Churchill Travel Fellowships: broadening horizons and to gaining new ideas

The ‘Communities that Work’ travel fellowships were part of a three-year partnership between the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust and the Rank Foundation. 58 travel fellowships were awarded under the theme. A hastily completed application form led to a robust interview process and an offer of an opportunity of a lifetime for me in 2012. Across 2013-14 I embarked on two interconnected trips to Atlanta, Georgia and New Zealand that allowed for an exploration of Black Leadership, Community Enterprise and Social Action.

The learning derived from this generous travel experience has been captured in our fellows’ final 2015 report and video. The recently published Building Stronger Communities through Global Learning by Issy Kershaw breaks down the learnings from the fruitful partnership.

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The transformative experience I had through my travels and the extensive network that has been created has been fundamental in informing the development of the Ubele Initiative. For instance, two Ubele initiative founding members (Yvonne Field and Ezra Blondell) were awarded fellowships in 2012 and were together at the fellows’ awards ceremony in May 2016. Along with other Black women who were also awarded fellowships.

The WCMT accept applications from anyone over the age of 18, from all walks of life and are especially keen to receive them from members of Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) communities. They have also supported the establishment of a new BME network.

Applications for 2017 are now open. http://www.wcmt.org.uk/apply Closing date 20th September.

 

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Forward Thinking – Ayo Wallace reflects on our Second Young Emerging Leaders Event

In light of the recent murders of our brothers and sisters in the USA and the continued violence on the streets of UK and within mainland Europe in response to Brexit Backlash, we need to find real solutions to our struggles. How do we and respond to our needs with real purpose and intention? How do we positively channel our energy, now and in the future?

I have been part of The Ubele Initiative for 3 years and I have a passion for intergenerational work. Ubele observed a disconnect between the generations and wondered how we might attract more young people to grass roots activism and engaging with their communities. So, we hosted our first Emerging Leaders event on April 5th at Cockpit Arts, attracting over 50 brilliant young minds. We looked at what leadership meant to the younger generation, where they saw themselves within it and what support they might need moving forward. One of the things we recognised was the necessity of establishing a network that connects different parts of our community to create greater visibility about the amazing work young people are already engaged in nationwide.

May 14th marked the second African Diaspora Emerging Leaders event which was held upstairs at the Market House pub in Brixton. A few of us met beforehand at the Black Culture Archives to prep and ready ourselves for the day ahead. How many young black activists would be before us, would those gathered have the same goals and desire to harness the opportunities in our midst?

We started proceedings with a powerful performance by poet, actor and community activist Nat Nye. He works tirelessly to highlight the plight of our brothers and sisters in Africa and dispels myths about how Africa is represented in the media. His messages of inspiration, integrity and standing in Kinghood were a welcome and necessary affirmation.

We did a customary round of introductions with both the young leaders and elders. This was about the emergence of new leaders but with the guidance and wisdom of the elders who have fought for greater change in the African Diaspora. In the room we had representatives of community organizations, activists, writers, designers, youth workers, entrepreneurs and consultants to name a few. How apt then, that Elder Devon should remind us of the history of the pub we found ourselves in. He told us that it was the first black owned pub in London and possibly the UK. It was a safe haven for the community in perilous times, suddenly this room held more power and possibility.

Ubele member Althea and intern Tamara led us in a skills audit exercise, to highlight what skills were already in the room. It was important to recognize what we had to offer each other, too often we down play our strengths or don’t find adequate ways of working together sustainably. Then Sekai and Yvonne Field delivered a presentation on Ubele’s 6-year journey from facilitating community conversations to being commissioned to produce a 72-page report for Locality. The ‘A Place to Call Home Report’ looked at African Diaspora owned community assets in the UK and gave recommendations on intergenerational leadership to allow the baton to pass to new generations and bridge the gap for collective community building.

Food is an aspect of many African and Caribbean cultures and so the spread of chicken, rice and peas and veg was well received! During the break people had a chance to network and find out about different initiatives happening across the country.

Next we had the ‘Tell A Story’ exercise as a way to share intergenerational experiences as well open up dialogue on our collective visions for the future. We split participants into groups and asked them to respond to the following questions:

  1. Where is home?
  2. How do you identify yourself?
  3. What hopes do you have for the future?
  4. Do you have any regrets?

After discussing in groups we handed out profiles of 5 different time periods from 1986-2056. We wanted each group to create a story using the questions they had discussed and imagine a person in that time and space e.g. Kofi in 2022. Each group shared their profiles and reflections, it was interesting to see the generational differences and similarities. How can we bridge the gap and do we want the same for our futures?

In closing, we had community bulletins about upcoming projects and events. This is the beginning and the continuation of a journey together. ‘Ubele’ means ‘The way forward’ in Swahili, and we intend to keep moving forward.

 

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#ReclaimOurSpaces – Sharing our Stories and Collaborating for the Future

#ReclaimOurSpaces was a collaborative event held on Saturday 25th of June at Conway Hall. The Ubele Initiative, Just Space and Spark were the main organisers who offered participants an opportunity for community organisations to come together and discuss how communities can influence government policy and secure community spaces. Other partner organisations who contributed to the running and organisation of the event were Latin Elephant, Community Food Growers Network, Conway Hall, London Gypsy and Traveller Unit, Long Live SouthBank, Mela, Migrants Rights Network, Take Back the City, Three Acres and a Cow and Uprise.

The morning started with Yvonne Field (Ubele), Richard Lee (Just Space) and Jake Coleman (Spark) welcoming over 100 attendees. The shock result on the EU referendum vote was an unplanned topic of discussion, and opened up conversations about what impact leaving the EU might have on gentrification, and how communities could work together to counter negative impacts.

One of the first sessions of the day was ‘Storytelling’, facilitated by Ubele intern, Emily Nelson. The workshop gave a platform to those who were part of different campaigns so they could share their stories about the struggles they faced in trying to mobilise their communities. The purpose of the session was to help inform each other about the different approaches they took to create successful campaigns.  This was very successful, with many attendees citing that hearing the experiences of other community workers first hand was empowering.

One of the speakers on the day was Robin Grey from the Somerford Grove Estate. He explained why he chose to work on the estate, the Food Growers Network he helped create and how he managed to mobilise youth dismissed as ‘mischief makers’ to make the project a success. He emphasised the importance of rehabilitating troubled youth and using the energy and enthusiasm that is often seen as negative to create beneficial and positive outcomes. Robin spoke about the success of the programme; for instance, they were able to sell what they produced in the garden and this gave many of the youth a fresh outlook on life, once they realised they could reap the rewards of their work in a positive way. Robin’s talk showed that reclaiming spaces is not only about fighting local authorities, it is also about spreading positivity, working together as a community and helping young people foster a sense of belonging and happiness.

Another inspirational presentation came from Gina Osborne, a former member of the Chestnuts community centre management group. She showed a short film that featured The Ubele Initiative. The film was about the Chestnut Community Centre in Tottenham and the fight to save the space from being reclaimed by the council. It explained how the centre played a crucial role in the area as it was a space used by culturally diverse communities offering activities for children and young people through to classes for local adult This meant the community were able to come together in the moment of crisis to save it from getting closed down by local authorities.

The rest of the morning sessions included workshops on particular campaigns offered by different individuals and organisations. Participants were able to gain knowledge about activist movements and campaigns that happened across London over recent years.  One of the workshops; ‘Land Space in Diaspora Communities’ was co-facilitated by Ayo Wallace and Mama D on behalf of The Ubele Initiative. The workshop explored what space meant to us as individuals and how our relationship to space isn’t just physical but can also be spiritual.  There were people present from different communities and it was great to see the shared experiences they had in terms of with coming to this country as migrants and their movement through space. It is clear that we need to be more empowered in terms of understanding our Land Rights and also in terms of having space to share our stories.

Following the workshops, we were served a delicious, healthy lunch by our caterers Just Bite, a young start up catering company set up by two young men from South London. Following this break, we had the ‘What’s Bubbling Campaign Wise’ session led by Toby Laurent-Belson. He spoke about campaigns taking place currently, how they were operating and what techniques activists were using to spread their message. This was followed had a singing session with Robin Grey who used folk songs to sing about Mother Nature, this lifted spirits and recharged those in the room as everyone took part with great charisma. To follow this electric atmosphere Tony Cealy showcased a theatrical performance piece based around the involvement in community activism and featured those who participated in his morning workshop. This session was followed by a screening of ‘You Can’t Move History,’ which was a film about the successful campaign that saved the Southbank Skate area from demolition. The penultimate session was an interactive panel discussion where the panellists gave their reflection on the film. The closing session asked ‘what form would a community coalition to reclaim community spaces take?’. Participants were asked to complete their feedback forms, to reflect on the day and they were asked for suggestions on possible ways forward, each group fed back their ideas into the wider group, which led to a massive discussion about what actually needed to be done and what were effective ways to do this.

To conclude, #ReclaimOurSpaces was dynamic and successful. It drew a wonderfully diverse crowd together to discuss the topical issue of gentrification, and what communities can do to ensure that spaces and resources that are vital to the community can be preserved. We need to say what will happen next! One of our participants, felt #ReclaimOurSpaces gave them ‘a renewed sense of hope in their activism, and allowed them to come together with great people to discover how I can manoeuvre the roadblocks in my way to keep up the fight for my community space.’

We felt that this is a fitting testimonial of the power that communities have when we gather together to act as catalysts for change. We felt just small ounce of this collective power at our event, and as #ReclaimOurSpaces continues to grow, we want to ensure that spaces that nurture and grow the community, are allowed to thrive for generations to come.

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Five Years Since the Death of Mark Duggan: Where are we now? George Amponsah’s ‘The Hard Stop’ explores

“We reject pedestals, queenhood, and walking ten paces behind. To be recognized as human, levelly human, is enough.”

The Combahee River Collective Statement

Last week I found myself at the BFI Southbank watching the preview of George Amponsah’s The Hard Stop, a documentary following the lives of Kurtis and Marcus, two close friends of Mark Duggan, as they deal with life after the 2011 riots and their search for justice for Duggan’s death. Aptly timed following the recent series of Black Lives Matter protests across London, the film was a necessary reminder of how pertinent the issue of police brutality in black British communities is today.

‘The hard stop’ is the name given to the police procedure which was used to capture Mark Duggan, whose death at the hands of the police sparked nationwide riots back in 2011. Drinking in the intensely moving emotional journey depicted in the film, I marvelled at Amponsah’s success in humanising and returning dignity to a person who was previously branded a gang member and thug by the media.

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Photo: BFI Image Gallery

Following Marcus through court battles as he is charged with inciting the riots, we are not molly-coddled into believing him to be the perfect victim but rather shown a man whose grief and rage had a severe effect on him. Yes, that was him on CCTV trying to destroy a police car and yes, that was also him trying to save a chicken shop by getting rioters out of it. Similarly, there is no filter applied to the picture of Kurtis. Unrelentingly passionate that justice must be served for Mark’s death, we watch Kurtis get on with the daily grind, trying to escape unemployment so that his kids can enjoy Christmas and dealing with the strain of a long distance relationship.

It seems patronising to have to spell out the point: these men are human beings with a full range of emotions, individual characters and complexities, just like their friend who was taken from them by police. Although the film focuses the characters of Marcus and Kurtis, it succeeds in paying homage and recognition to a whole community as well as to Duggan himself. Whilst it may seem patronising to so carefully indicate the humanity of a black man, in 2016 people still need convincing that black lives matter and The Hard Stop makes this point perfectly.

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Photo: moviemail.com

Documenting the 2013 inquest into the death of Mark Duggan the film also raises a broad spectrum of questions about the justice system and the historical relationship between black communities and the police.  Contributions from Stafford Scott and Mark’s mother, Pam Duggan remind us that there is nothing new about police violence. In 1985 the death of Cynthia Jarrett sparked riots on the same Broadwater Farm Estate from which Mark Duggan hails. During those riots PC Blakelock was killed; the identity of his killers remains unknown. His death is largely credited for the sour relations between the police and the Broadwater Farm community, begging the question over 30 years later: can there ever be peace?

The effects of heavy-handed policing, routine harassment to remind you that you are powerless, that you are nothing, that you can do nothing about police violation, are evident throughout the film. Both Marcus and Kurtis express their discomfort, resentment or outright disgust when forced to deal with members of the police force. During the Q + A which followed the preview Marcus affirms that fear and hostility towards the police is something that will never go away.

Of course, this isn’t about one grudge between one police department and one estate, police brutality and institutional racism operate in far more insidious ways than bobbies on the beat throwing their weight around. When Mark’s death was ruled as lawful in 2013 the verdict spoke volumes: the fear of a police officer means more to the law than the life of a father, a son, a partner, a black man. Adam Elliott-Cooper of StopWatchUK who chaired Q + A recalled the reaction of a police officer asked to reflect on what went wrong the day Duggan died; “wrong?” he queried, seemingly unable to accept that a different outcome would have been preferred, that it is worth considering how not to kill the innocent next time.

The Hard Stop also presents a powerful portrayal of the lengths to which unheard voices will go to make their pain known.  The causes of the widespread riots in 2011 are multifaceted but the results were clear: whilst composed vigils vied for media attention, £200 000million of property damage later, everyone wanted to know who this Mark Duggan character was.

The “seismic discrepancy” that George Amponsah describes in the portrayal of black and white victims will surely persist in mainstream media for some time. Yet, in the midst of #AllLivesMatter and cries of “but not in the UK” The Hard Stop provides a healthy antidote to the toxic narratives around black communities in the UK. Offering a depiction of Mark’s family and friends that is not fetishized, not dehumanised, not glorified but simply whole, Amponsah, Kurtis and Marcus safeguard the legacy of a man killed unjustly, who is sorely missed.

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Reclaim Our Spaces Event – 25th June 2016

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Our lives are shaped by the spaces in which we live. When we give away important community space for another transient pop-up cafe or block of luxury flats, we give away part of our lives. We give away London’s cultural and community history.

The planning system is not currently equipped with the policies required to protect these spaces London’s sky rocketing land values are used as a trump card against arguments for competing uses. As a result we have lost many spaces and others are coming under increasing threat. It doesn’t have to be this way! In 2013, the Southbank skatespot was saved by a successful campaign.We need a movement that mobilises people across London.

We cannot act only when a space is under threat. We cannot wait.

On Sat 25th June we aim to start building a coalition as well as celebrating the diversity of movements and campaigns across London, learning from successful campaigns and mistakes. Together we can change the status quo. We can better influence a planning system to connect it to people’s lives and livelihoods, instead of it threatening the very spaces which give rise to London’s diverse communities.

Join us for a day full of different activities:

The morning session includes a variety of workshops; storytelling about different community spaces across London; exhibitions; documentaries.

The afternoon session includes performances; film screening of ‘You can’t move history’ by Long Live South Bank; a panel discussion and the closing discussion.

A detailed programme will soon be available.

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/reclaim-our-spaces-tickets-25239102836?aff=efbevent

Two types of ticket are available:

Whole day ticket – If you are planning to join us in the morning for the whole day, please book this ticket through the link provided above. The morning session has a limited capacity due to the nature of the activities, so please book in advance to secure a place.

Afternoon ticket – If you are planning to join us only in the afternoon, please book this ticket through the link provided above. Thank you.

This event is free and everyone is welcome. However, we need to raise some funds to cover the costs, so any contribution will be greatly appreciated. You can help us by making a donation via our Just Giving page.

https://crowdfunding.justgiving.com/reclaim-our-spaces

Organisers:
The Ubele Initiative www.ubele.org
Just Space www.justspace.org.uk
Spark www.thesparkspace.org

Supported by:
Community Food Growers Network
Conway Hall
Latin Elephant
London Gypsy and Traveller Unit
Long Live South Bank
Mela
Migrants Rights Network
Take Back the City
UpRise

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Ubele Meets Our Young Emerging Leaders

The Baton Passing Begins

Creaking along the wooden floors in the corridors of the Cockpit Yard on a quiet Tuesday evening earlier this month, no one was quite prepared for the bursting excitement that met them when arriving at the door to step into The Ubele Initiative’s  ‘Young Emerging Leaders’ evening’.

After six years of building a foundation which could harness the energies of such inspiring young people (aged 21-35 years), the time had come for Ubele to sit down with these young social entrepreneurs, creatives and activists to see how we as a community can come together to propel change. Weaving together individuals from across generations, locations and communities of the African Diaspora, we sat in circle reflecting on leaders we admire, younger and older, and how we can all work together to move forward.blog pic 1

What drew people there?

Whilst many joked that the free food was the number one explanation for their presence (the jollof rice was phenomenal!), their commitment and passion to the building on the work that they do was palpable. At a time where we are told time and time again that our younger generation are apathetic and disinterested in their own futures, here gathered the inspiring young people, defiant, confident and undeniably bound for great things. Their enthusiasm to meet and connect and their endless respect for Ubele and its founding members would have warmed the hearts and souls of even the greatest of cynics.

The feeling that something great had been achieved ran through all of us as the energy was truly moving and tugged on each one of our emotions. As we embark on a new phase in the life of Ubele, it is with huge amounts of gratitude and joy that we welcome on board our new emerging leaders as we begin working together to continue to transform our communities.

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Next steps

A ‘sequel’ event is planned for Saturday 14th May at  Market House, Brixton, SW9 8LN from 1pm-6pm. If you want to join and build the on the conversation we book your tickets now! Any questions? Just comment below or in the event page on Facebook!

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Building more impactful African Diaspora Communities- – Saturday 17th May

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Training opportunity
The Ubele Institute invite African Diaspora community organisations and individuals to participate in an innovative learning programme
‘Systems Thinking’ Building better connected and more effective communities’
Saturday 17th May 2014
9.00am – 4.00pm

Bruce Castle Museum
Lordship Lane
London N17 8NU

 

Why should the African Diaspora communities be interested in systems thinking?

We often fall into the trap of giving more importance and attention to the ‘parts’ that we alone are concerned with, without realising that our ‘part’ is a part of a larger system.
 
Our community is rich with people and organisations designing and hosting a myriad of social and educational events, talks, workshops, networks, and other activities which aim to community build.
 
HOWEVER, such community based activities, often operate in silos and sometimes in direct competition with each other. They rarely take into account the bigger picture.
 

Systems Thinking can be used to help us understand how we might better solve complex issues, where the solution is not obvious. It allows us to consider the linkages between various parts and to better understand everything within the whole system.
 
This results in sometimes strikingly different conclusions (and could then help us design different and innovative solutions), than those created through traditional forms of analysis.

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What will you learn from the day?
 

  • Be introduced to the basic principles of Systems Thinking
  • Explore frameworks to address complex challenges
  • Get an opportunity to apply these basic principles and frameworks to some of the challenges affecting our community
  • Exploring what creating a ‘collective purpose’ as the African Diaspora community might look and feel like


Who will lead the day?

The Ubele Institute is pleased to welcome Colleen Magner, Partner at Reos Partners, Johannesburg, South Africa who will lead the programme. She is a keen supporter of our organisation and has worked with clients on food security, mining safety, healthcare and support for orphans and vulnerable children. Colleen teaches an MBA elective on Social Entrepreneurship and is a part time faculty member of the Gordon Institute of Business Science (GIBS). She also teaches Systems Thinking for Organisations, Scenario Planning, Participative Practices for Social Change and Using Dialogue for Tough Problems.
 
Yvonne Field, founder of The Ubele Institute, will co-facilitate the programme with Colleen, bringing local perspectives and examples to the conversation. Yvonne has worked for more than 30 years with organisations, groups and individuals to solve complex issues. She has been commissioned by children and young people’s services, formal and non-educational institutions and health systems in the UK, the Caribbean and South Africa. Yvonne has recently written an article on Ubuntu Leadership for the Not for Profit Sector, which will be published shortly.

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