Can the truth of a pandemic and centering a previously hidden sector present a once-in-a-generation opportunity for funders to address structural racism?

Statement of Intent by The Ubele Initiative

As the second wave of the pandemic continues to wreak havoc across the country, hopes that it would be possible to turn to a “post-Covid” rebuilding and recovery phase have been dashed. Yet again, we are seeing disproportionate impacts on black and brown people due to structural inequalities. Yet again, this reality continues to be overlooked in policy responses even in the face of evidence and research. The Office of National Statistics recently found that the mortality rate was more than 2.5 times higher in the most deprived areas than the least deprived.

The COVID-19 pandemic has resurfaced many truths across the globe, including the resurgence of Black Lives Matter after the death of George Floyd (RIP). It ripped off the surface of deeply embedded institutional racism in our society to expose pain and grief. There was a shift, virtually overnight — in funding attitudes. To break this pattern, we must acknowledge how institutional racism is embedded within wider systems, shaped by historic injustices and sustained through ongoing violations of fairness and equality.

At the same time, the pandemic has shown us what a lifeline community and voluntary organisations are to BAME* people. Re-traumatisation on a global scale has led to critical mental and physical well-being impacts. Many received emergency funding, that is due to end in March. Community organisations are facing imminent cuts to vital services unless funders issue new tranches of funding within the coming weeks.

Alongside the immediate concerns of emergency funding disappearing, we must also focus on building collective and civic power that will enable communities to determine their own future- as opposed to remaining vulnerable to the forces that continue to exploit. It’s time to develop a comprehensive, shared national strategy for community wealth-building. We need to move from an extractive, to a regenerative relationship with wealth and power. Crucially, this strategy should join up approaches such as leadership development, community asset development, enterprise development, health and well-being among others that work to reinforce each other. This, ultimately, is the path to collective healing and long-term, sustained recovery.

For over ten years, as a leading catalyst organisation that seeks to activate, nurture and convene community-led initiatives with a focus on the BAME* communities, The Ubele Initiative has built sustainable communities without receiving adequate support and recognition. The pattern of sustained neglect and underinvestment in the social and economic infrastructure of our communities drove the disaster we witnessed first-hand, as shown by Build Back Fairer: The COVID-19 Marmot Review and many other studies.

The resurgence of Black Lives Matter in the summer of 2020 propelled the discussion of institutional racism in a way we have never seen before. As a result of persistent campaigning by the sector, demands for answers and for targeted resources to meet the pressing needs in our communities, frontline support was channelled where it was most needed. There was finally recognition of the importance of dedicated interventions to respond to BAME* communities, and the critical role of support organisations who shape and deliver them. The Ubele Initiative is adding its voice to the transformative conversations that #CharitySoWhite, Future Foundations UK, Resourcing Racial Justice and others broke open last year about the inequities within the funding system.

We have been driving much-needed resources to areas that have been neglected for years, such as the National Lottery Community Fund’s Phoenix Fund, the Community Lead Organisations Recovery Scheme with Power to Change, and the London Community Response Fund. Many other funding initiatives involving our allies from the sector are currently being documented by Equally Ours in a report due to be published soon.

The surge and interest in funding Black-led organisations, combined with the urgency of the situation — has unleashed a wave of creativity and dynamism at the local level. We now need to keep building on the web of initiatives operating at the local level, where it is having the most impact. However, this is an “awakening” that is taking place at all levels. For one major funder, this led to uncovering a “hidden sector” of nearly 1,000 community groups that were previously unknown to them. For another, it was realising how BAME* organisations have fallen through the gaps of their mechanisms and were missing opportunities.

Even though funding agencies are now acknowledging the importance of addressing entrenched inequalities, it remains to be seen whether tackling systemic racism will feature in their long-term strategies this year. Another question is whether the government’s Levelling Up agenda that aims to address place-based inequalities, will also take on the inequalities specific to Black and brown communities. So while the recent announcement of the expansion of the dormant assets scheme to unlock an additional £800m for COVID-19 recovery efforts is certainly encouraging- new funding streams are yet to show if they have truly integrated the lessons learned. We know we are one of many others in the sector starting to think strategically about the post-COVID-19 agenda. This is what it means to us:

First, we need data, research, exploration, and commitment to support BAME organisations sustainably and equitably. Ubele is kicking off research over the course of the next three months interviewing a range of infrastructure organisations, grassroot frontliners and funders to uncover some of these ideas. This will further evidence and aggregate insights from our sector, building on a host of reports we published over the last year to uncover the impact of COVID-19 on BAME led organisations and communities. Our April 2020 report The Impact of COVID-19 on BAME Community and Voluntary Organisations found that 9 out of 10 BAME led micro and small organisations were facing closure. We revisited this research later in the year with Impact of Covid-19 on the BAME Community and Voluntary Sector: A Follow Up, in which a majority of respondents expressed the need to strengthen national BAME infrastructure bodies so they can be better equipped to meet the range of specific needs faced by frontline organisations. Other reports, such as Rapid Review of the Impact of COVID-19 on those with Protected Equality Characteristics in London and The National Mapping of BAME Mental Health Services in the UKhave provided crucial evidence of the extensive and multi-dimensional impacts of pre-existing inequalities on our community.

Second, we also need to recognise that the changes needed are a response to decades of prolonged discrimination, oppression and neglect. Funders and policy-makers should understand that relationships of dignity and respect can’t be built overnight with a few changes. Diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) strategies and staff appointments are only the first steps. What is needed is genuine investment. Building trust and confronting uncomfortable power dynamics and behaviour is the only way to change patterns. The quality of our interactions is as important as the quantity of funding offered.

Third, whilst some positive developments are happening, we can’t ignore deep, old wounds being re-opened whilst new ones consistently are being inflicted. The deportation flights to Jamaica in December resurfaced the unacknowledged brutality of Windrush. As the reality of Brexit sinks in, it will trigger further insecurities around belonging as well as the deep injustices and hostility that Black British people face daily. This is why recognising the existence of intergenerational trauma and reckoning with its impacts is key — to our collective survival. This process of collective healing is one of many intentional steps we need to take to rebuild the health of our communities.

In the coming weeks, Ubele will publish its latest research findings in the Booska Paper**. Although Ubele is leading this research, this process is about amplifying the voice of the sector — all the triumphs, concerns and fears we have collected from small and large group conversations, events and our fellow allies’ research.

The Ubele Initiative is relieved that institutional racism is finally being acknowledged as real, with an invitation to all our allies in the sector. Now is the time for us to come together to unlearn the competitive culture bred between us by the society we live in and chart a shared vision and strategy for our communities. Let’s share all the lessons from the past year and work together to reach the people that have been left out of history books and funding opportunities for too long.

* BAME: We recognise the diversity of individual identities and lived experiences, and we accept that BAME is an imperfect term that does not fully capture the racial, cultural, and ethnic identities that experience structural and systematic inequality. Whenever possible, we attempt to name individuals as they themselves prefer to be named.

** Booska Paper: Booska is the Somali word for position.

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The Ubele Initiative

We empower Black and Minoritised communities in the UK to act as catalysts for social and economic change.