Charity apologises after report reveals long-term culture of racism and discrimination

A London-based charity has apologised afer it was found to have perpetuated a long-term culture of institutional racism that led to African and Caribbean communities feeling excluded, discriminated against, and disenfranchised. 

The Westway Trust was set up to manage 23 acres of land under the Westway elevated dual carriageway of the A40 in west London after the six-year construction project was completed in 1970.

The construction led to the displacement of almost 1,000 residents who had to be rehoused, while roads were truncated and some people found their homes just 20 feet away from the new motorway.

A report published today by the Tutu Foundation, commissioned by the Westway Trust, found that a legacy of institutional racism lives within the organisation, in terms of the experience of and relations with the African Caribbean community.

Members of the community believed, based on the trust’s objectives in its constitution, it would work with them and preserve their interests. 

But the report says members of the African Caribbean community feel that the trust's actions over a long period of time had been to displace black organisations from its land, thereby depriving them of access to their cultural heritage, and an important means of self-help and awareness. 

This was in part because former senior leaders of the trust did not ascribe any value to such heritage and, instead, pursued a policy of increasing commercialism.

The report highlights a number of challenges for the trust to address, including direct and indirect allegations of racism, in addition to a culture of bullying, indifference and arrogance.

Dysfunctionality between the board of trustees and the executive management team also resulted in a lack of cohesion and a failure to deal with key issues at the heart of equality, diversity and inclusion, it says. 

The report also reveals tension in the use of the land in terms of its community benefit versus commercial interests, and discriminatory practices and behaviours that have had an impact on BAME staff and the black community that subsequently went unchecked.

Within this was the creation of a narrative about certain sections of the community (black, working-class women, including staff) based on negative stereotypes that had a detrimental impact on their treatment and interaction with the trust.

In addition there was unfair and discriminatory decision-making in relation to a number of contested sites, which are significant to the diverse community of North Kensington.

The report concludes: “The trust has failed to understand, identify and address racial disparity in terms of key functions including in relation to service delivery and employment.”

Toby Laurent Belson, chair of the trustees, said: “Today Westway Trust apologises to our entire community.”

He said the trust was thankful to those who had fought so hard since 2015 to bring this issue into the light, including the members of the community advisory group to the review. 

The trust said it accepted the recommendations laid out in the report and saw it as an opportunity to examine its culture and practices and to set out real plans for change.

Niles Hailstones, co-chair of the community advisory group to the review, said it clearly found the trust guilty of institutional racism. 

“The elephant in the room is blowing its trumpet and can no longer be ignored,” he said. 

“In the report we heard how this has damaged many individual lives and removed opportunities from generations of young people in the community.

“Despite their willingness to undertake this review, there was also clear evidence in the process of the review of continuing institutional racism in the trust, in particular in the inability and unwillingness to engage with the community as equal partners,” said Hailstones.

He said there is a clear case, and need, for reparations to develop neglected areas of the trust’s responsibility, and this is a large-scale undertaking that will take many years to fulfil. 

“People, families and communities have been damaged and to delay further damages them and the relationships with the trust. We must start bridging the gap now. 

“The new community membership is not responsible for what the old guard did before them; they are, however, responsible for correcting systemic problems they have inherited.”

Sheraine Williams had previously resigned as a trustee due to being disenfranchised and excluded from property and finance decisions. 

She has since returned to the charity as a new trustee.

Williams said: “It is hard for people to understand just how traumatic it can be to be on the receiving end of institutional racism while trying to be professional and do a good job. 

“I’d like to pay tribute to other black female trustees before me who paved the way for the start of this change.”

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