatever that is supposed to be.

Given the above it would appear that community development work (CDW) could be redefined in order to address some of the many concerns expressed since 2003 and respond to the changes, challenges and opportunities identified in the various neighbourhood renewal programmes, aimed at regenerating neighbourhoods, and making them more inclusive, prosperous and cohesive.

The Neighbourhood Renewal Unit which was formed some five years ago and located within the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister with a massive budget and strong commitment to community cohesion and social inclusion has been trying to address some of the problems facing young disillusioned, alienated and disadvantaged people. The promotion of local strategic partnership (LSP's) and the focus on issues such as a national strategy for neighbourhood renewal, regeneration, community empowerment, capacity building of local communities, community cohesion and partnership networking designed to tackle poverty, deprivation and social exclusion have substantially changed the nature of CDW. Training and development in CDW will have to change continuously in order to equip workers with the new skills, qualifications, experience and knowledge necessary to think and act strategically, within a holistic framework designed to promote and sustain community cohesion, and ensure equality and access to opportunities.

Training and development of CDW must focus on issues associated with diversity, cultural awareness, religion and belief, discrimination, social exclusion, institutional racism, poverty and deprivation, inequality, social justice and alienation. CDW must be able to understand the
impact these issues have on the lives of people who have suffered because of their race, ethnicity, religion or belief, culture, gender, age, disability, sexual orientation, class or status. Black and minority ethnic (BME) communities have suffered for generations due to the cumulative and historical impact of their racial, cultural, religious and ethnic origins.

Unfortunately, at a time when it would appear that anti-social behaviour and violent crimes are on the increase many local authorities are cutting back resources for youth and community development work. This must have a significant negative impact not only on tackling anti-social behaviour and crime, but also discrimination and disadvantages amongst black and Muslim youths.


Black and Minority Ethnic Community and CDW

There are some 5 million plus BME people representing around 8.5% of the UK population who are amongst the most deprived, disadvantaged and discriminated against communities in Britain. BME taken as a whole are more likely to be unemployed, living in poor housing and environment, experiencing gross inequality in health, suffering from the impact of crimes, being paid less and having less access to career opportunities. In many large towns and cities they often make up a sizeable proportion of the local population and are more likely to benefit from quality CDW. Pakistani, Bangladeshi and African Caribbean young people have been the least achievers in the education system for many years. They have also been disproportionately represented in areas of poverty and deprivation, unemployment access to essential resources such as housing, and career opportunities. Even in the small number of areas where some youth and CDW is taking place it is only available to the most vulnerable and only a tiny minority of people.

In addition only a few CD workers are sufficiently equipped with the knowledge, understanding, confidence, resources or ability to involve and support the diverse BME communities. It would take much more than CDW to enable BME young people to break the cycle of deprivation, discrimination, exclusion and powerlessness. This will take much greater commitment and resources by central and local government to tackle deep institutional, cultural and economic problems which include people in the cycle of disadvantage and deprivation.

Institutions and even CDW sometimes tend to stereotype BME communities in terms of class, culture, religion and belief, lifestyles, class and needs. They often ignore the fact that the BME communities and the voluntary and community sectors, which support some of them, are very diverse and dynamic. BME communities are often marginalised from the decision making process even in areas where the LSP or public bodies have been awarded specific funding to tackle the obvious disadvantages being suffered disproportionately by BME communities. Ignorance, lack of awareness, stereotyping, tokenism or racism often play a large part in excluding BME from the decision making process and thereby perpetuates the cycle of exclusion and deprivation.

Racism is pervasive across Britain today and it is not restricted to urban or rural areas with high or low BME population density, nor is it restricted to gender, age, ability/disability, religion, belief, culture or class. It is deeply ingrained in our institutions, structures, processes and practices at national, regional and local levels. However, some sections of the BME communities such as those with disabilities, those living alone, the elderly and those who have difficulty with literacy and numeracy are particularly vulnerable to racism, bullying and harassment. People from ethnic groups other than white can sometimes perpetuate harassment, bullying and denial of human rights against vulnerable BME individuals and groups. This is not an easy area for CDW or institutions to cope with at times.


The Challenge of Equality, Diversity and Cultural Awareness in CDW & LSP's

The success of community development work in general and through local strategic partnerships, local and central government could be measured by their approach not only in identifying those involved in extreme, criminal and anti-social behaviour, but also on the actual resources available to deal with the cause of such behaviour. Working towards the promotion of equal access to resources and opportunities, community cohesion, social inclusion and cultural awareness should be at the centre of CDW. Sometimes CDW and people engaged in empowering local communities have to challenge established statutory agencies as well as community and voluntary organisations, which may consciously or unwittingly exclude BME from their work. This could include tenants associations, groups dealing with youth, elderly or disability. To have an impact on tackling BME exclusion and racism in all areas of local communities CDW will need to familiarise themselves with the many aspects of equality and employment legislation and human rights.

Some considerations for local and central government and CDW

In order to work strategically, promote equality and social inclusion, social justice and sustainable communities local and central government and indeed CDW must address the following issues:

• Provide more resources for tackling inequality and social exclusion
• Acknowledge the many profound changes which have taken place in multi-racial/multi-cultural Britain during the last decade
• Involve BME communities in all areas of decision making, identifying priorities and resources
• Identify needs, concerns and issues associated with BME communities and involve them in all partnerships
• Welcome, value, promote and demonstrate commitment to equality, diversity, cultural understanding and greater social interaction
• Challenge stereotyping, discrimination, prejudice and unfairness
• Promote inclusion, diversity, respect and understanding between all ethnic groups and communities
• Organise inter-cultural events and activities designed to reduce the isolation and alienation of particular cultural and religious groups
• Assist and support BME communities in accessing resources and opportunities
• Enable BME individuals and communities to access training opportunities and to work strategically to promote positive aspects of their culture and lifestyle
• Support local communities to become inclusive and to tackle common concerns such as worklessness, poor housing and environment, crimes, anti-social behaviour, health inequality, poverty and disadvantage
• Encourage BME individuals to become involved in mainstream activities and to fully participate in community development, skills for life learning, neighbourhood renewal and capacity building
• Promote and support empowerment of everyone in the community
• Identify and remove where possible barriers to social inclusion and community cohesion
• Research and share good practice in community relations
• Listen and learn from every community
• Share information and good practice with all ethnic groups and stakeholders
• Challenge their own prejudices and stereotypes and always try to be objective in all their work
• Set good examples and show leadership, professionalism and commitment to diversity
• Encourage interaction between various ethnic groups and assist in fostering trust and respect
• Ensure that all literature, posters and material are free from any unacceptable racial or cultural concerns
• Ensure appropriate use of language, presentation of information, communication of sensitive issues, use of venues, provision of food, use of artefacts and welcoming people
• Respect diversity in language, food, dress, lifestyle, body language, customs, culture and preferences
• Treat all others as you would wish to be treated

Jim Thakoordin has been a trainer and consultant on equality, quality, management practice, employment law, and community development for nearly 20 years. He has designed and delivered training for voluntary and statutory organisations across Britain at local, national and international levels, and has written over a dozen publications on issues associated with health, education, community empowerment, equal opportunities, employment law and management. He has served on 2 Local Strategic Partnerships and has designed and delivered a wide range of OCN levels 1-3 courses in community development, capacity building and empowering local communities. Chair of an active BME organisation, member of several local, regional and national agencies and strategic organisations and has been an advisor to Government Ministers on Education, Employment and Equality issues. He has been a County, Borough and Parish Councillor; a Parliamentary candidate, member of various Tribunals, Governor of Colleges and Universities; and Trustees of a number of national organisations. His academic qualifications include a BA Hons in Government and Sociology, Oxford Diploma in Social Studies, PGCE, Certificate in Counselling, Diploma in Leadership and Management and an MBA in Business.