Regional and black, Asian and minority ethnic-led organisations are being overlooked and experiencing a repeat of the patterns that existed before the pandemic, according to the director of Voice4Change England.
Speaking at a virtual roundtable event this month run by the National Lottery Community Fund, Kunle Olulode said many of his organisation’s members were feeling disconnected from funders and central decision-making.
The event focused on research, commissioned by the NLCF, which found that 69 per cent of people in the UK felt part of their local community and 35 per cent said the pandemic had made them feel even more so.
Olulode acknowledged some positive things had developed from the coronavirus crisis.
“As a national body we’ve been engaging with organisations we wouldn’t normally have connected directly with more than once or twice a year – we’re now focusing on them and their communities every week and it's brought us into a situation where we are closer to our regional partners,” he said.
But he said, for many members, “their experience is of a London focus in a lot of funders’ efforts, and feeling that, as regions, they are in some way left out of the picture”.
For example, he said, when the Covid-19 infection rate rose dramatically in north-west England last year, “organisations in the north-west found themselves under pressures that weren’t being picked up in other parts of the country”.
He also pointed to the government’s Community Champions scheme to encourage more people, particularly from BAME communities, to take up the vaccine.
“The interesting thing is that if you talk to BAME leaders on this call, very few of them have been contacted by central and local government to be part of it,” he said.
“So despite all the rhetoric about how things have developed more positively, there seems to be a repeat of patterns of how things have been experienced in the past by BAME organisations.”
But, he said, charities needed to hold on to what they had learned about themselves and how they operate during the Covid-19 crisis when they were engaging in the political arena.
“I think there is a potential here to make new demands and to rethink how we also make those demands that we are just beginning to look at,” he said.
Naz Zaman, chief executive of the Lancashire BME Network, said BAME-led regional organisations “have been in the premier league where it comes to disproportionate impact of Covid-19”.
She said the figure that seven out of 10 people currently felt connected with their communities “doesn’t resonate” with her organisation’s experiences in Lancashire.
Zaman said many people felt less connected to their communities because they had previously connected physically and were currently unable to do so.
“I can’t see that improving because the longer that goes on, these communities are feeling more and more isolated, because there is no physical connection, and ‘building back better’ is a long way in the future as far as I’m concerned,” she said.
Zaman added that, while many of the organisations her infrastructure body worked with were more connected to each other, many micro, grassroots groups were not connecting with other groups or the wider community because they were so stretched by dealing with the frontline impact of the pandemic.