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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. 

‘Enough is enough’ why we should all support this surgeon’s plea to stop the knife epidemic

Feb 04, 2015 - Comments: 0

The Evening Standard reported on 2 February Dr Tom Konig’s tragic account of his efforts to save the life of a 17 year old young man who was stabbed during a house party. The Standard quoted Dr Konig as saying “Enough is enough. It is time to put your knives down.”

How many times have we heard grieving families also say enough is enough? But the situation is getting worse and all too often the victims are hard working young men with no gang affiliation. The vast majority of young black males are not in gangs and don’t carry knives.

My charity works with hundreds of young black males, aged 11-25, to inspire them to succeed at school, college and work. One young man we met recently in Hackney was also stabbed to death last month just as he was starting to focus on something he was good at.

Reducing the number of stabbings and deaths will not be easy.

Young men living in poor areas of London have few job opportunities and daily exposure to gang and drugs. If we listen to their views we might start to understand the real challenges that they face just going about their everyday lives. They learn not to make eye contact with each other to avoid confrontation and not to venture into the wrong areas.  None of them want to make money on the streets but finding ways out is hard. They feel that selling drugs, despite the risk, is better than the stigma of claiming benefits.

Young black men want help to get off the streets but they also want a living wage that allows them to be independent. They feel that society only hears the negative narrative about young black men and this creates more barriers for them to overcome. In these circumstances they also find it hard to develop a positive identity.

Agencies working with young black men need to create the space where the young black men can explore these difficult issues and be supported in finding their own solutions. 

As Dr Konig rightly pointed out, it needs families, schools, colleges, black male role models, police and local councils to directly engage with our young black men and do things differently. We know from listening to young black men that they all have aspirations to make a positive contribution.

What’s on offer today is failing too many of them.

Thank you for the opportunity

Jan 15, 2015 - Comments: 0

The importance of communication skills

I recently had a meeting with a group of boys from West London, who expressed an idea to set up a local community project for other young people.

To break the ice at our first meeting, we took it in turns introducing ourselves, talking about our achievements and interests. First impressions really do count and the importance of building a foundation of trust comes to mind.  At the end of our meeting the young boys were beaming with energy and enthusiasm saying “Thank you for the opportunity”.

This got me thinking about the power of communication and the importance of having the confidence and ability to articulate yourself in front of people you don’t know.

How often are young people given the opportunity to talk about and their talents and ideas or even express their opinions?  Having an idea is great but unless you have the skills and knowledge to communicate your idea and implement it, then it remains just an idea and it will always be an idea. If young people are to do well in further education and employment they have to have good speech, language and communication skills and, importantly, project management skills.

Having the opportunity to communicate their interests was very important to the boys I spoke too. I was able to listen to their needs and wants and to offer my support and knowledge in return.

One of the boys was less confident at speaking about himself. He came across as being very introverted at times, struggling to complete full sentences and not engaging with full eye contact. These are barriers he will have to overcome in order for him to show off his many hidden talents.

The way we communicate has changed dramatically during the last decade. The rise of technology, the Internet and social media has changed the way we live, work and communicate with family and friends.

Many people will opt to writing a quick text rather than picking up the phone or make a phone call rather than seeing someone face to face.

It is that face to face communication that needs to happen more; especially communication between young people and their parents.

As a child I was always encouraged to get actively engaged in different activities:

  • From gymnastics, to singing and reading in church.
  • I can remember having to watch Newsround on children's BBC and having to read from a newspaper communicating back to my mother what was happening in the world.
  • Visiting our local library and choosing books was also part of our weekly routine. It is a known fact that reading can broaden your vocabulary so it can help you with better communication skills.

How many parents communicate with the children on a daily basis?

How many parents read to their children or with their children?

How may parents communicate with their children about expectations, hopes and beliefs?

Being a parent myself I can happily answer yes to all these questions.

Sadly many children who fail to communicate appropriately go on to have behaviour problems thus lowering their chances of success in later life.

Parents need to encourage their children to actively engage in activities thereby increasing their child’s intellectual and social development.

Good communication is key….wouldn't you agree?

The Unemployed Graduate

Jan 14, 2015 - Comments: 0

Guest blog by Alice Bailey (BTEG volunteer)

After graduating from university in July I, like many other graduates, believed finding a job in my desired field would not be too problematic. I had obtained a respectable degree level and my work experience has been varied and vast, so I assumed finding my ‘dream’ job would not be too challenging. I had read some articles and overheard discussions on the news about youth unemployment and the rising graduate unemployment but I hadn’t paid much attention to it.

After applying for numerous job positions and receiving little feedback, I then began to realise the overwhelming problem of unemployment for graduates.

The number of unemployed graduates is not too surprising when you look at the figures. It is estimated that employers receive at least 85 applications for every graduate vacancy and in some cases over 200 graduates are chasing each opening (The Association of Graduate Recruiters, 2013). But why does the number of unemployed graduates keep on increasing?

Every year universities across England and Wales offer new degree subjects such as Airline Management and Culinary Arts. Previously people would learn the skills through apprenticeships or by working their way up the job ladder. However, as new degree subjects are being offered, more young people are attending university to study rather than working as an apprentice.

In December 2013 George Osborne announced that universities would be free to expand on their student intake with no cap on admissions. This year 30,000 more places were made available and in July 412,170 students had had their place at university confirmed, a rise of 3% compared to the figures in 2013 (The Guardian, 2014). However, the growing number of students graduating from university every year does not mean extra graduate jobs are being offered. After graduating many young people find themselves in menial jobs and one in twelve is still without work six months after graduating (The Telegraph, 2012).

The graduate job market is not going to dramatically change overnight so how can I and other graduates improve our chances of securing a job:

  • Seek help when writing your CV and personal statement. After graduating I soon realised that I did not know how to write an excellent CV or personal statement. Employers receive hundreds of job applications; make sure yours stands out. Remember to always check your spelling and grammar before sending off a job application. Nothing is worse than applying for a job and then realising you made a simple spelling error. Learn Direct and the National Careers Service offer helpful information on how to write your CV and personal statement.
  • Always network. You never know who you might meet, whether it’s on the tube or at an event. I attended a women’s brunch morning which discussed the topic of work life balance. I met a woman who was a trustee for a children’s charity and she offered me some great advice and information to help my job search.
  • Any work experience or volunteering you can undertake in your chosen field can be really valuable for your job application. Even having a job that is not partially skilled is respected by employers because it can show responsibility. Even though I work full-time, I still take part in a number of volunteering roles as this adds experience to my CV and I can concentrate on something I enjoy doing in a sector I wish to work in.

The important thing to remember is to not give up on your job search. It may take a little or a lot longer than you hoped but it will pay off.

photo credit: GeoBlogs via photopin cc

Apprenticeships for ethnic minorities: the presentations

Nov 12, 2014 - Comments: 0






National Conference, 8 December 2014, London

The number of apprenticeships has grown over the last decade and they are an increasingly important route into high quality jobs and careers.

All the main political parties plan to further expand apprenticeships after the 2015 election. Some of the challenges for the new government will be to ensure high quality apprenticeships are available in high quality companies, offering long-term opportunities, and to make sure they are open to everyone, across all sectors

Today, only 10% of apprentices come from ethnic minorities. This proportion has been static for the last four years, despite many more ethnic minority young people leaving school with good GCSEs and applying for apprenticeships, and despite the fact that almost one-quarter of the candidates registered on the Apprenticeship Vacancies system are from ethnic minorities.  

Tackling diversity and inclusion is a challenge. Central and local government and other public bodies have the leverage through public funding and public sector procurement to deliver better outcomes for ethnic minority communities (and other groups with protected characteristics listed in the Equality Act). The Department for Business, Innovation & Skills (BIS) has recently set up a new Apprenticeship Advisory Group, composed of external stakeholders, to tackle equality deficits in apprenticeships and to help reduce the barriers that limit diversity in apprenticeships.  At the same time, some employers are successfully recruiting ethnic minority apprentices into sectors where they have traditionally been under-represented.

There has never been a better time to accelerate our efforts to ensure that all young people have an opportunity to succeed as apprentices.

Inclusion and BTEG held an event on 8th December to stimulate debate, share best practice and encourage greater use of the available levers to deliver equal opportunities in apprenticeships for all young people, irrespective of their personal characteristics.

The presentations by the speakers can now be downloaded:

Apprenticeships and Ethnic Minorities  - Jeremy Crook OBE

Participation in Apprenticeships - Dave Simmons OBE

Apprenticeships and Ethnic Minority Group Representation - Yasmin Damree-Ralph

Placing Ethnic Minorities into Employment: What Works - Julie Hutchinson

Apprenticeships - Gary Zetter

Corporate and Social Responsiblity - Gary Zetter

Diversity - Gary Zetter



The new Rehabilitation Services market: will it improve outcomes for BAME and Muslim offenders?

Nov 05, 2014 - Comments: 0

`Opening up the market, injecting new energy and thinking to crack some of society’s most entrenched social problems, reinventing the probation service for the new century ’

This was some of the thinking behind the drive by Chris Grayling, the Secretary of State for Justice, to break up the Probation Service and create a market for the provision of rehabilitation services in England and Wales through the Transforming Rehabilitation reform process.

On 29th October - earlier than anticipated - the Secretary of State saw his vision come one step closer when the successful bidders for the 21 regional contracts to run the rehabilitation services were announced. The winning partnerships are a range of private, voluntary sector and mutual providers.

BTEG wishes the winning consortiums well. We will watch closely to see how they progress in this very different operating environment. The key issue we will look for is how they ensure that the outcomes for Black and/or Muslim young male offenders are improved.  

This is the focus of the Young Review which BTEG and Clinks initiated, under the stewardship of Baroness Lola Young. When the Secretary of State gave his endorsement to the Young Review he saw the challenge of improving BAME offender resettlement outcomes as exactly the sort of issue that the new Rehabilitation Services market would be better equipped to tackle. The final report from the review will be launched in December.

Our hope is that the competition winners will herald a period of open and honest engagement on the issues facing BAME groups in the criminal justice system by:

  • engaging better with BAME communities and community organisations. We believe there is a strong case for such organisations to be part of supply chains.
  • looking critically at the participation and outcomes from BAME offenders who participate on approved/accredited programmes. There has been a long standing issue of poorer outcomes and take up from BAME groups for these programmes. This has to be addressed and in our opinion may have to include the development of group specific programmes.

The overriding issue from BTEG’s work with the Young Review, and from work we are undertaking for the Barrow Cadbury Trust’s T2A Alliance (a race equality review of the programmes work), is how certain BAME groups suffer disproportionately at the sharp end of the justice system, particularly children and young people; police stop and search being the obvious example.

This disproportionality has a wider context, however. The Transforming Rehabilitation announcement happened in the same week that a Home Office review into international drug strategies concluded that the UK’s approach to drugs - treating the user primarily as a law breaker and sending them to prison - was ineffective as a deterrent. The report has highlighted a difference of opinion between the governing coalition partners on the issue.

Drugs policy is an area of huge ethnic/racial disparities across the justice system. Black people use fewer drugs than white people but are six times more likely to be stopped and searched for drugs! This and other facts are detailed in a report from Release and the LSE.  Drugs policy can often be a yes or no argument on decriminalisation but what is needed is a more rounded discussion on the punitive nature of our justice system and the outcomes it produces.

Certainly BAME communities are amongst the biggest losers under the current approach. Current political discussion around crime and the justice system fail to address this fundamental issue.

The question has to be asked: can you deliver positive outcomes for BAME (or any) offenders in a system that many see as focussed on punishment and retribution? 

photo credit: conservativeparty via photopin cc

Are Apprenticeships really for everyone?

Oct 23, 2014 - Comments: 0

For the past few months I have been planning an apprenticeship event for the Routes2Success National Role Model Programme,

I haven’t taken much interest in apprenticeships and it is not a route to employment I am used to encouraging young people to take. However, in my new role as Routes2Success Programme Manager at BTEG, I have begun to explore alternative routes into employment and value them.

Earlier this year, I was watching the BBC News and realised how valuable apprenticeships can be as a route into employment. I saw many white working-class  and middle-class young male students who were starting apprenticeships that would lead in to long term-employment.  It made me ask – where are all the young black male students? Why aren’t they being represented here?

Then I remembered the research that was undertaken by BTEG on young BAME people and apprenticeships. I realised young black males were very much under-represented in apprenticeships for several reasons.

Some of the under-representation of young BAME people in apprenticeships is down to negative stereotypes from employers, self perceptions and cultural values of higher education. The question I asked myself was what can we do to bridge this gap?

As the unemployment rate for young black males is so high we need to get them to consider alternative routes to employment. Even many black graduates are finding it difficult to secure a job – is this just a lack of experience?

Apprenticeships can provide a young person with practical experience as well as increasing their employment networks; a barrier into employment that some young black males face.

The Trades Union Congress report in 2012 reported that 1 in 25 Black and Asian apprentices entered engineering (3.2 per cent), construction (3.4 per cent) and electro-technical (3.7 per cent) in 2011/12 – this is a very low proportion considering apprenticeships should be offered to all young people. This is also reflected in the labour market, as there are few BAME young people in engineering or construction jobs.

This research and its findings increased my need to host a Routes2Success event on apprentices, volunteering and work shadowing which would give young black males the opportunity to find out more about applying for an apprentice, interview skills and the benefits of getting hands on experience.

Apprenticeships are for everyone, but unless all young people are exposed to apprenticeships and the benefits of them, they will continue to be under represented. 

Routes2Success Local Project Launch

Oct 08, 2014 - Comments: 0

During the first year of the R2S programme we met many young black males who have brilliant ideas about projects that they would like to set up in their community, but believe that this idea will never become a reality due to lack of funds or support.

Through our work on the R2S programme we have encountered young people who feel that there are not enough activities in their community to keep them off of the streets, so through this initiative we want to encourage the young people to do something for themselves whether it is setting up a debate club, football classes, drama workshops or music workshops we would like to help.

The Routes2Success team would like to offer practical support and expertise through a new initiative to assist a group of young people lead on their own project.  This how we will do it:

  • Earlier this year we produced a Local Project Handbook which our Routes2Success National Role Model Programme would use to support young black males aged between 11- 25 from African, Caribbean and mixed backgrounds to successfully complete a local project.
  • BTEG has employed Collette Noel as the R2S Local Development Officer, who will match the young people with R2S role models to help them successfully plan their project and get it off the ground.
  • The R2S team would like to work with a group of young people from a youth club, school, faith group or community organisation to successfully execute their project with the assistance from our role models and handbook.

The successful group of young people will be awarded a monetary sum to support them in implementing their project. This could be used to hire a venue, cover travel expenses, buy equipment, catering costs or any other resources agreed by the R2S role model.

If you know of any young men aged between 11-25 who would be interested in receiving support in setting up their own project, please tell them to get in touch with the R2S team / 020 7832 5800 or  / 020 7832 5832.

A positive state of mind: real life stories of desistance

Sep 03, 2014 - Comments: 0

A conference on desistance and the secure estate would not be everybody’s first choice for a Friday night out. It’s a testament to the high regard in which the conference organiser Bilal Dunn is held in that nearly 100 people made the trek to the Hendon campus of Middlesex University, in the outer reaches of north London, to attend a captivating and emotional event on Friday 1st August.

The evening had a range of speakers from Kevin McGrath -  the High Sheriff of London and the founder of the Clink restaurant charity,  which runs a number of high cuisine restaurants based in HMP establishments across the country training prisoners in the various culinary trades to work in the best restaurants in the country - through to Bobby Cummins OBE, founder of Unlock the national association of reformed offenders and a former government advisor on the inquiry into the death of Zahid Mubarak.

All the speakers spoke with a great conviction and intelligence, sharing sharp analysis and a passion for the need to reform the system to give those held in custody dignity and a chance to rehabilitate. The potential benefits for society are not only saving on the huge resources squandered across the justice system but also the opportunity of a better society where the belief in rehabilitation not retribution is a core value.

Bilal spoke candidly about his own life and journey and what had led him to change. His talk wove a story of personal transformation within academic theory and critical analysis of a failing system.

He contrasted the approach in the UK, which has the worst prison system outcomes amongst Western European countries, with a number of international examples. His most notable example was Norway, where the introduction of the government’s reintegration guarantee in 2005 set a context for agencies to place the rehabilitation and effective reintegration of the offender back into society at the heart of the Government’s approach to the Norwegian justice system

Bilal spoke critically of the penal/justice system in relation to his own road to desistance. He made clear that the system does nothing to create an environment for the kind of personal change that would instigate a desistance process. In the UK there is a sense that whenever desistance occurs within an individual it’s despite the penal/justice system rather than because of it.

 There are many great books and theses on desistance theory but this event probably gave me a greater understanding of desistance and how it can be a force for good than from reading a dozen books.

Opening Doors Network was just what I needed

Aug 12, 2014 - Comments: 0

Guest Blog by Jillian Green

Hi, my name is Jillian. I am 30 years old and live in Tottenham. I have some part-time work but the hours are sporadic and the job is no more than a means-to-an-end.

In the last 12 months I started to develop an idea to create a new healthy drink made from natural ingredients.

I was born in Jamaica and moved to London when I was five years old. Being from a Jamaican family we always liked to make our own traditional Jamaican food and drinks and have several recipes. One of my favourites that has been in the family for generations is for a soft drink made primarily from sorrel plant and ginger – Xaymaca (Jamaica in Spanish).

Although Tottenham has a large Caribbean demographic, and more and more Jamaican goods are sold in the area, I recognised that there was a gap in the market for Xaymaca!  My dream was to begin trading and see Xaymaca on the shelves of Sainsbury’s and Tesco one day! 

However, whilst my family and I are very confident in producing the drink, I was unsure about how this could progress to a genuine business idea:
  •  I didn’t study business at school and have no direct experiences of seeing a business in action.
  •  I didn’t have a business plan and I’d heard words and phrases like ‘balance sheet’. ‘marketing mix”, and ‘Unique Selling Point’ but didn’t know what they meant or how they applied to me and Xaymaca.

I regularly attend the Jobcentre in Tottenham where I met Paul who told me about the Opening Doors programme.

Opening Doors Network was just what I needed.

 The Opening Doors workshops we have had at Tottenham Hotspur have been so informative and I have learnt so much:

  • A company came in to talk to us about how to use social media, e.g. Twitter and Facebook
  • Learning about website design. I didn’t know a great deal about this and wasn’t even sure why I would need a website. After a few hours I had an understanding of how a website will help promote and advertise my brand (check me out using the word ‘brand’!) and I had an idea of how to create my own website.

However, I have to say that the networking opportunities have been the most invaluable aspect of the programme. Not only have I met with other people, like me, with a business idea from Tottenham but I have also been able to speak with the local Barclays Bank Business Manager who gave me some advice about my business plan which is really beginning to take shape.

I’ve been told this week that I may be able to do some test trading - as part of the Opening Doors Test Zone - at the big Sainsbury’s in Tottenham next month and may also be able to pitch my idea to some other entrepreneurs.

I feel so much closer to realising my dream now.

All of this is quite scary, but in a really exciting way.


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