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Is prison really a holiday camp?

Jun 11, 2015 - Comments: 0

                                                                                                                     Picture by Tony Hisgett / CC BY 2.0

I'd never given serious thought about what it would be like to be locked up behind bars 24/7.

When I was growing up, I heard the stories about ‘Feltham’ being like a holiday camp. To be honest, I thought there was some truth in it. I saw young men I had grown up with, one after the other enter ‘Feltham’ and keep going back. There was no deterrent, which made me think it must be better than life on the outside!

 It wasn't until I started working at BTEG that I got a sound understanding of how the criminal justice system works and could truly appreciate the issues and difficulties prisoners face. Not only was it an eye opener for me to talk to the men experiencing the British criminal justice system and to the prison staff but, just as important, I was working with role models who had been through it and had a positive outlook.

But the young men describing Feltham as a ‘holiday camp’ played over and over in my mind and hearing that many had the luxuries of televisions and computer consoles at their disposal. One of our R2S role models assured me that being in any type of prison was no stroll in the park. I asked him if that was the case why so many reoffended. Surely if the experience is that bad they would stay away.

His description of what the prisoners see as a ‘brotherhood’ put things into perspective for me.

Imagine being on the outside, free from the restraints of an oppressive 24 hour ‘bang up’ regime, but having no-one or nothing. No family because your dad left when you were young and your mum worked around the clock to bring in the little money that she could. So you only had your friends from the ‘endz’. Not real friends because they showed you how to ‘shot’ to make ends meet, steal and lie to those around you.

Then you end up behind bars and meet like-minded people. People who have been through what you have. People who understand where you are coming from and so you form that ‘brotherhood’. Then the visits from your loved ones become less frequent. As the inmates from HMP Wayland in Norfolk explain:  “it's just too far to travel from London” and the expenses you incur from one visit makes it “impossible to have regular visits”. So you get lonely and lean on your fellow inmates for support.

Added to this you have prison staff without a clue about what it means to be a young black man; isolated and alone in Norfolk never having experienced life outside their ‘all white’ Norfolk village. So again you look to your brothers inside for that united front.

Years down the line and you are due for release but that all becomes daunting as you have become ‘institutionalised’; used to being in this environment. Comfortable.

The prisoners at HMP Wayland and Thameside shared their fears of being released. Not being able to provide for their family, being broke, dealing with a hostile environment, mental strength, getting a job, friends. The list goes on!

All these fears are playing on their mind upon release and then they face the harsh realities when they get out. It can be overwhelming and hard to get through, especially if your ideas of a ‘man’ means being able to provide for your family but you are repeatedly turned down by employers.

So you turn back to what you know best and make some money which leads to you ending up back behind bars!

This is not always the only reason that these young men reoffend, but it is also going back to your comfort zone – having a roof over your head, the safety of the four walls, others who you can relate to, no one to answer to. Unlike the harsh realities of the outside world, prison can seem like a safety net.

So my opinions have changed. Prison isn't a holiday camp. Anyone who describes it as this has some harsh realities to face up to in the outside world they think that prison is a better place to be. If a young person feels freer in prison than in the outside world we have to realise that society has to address some serious problems and that rehabilitation needs to provide the safety net that these young people need.

Be genuine

May 28, 2015 - Comments: 0

In a perfect world, my perfect world, we'd all be genuine; genuine with ourselves, our family and our friends and in the work that we do. I'd hope for a kinder world and a more empathetic one, too, but for now I'll settle with my first step of genuine people and genuine services.

It is easier said than done but I feel it is the best way, especially when working with young people. When given the opportunity to ‘help’ others you should do your best to ‘help’, not just do enough to tick a box or to receive praise but to genuinely support those 'in need'.

Working on BTEG’s Routes2Success programme I have had first hand experience of dealing with young people who are hesitant to engage. Some can be sceptical of services and all that they promise. With so many new organisations offering something better than the last and then disappearing a year later it is understandable. A number of the young people we engage with share a common frustration - the lack of commitment some organisations offer:

 ‘They visit once or twice a year and then they are gone, they don’t really want to help us’.

I can relate to this frustration, both the 15 year old me and the adult that I am today, I still relate.

When I was 15, attending my local youth club, we had a youth worker named David. He was honestly one of the nicest, most caring individuals you could ever meet. David always wanted the best for us, constantly told us to be good for our parents, stay out of trouble and work hard in school.

One day he suggested that we took part in a community course, the equivalent to 1 GCSE. Most of us were doing well at school but some were struggling. We all signed up and completed the course. Ten years on and we have yet to receive an accreditation for our work. I asked the centre manager about it every month for at least 3 years but nothing came of it. Though we had learnt new skills, ultimately we had sacrificed our time for an accreditation we never received. The services involved, however, had the portfolios they needed to tick boxes and receive their funding to continue working with young people.

The truth is that this was only one organisation claiming to care but this one organisation could have used this instance to change the future of a number of young people’s lives. That one GCSE could have made a huge difference to some of their chances. Maybe ‘Jermaine’ might have got onto the college course he wanted rather than taking up construction and dropping out a year later or maybe ‘Stacey’ would have got onto her ‘Health and Social Care’ course instead of having to work for minimum wage at a local hairdressers.

As services we do not always know the backgrounds of the young people we work with and nor do we know how much help or support they truly need but it is our duty to at least deliver the service we offer them. As staff they may not remember which organisation you work for or your job title but if you are genuine and provide them with the support you promised, they will remember you in years to come for making that difference in their life.

Be true, be genuine, be who you are supposed to be, not just to your funders but to your service users…the reason your service exists.

R.I.P David Noel…I am forever thankful  X

Some myths young people have about volunteering…

May 12, 2015 - Comments: 0
…and how to dispel them

There is a need to promote volunteering to young people. Despite the benefits they are often unwilling to volunteer because:

  • They are reluctant to work for free  If money is their goal point out the long term affect volunteering might have on earning potential. It could help them get a place at college or university and may help them into a higher paid job in the long run.
  • They see it as ‘slave labour’  Many young people believe that volunteers do mundane tasks that no one else in an organisation wants to do. This is not the case. There are many volunteer roles available and young people can choose what kind of work they want to be doing depending on their interests. Although they cannot pay them, organisations value their volunteers greatly. Volunteers increase the organisation’s capacity, allowing it to do work that otherwise would not be done.
  • They think they are not old enough  In principle anyone can volunteer as long as they are able to do the task required. In reality, it is harder for under 16’s to find opportunities because of the capacity, policies and insurance of individual organisations using volunteers. However, under 16’s should not be put off and should seek support and advice from appropriate sources.
  • They don’t have time There is often a misunderstanding about how much time volunteering takes up. Some people think it’s a great deal of time but actually volunteering opportunities can be as little as a couple of hours a month..
  • It’s just ‘not cool’ Volunteering has an image problem. Many young people think people like them just don’t do, it’s just for the elderly or unemployed for example. This is untrue. Thousands of young people across the country volunteer successfully in interesting and meaningful positions.
  • They cannot afford travel expenses etc. Volunteers should not be disadvantaged by their volunteering and most organisations will reimburse travel costs.
  • They are concerned about police checks - People working with vulnerable groups will need to be checked under the Protecting Vulnerable Groups (PVG) scheme, whatever their age. This is the organisation’s responsibility and there is no cost involved to the individual. For young people with a criminal record, a record check can be daunting though many offences don’t prohibit a person from volunteering. Each case is different and whether or not a young person will be accepted for a role will depend on the offense itself and the individual policy of the organisation. Volunteers must also be prepared to wait several weeks for their record check. This requires them to plan ahead.
  • They ‘can’t be bothered’  Volunteering is a choice not a punishment. People should not be forced to volunteer but point out to them the advantages.


Capital Volunteers is a new project hosted by BTEG which is specifically working with BAME organisations to get the best of existing or new volunteers. We have a series of training sessions free to BAME organisations in London that will be starting shortly.

For more information contact Tebusssum Rashid

Follow Capital Volunteers on Twitter @CapitalVol

Charities must be seen to be tackling racial and other key inequalities

Apr 30, 2015 - Comments: 0

As the General Election approaches and we consider what the next five years hold for our country,  the issues we care about, and the organisation and sector that we work in – the voluntary, community and social enterprise sector – we should challenge ourselves to have strong agenda for change. 

My challenge for our sector is to be more progressive on equality and inclusion.

The public, private and voluntary sectors all have their strengths and weaknesses but when all are valued, society wins. All sectors strive to be efficient and effective and the VSC is certainly able to make a real difference, often with very few resources. Its strength comes from highly committed people, unpaid and paid, who see a social or environmental need and go all out to make the situation better for their fellow citizens.

As a member of the Queens’s Award for Voluntary Service National Award Committee, every year I see great examples of the real difference volunteers make in their communities for every section of society.

But the VSC is a wonderfully diverse sector and I want to see the large organisations in the sector move to the forefront of tackling social justice and racial inequalities. Our best known charities should be publishing information on equality and diversity on their websites - about their staff profiles and service users - and we should set our actions to address the main equality performance disparities where they exist.

The VCS should be beyond the public sector equality duty, we should be advocating for a levelling up of the legalisation, but all too often the sector actually lags behind the public sector on equalities.

How many of the top 100 charities boards reflect Britain’s ethnic diversity?

How many have senior BME leaders?

These valued charities must be seen to be tackling racial, and other key inequalities. Greater transparency is vital and leaders in the sector need to put the sector at the forefront of equality and diversity best practice.

Bristol Manifesto for Race Equality Event

Apr 22, 2015 - Comments: 0

On the 16 April BTEG had the pleasure of speaking at the Bristol BME Voice Strategic Leaders’ event.

The purpose of this ground breaking event was to bring together leaders within Bristol’s public sector to share their perceptions of Bristol in relation to race equality and to start to start the process of identifying actions that they can take individually and collectively.

The Bristol Manifesto sets out a vison for Bristol and a range of practical actions that the BME Voice Manifesto Advisory Group want to see implemented. Public sector leaders were very open about the challenges in Bristol and some felt the city remains ‘ethnically segregated’ and that challenges remain to increase the representation of BME people at senior levels in their organisations, as well as improve their service delivery.  

In his short speech BTEG’s Director, Jeremy Crook, focused on leadership and race equality and the need for leaders to demonstrate, on a daily basis, their commitment to tackle racial inequalities as employers and service providers. This means working with their senior management team to mainstream race equality in everything that they do and to develop a culture in their organisations where leaders and managers are expected to perform on race equality. The Equality Act  should serve to underpin the visible efforts made by public sector leaders.

Improving the culture within organisations is not easy.  It requires leaders to put their heads above the parapet and demonstrate confidence in the subject. This in part comes from regular interaction with BME staff in their organisations and their service users. Tackling race equality may not always be ‘popular’ or welcomed by other senior leaders in their organisations Unless this happens and leaders start to work together, the situation will continue for a very long time. Individual leaders can make a difference but collective leadership in a city or town can be transformational. At a time of limited resources, public sector leaders need to pool their resources and share their expertise.

The event highlighted the past successes of positive action programmes in the city’s housing sector and how that led to progression for a number of the BME participants. However, it wasn’t sustained. If leaders today, across the public sector, work together they can develop leadership programmes that are sustainable for both BME middle mangers and young BME people.

BTEG commends Bristol BME Voice and the City’s leaders and will continue to encourage and support their efforts to make Bristol the number one city on race equality in the future 

Inequalities in the labour market:

Mar 12, 2015 - Comments: 0
the next Government should make ethnic minority youth unemployment a priority

BTEG is disappointed but not surprised to read recent headlines about the rise in long term unemployment among ethnic minority young people. Unemployment rates have been higher for ethnic minority people in the UK, of all ages, and particularly for people from black, Pakistani and Bangladeshi ethnic groups, for as long as these figures have been published.

It was always apparent that young people from black, Pakistani and Bangladeshi ethnic groups were hit hardest by rising unemployment from 2008. And despite falls in the unemployment rates for white young people over the last two years, unemployment rates for ethnic minority young people have continued to rise. Since 2011, when the overall unemployment rate began to decrease, the unemployment rate for ethnic minority young people has been twice as high as the unemployment rate for white young people.

BTEG has long campaigned about inequalities in the labour market opportunities for young people. With support from Trust for London we conducted research in 2013 which focused on young black males, the group which experienced the highest unemployment rate, at 50%, of all young people in 2012. Around 200 young black men contributed to this research by sharing their experiences of trying to find jobs.

Regardless of their educational background from those who left school with no qualifications to those with a Masters degree, these young men had all experienced racism, discrimination or negative stereotyping when searching for work. Those we talked to, without exception, had been in job interviews where they believed that the interviewer would rather not employ a young black man. They cannot prove that this is why they didn’t get the job, and there is no route from them to complain about being treated unfairly, so the young men don’t generally discuss this. Unemployment is somehow seen as ‘their fault’. As a result, it’s not too extreme to say that a lot of these young men are in a state of despair - they don’t see any chance of finding a decent job and have lost hope of ever having a reasonable income and a regular lifestyle.

Another key discovery from this research is that there is remarkably little evidence of what works to help young black men get into employment. To address this, one of the main outcomes from this research is that Trust for London and City Bridge Trust have set up the Moving on Up programme.

Moving on Up is funding six projects from April 2015 to test new approaches to helping young black men to get jobs, building an evidence base for what works. An Advisory Group, which we hope will include representatives from the Department for Work and Pensions, the Greater London Authority, Jobcentre Plus and employers, will be following the progress of these demonstration projects over the next two years. 

It is difficult to see how a society which leaves so many of its young people without opportunities and without hope can be considered successful. When the lack of opportunities and lack of hope affects ethnic minority young people at a disproportionate rate, then it is difficult not to conclude that racism, discrimination and negative stereotyping are indeed the explanatory factors. When these racial inequalities have persisted for as long as the statistics have been collected, then the need for stronger action to deal with this becomes urgent.

The next Government should make ethnic minority youth unemployment a priority. It is hard to see how this equality deficit will be tackled unless the Government sets national and local targets to increase the employment rates for young ethnic minority people to the national average.

To vote or not to vote?

Mar 10, 2015 - Comments: 0

I recently read a news article discussing the Government’s new funding initiative to encourage students to register to vote. It said the Government has invested £530,000 to help fund an NUS competition in universities across the UK, with the aim of maximising student registration as young people are less likely to vote.

Since I turned 18 I have always voted and am always amazed at how many young people do not vote.  I did some research and was astounded by the statistics:

At the 1970 election the overall turn out was 72 percent

  • Among 18-24 year olds it was 65 percent and for those over 65, it was 77 percent.

Since 1997 the gap between the younger and older voting age group has become increasingly wide:

In 2005, 74 percent of the over 65’s voted compared to only 38 percent of the 18-24 year olds.

  • Last year, the number of people on the electoral role dropped by 920,000.

Many young people think they are treated unfairly when it comes to issues like the minimum wage, youth unemployment and housing benefit.  However, many of the same people will not vote in the May election. 

It is important to remember that we are lucky enough to live in a democracy; meaning we have the right to vote for who we like in fair and free elections. Many other countries do not allow their citizens this right.  

Some people believe their vote doesn’t make a difference but every vote is important and has the power to make a change. If you do not agree with any of the parties you can leave your ballot blank – more effective than not voting at all! 

The more young people vote the more likely politician’s are to make policies that benefit us.

The deadline to get on to the electoral register in order to vote in May’s election is the 20thApril, so it is fast approaching! It only takes a few minutes to sign up online and it is really simple.

If you want changes and different policies in the UK, sign up and vote!

Volunteers: commitment vs cost

Feb 25, 2015 - Comments: 0


During my working life I have met so many people who have inspired me through their passion and commitment to volunteering for a particular cause or organisation. Despite busy lives, their commitment often left me in awe.

However, for some of those individuals their offer of time and/or expertise was not best utilised by the organisation hosting them. It is a shame when this happens. Unfortunately, it is all too common, especially in small voluntary community organisations.

Is it a lack of capacity in the organisation?  Although this has some truth, I would suggest that it is more likely that the volunteer and the host organisation have not spent enough time discussing the opportunity available and the opportunity cost – the benefit of taking on the volunteer rather than not -  of the proposed role of the volunteer.

Some key questions that need to be asked before taking on a volunteer are:

  • Do you know what the volunteer wants to get out of volunteering - what’s their personal agenda or goal?
  • What are the best skills of the volunteer and does the proposed role/task utilise these skills?
  • What is the cost of managing and supporting the volunteer?
  • What is the opportunity cost of the proposed role?  

Before taking up a volunteering position or taking on volunteers consider these questions and decide whether – for both sides - the return is worth the investment of time and commitment.

To make the volunteering experience as beneficial and productive as possible for both individuals and organisations BTEG is launching Capital Volunteers.

For further information on this exciting new project contact Tebussum Rashid

Follow Capital Volunteers on Twitter @CapitalVol

Election 2015 - "May you live in interesting times"

Feb 25, 2015 - Comments: 0


2014 was a challenging year for our sector, but which years haven’t been? Together, though, through a great deal of both individual and collective energy, we have been able to provide the services and work towards the solutions that are so needed.

This year, however, presents a new, probably unprecedented, challenge.

In the past British elections were a binary choice; the new government was either going to be Labour or Conservative. Both sides could be lobbied to try and get them to include in their manifestos commitments that would benefit our sector.

Since 2010 that’s all changed. Going into that election it seemed to be business as usual but after the votes were in it was all up for grabs. The eventual coalition between Conservatives and LibDems led to policy compromises and a new agreement.

This time we have the uncertainly going into the election:

  • Labour and Conservative are playing nip and tuck in the opinion polls, so is it likely that either side can win an outright majority? The Electoral Calculus website suggests that there is a 50% chance of a hung Parliament.  One recent YouGov poll puts each party at 33%. You can test other scenarios with the UK Polling Reports Swing Calculator .
    • Will the SNP, UKIP, Ulster Unionists or the Greens hold the balance of power?
    • Regardless of what’s in each party’s manifesto, what will be the programme of a cobbled together coalition?
    • Not knowing what that programme will be or who will be presenting it how can we hope to influence its content?

There’s said to be an old curse “May you live in interesting times”.

Well, this year is certainly going to be interesting. 

The Brixton Pound

Feb 05, 2015 - Comments: 0

There is one question that is asked over and over again by the black community - why are there so few black businesses and how can we make them sustainable?

According to the Government report on Ethnic Minority Businesses and Access to Finance it states that “Results from the 2011 Census…there are higher aspirations to start-up in business amongst ethnic minority, especially Black African (35%), Black Caribbean (28%) groups (compared with 10% for White British counterparts), but conversions to start-ups remain very low”.

There is no easy answer to this question and many reasons why, but interestingly enough one of the first answers I get to this question is around community support.

We know that immigrants from the Caribbean came to Britain to work in the public sector (London Transport or the NHS), but then many were determined to start their own business once they were established and build a better life for themselves and their family. It is therefore untrue when we are led to believe that black people have no entrepreneurial spirit and are too cautious.

I know of two black families back in the 60s who used their entrepreneurial skills to create their own businesses. Unfortunately, due to racism and fear of rejection from the banks these businesses were unable to flourish.

This issue has not disappeared with time. As quoted by Tim Campbell (a black entrepreneur) in The Guardian “"If you go down the traditional routes, there is discrimination. The banks will probably turn you down.

So what do we do?

We will find those who will want to invest in us, for example Lord Alan Sugar embraced Tim Campbell and supported his business venture. The question is how we keep that business afloat. Businesses can only survive if they are financially stable, so this would require support from customers and word of mouth (publicity). Unfortunately, from conversations I have had with members of the black community we do not support our own businesses, except for takeaways and hairdressers.

This is why when I heard of the concept the Brixton Pound I was so intrigued!

The Brixton pound was launched in September 2009 to provide a local currency for the community in support of local businesses. The slogan for the Brixton pound is ‘money that sticks to Brixton’! According to The Guardian article in 2010 the community in Brixton want to ‘preserve the area's unique identity, foster community spirit, strengthen local bonds, and defend local businesses from the onslaught of chain stores by paying for goods and services with the local money.’

This is a fantastic approach one in which the black community could and should adopt if we want black businesses to succeed. If we generate the ‘black pound’ we could use this currency to provide a support system for black businesses and boost more black-led start up businesses. The black pound’ would be used to purchase items/services from black businesses in order to support them; help them to be financially stable and sustainable. It is time for the black community to support one another; inspire the next generation to become successful entrepreneurs and strengthen our economy. 


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