Features / Social enterprise

Levelling the playing field in Bristol

By ellie pipe, Thursday May 9, 2019

Founders of a Bristol-based company decided this year to put 100 per cent of their profits towards supporting inspiring black, Asian and ethnic minority (BAME) organisations and individuals.

Money is going to those actively working to level the playing field for young people across the city, breaking down barriers, fighting for diversity and amplifying voices of different cultures and communities.

The move was borne out of recognition, highlighted in the 2017 Runnymede report, that Bristol is deeply divided and the only way to bridge existing inequalities is if everyone takes collective responsibility for creating a truly diverse, representative city.

“We’d love to encourage smaller companies like ours to dig a bit deeper into their pockets and contribute towards a more equal society,” says the company’s founder, who prefers to remain anonymous.

“We got to the point where we had made a solid profit for a few years and thought ‘what shall we do with it?’ Then the Runnymede report answered it for us and focused what we wanted to do. It was a huge decision, but surprisingly easy once taken.

“We were really keen to put our money where it would make most difference, and gave grants of between £2,000 and £25,000 to 28 different organisations. I would love every business to take a fresh look, especially the bigger players, at how they can level the playing field.

“Representation is absolutely key. We need to look at what the barriers are to representation and remove them.”

The Runnymede report, which starkly set out the city’s inequalities in education and employment, has acted as a catalyst for change, sparking citywide conversations to address existing divides.

For those who have been working at a grassroots level for years, a genuine commitment to change cannot come soon enough.

Khalil Abdi would like to see more businesses provide opportunities for young people

“Young people need guidance, support and opportunity for employment,” says Khalil Abdi, founder of Bristol Youth Horn Concern (BYHC), a not-for-profit organisation that works with young people from deprived areas to boost confidence, life and leadership skills and employability.

“We live in an amazing city and it’s a great shame to see some of hardships that young people endure due to poverty and lack of opportunity – I believe local businesses have a duty to the community to provide opportunities for its young populace.”

Khalil started BYHC in 2012 and firmly believes that solutions come from within communities, but says barriers need to be removed.

“Our success lies in giving a sense of belonging and ownership to young people,” he continues.

“It hurts me when I hear that Easton and Lawrence Hill are deprived areas and yet I look at Cabot Circus thriving. How does this happen? This is a very challenging matter and it’s important that we all come together and do our part. This is the motive behind BYHC.

“They work we do, will prepare young people to become leaders of the city. We recently had one of our participants become a youth councillor in City Hall, which was very inspiring and rewarding for us.”

Jean Smith says dedicated services within communities are important

Director of Nilaari Agency Jean Smith has worked for the past 20 years to provide support and counselling for adults and young people, particularly around mental health. The Stapleton Road-based organisation works to empower and boost self-esteem through its projects.

Jean says the key to its enduring success is in thinking outside the box. For her, a key consideration is for commissioners to recognise that a one-size-fits all approach does not work for everyone.

“Austerity is one word that comes with a whole host of issues,” says Jean. “Housing is difficult – young people want to flee the nest and there is no way they can see they can go anywhere. Employment is an issue and there is a lack of aspirations.

“Youth services have been cut and many frontline services lost out completely. That’s the knock-on effect of austerity. People don’t feel comfortable going to certain places in the city. The hope is not there, and role models are not available.”

Jeans says Nilaari has many exciting projects ahead, adding: “This is not a nine to five job, it takes over your life. It’s important that people are reminded that individuals who work in this sector don’t do it for the money but because they are absolutely passionate about communities and Bristol.”

Darren Alexander says a system change is needed

Darren Alexander set up Aspiration, Creation, Elevation (ACE), along with two peers, in 2008.

Speaking about his own history, Darren says: “When I was about 16 or 17, I was not up to much good but then I started getting involved in a local music project in Barton Hill. Through that, I got into music and was hanging out with friends and had mentors and started doing really well.”

Recognising the power of positive role models, he set out to make a difference to the lives of young people and started to run youth services in the then-underused Docklands Youth Centre.

“We try to empower young people to overcome challenges through music and creativity and engaging with the arts,” explains Darren, gesturing around the social enterprise’s vibrant space in the St Paul’s-based centre.

“Everyone saw the benefit in what we were doing.”

Darren believes it is a positive sign that businesses and the wider community are starting to wake up to inequalities but argues there is still a need for a system change in a society where the majority of resources are still held by a minority.

The founder of ACE says role models are key to raising aspirations and breaking down barriers, saying: “If we get the foundations right, that’s the first step and that’s why we’re trying to link up with other organisations, such as Babbasa, to have a more cohesive approach.

“What we need is for young people to access extended family – that can be role models, peers or people in their community. Otherwise people get quite isolated and divisions build up.

“It’s important for young people because they, ultimately, will be the change-makers of the future. They need to be growing up with the mindset that this is what I can achieve. We want it to be positive.”

Poku Osei believes equal opportunity goes to the heart of who we are as individuals

Babbasa is another St Paul’s-based social enterprise that works to empower young people.

Founder Poku Osei believes equal opportunity goes to the heart of who we are as individuals, and the society that we want to live and work in.

“Equal opportunity to skills and meaningful employment for all in our city, is not a ‘nice-to-have’. It is fundamental to the city’s ability to compete in a globalised world,” says Poku.

“It is fundamental to curb the upward trajectory of losing more bright young people to a life of drugs and gangs, as a result of financial poverty.

“My belief is that businesses do have a critical role – alongside schools and parents -particularly about how they recruit, what they do for their local communities and how they develop talent, irrespective of race and class.”

Main image from a recent Babbasa Ask About Me event

Read more: Empowering Bristol’s future leaders



Related articles