A partnership working experiment and a sizzling party that is Black History Fun Day


There seems to be a great debate about whether Black History Month is necessary and appropriate or too exclusive and politically über-correct.

I don’t care what people say, Black History Month can definitely be inclusive and I am for everything that involves dancing and cake! Meaning – we had an awesome Black History Fun Day in Barnet last week.


It was my first proper real to plan and co-ordinate on my own and tried to keep it a group organising activity as much as I could including all local providers on board at all stages.

Of course there were a few hiccups on the way, but that was to be expected when a diverse range of local organisations, which usually see themselves as competitors come together to create something completely new for the local area.

But while I might have gained a few grey hairs in the process, I was seriously smitten by the passion and commitment which many organisations showed, willing to step in and save the day if necessary without expecting anything in return Rui of the youth organisation Nutmeg Community even surpised us with a video – which I am having trouble uploading at the moment, so will share later. I certainly think we have laid the foundations for a more unified community development and community engagement approach, as we all got to know and appreciate each other and pulled off an awesome event!


Fire swallowing  Fanti Acrobats, an African fashion show by ACA, the amazing Pryme Kingz made the Black History Fun Day on the 30th October a one of its kind event on a one of its kind hot autumn day.


The Community event took place in Grahame Park aiming to offer our local community an inclusive Black History Month celebration which would be fun and (although it was half-term) equally educational for people from all backgrounds.

Visitors were keen to take part in the Black History challenge created by myself on behalf of my employer Barnet Homes, which included word searches, quizzes and puzzles that needed to be completed with the help of our interactive Black history Exhibition. They enjoyed learning about unsung heroes of the past including the first black professional football player and war hero Walther Tull, land girl Amelia King and inspiring personalities of the present such as F1 racer Lewis Hamilton and enjoyed listening to Shirley Bassey’s “Goldfinger”. One resident found it “really interesting to learn about Black-British history as opposed to the usual focus on international personalities like Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela”. Other participants found the challenge “fun”, “a great idea” and “incredibly educational”.

  Exhibition 2Exhibition 1 exhibition 3


While the celebration of historic and cultural contributions from personalities with BME background were the focal point of the event, there were of course a lot of fun activities to keep all visitors happy. The famous Rolling Base bus was a huge hit, as were the bouncy castle, face painting, ball games (both provided by Stonegrove Estates’ Youth Project) and craft activities (provided by Wingfield Childrens Centre).

The event was a huge success, and everyone could feel the a highly infectious level of community spirit, Our visitors left “buzzing” and thought that the historic accomplishments or the personalities presented on the day will inspire many people, no matter their background, to “go and do great things” (or so they said at least…).

We will plan a similar event for next year so please let me know if you have any ideas or you might even want to join us in the organising process? Would love to hear from you!


Females in STEM – Wrecking gender-bias and Page 3

Last week I had the honour to chair a discussion at the FiL conference at the Institute of Education in London. The panel discussion focussed on the lack of representation of females in STEM a-levels and STEM professions.

The speakers Ellie Cosgrave of ScienceGrrl, Clare Thomson of the Institute of Physics, Shelley Galvin of the WISE Campaign and Brenna Hassett of TrowelBlazers explored the subject from different angles.

Brenna explained how she and 3 fellow scientists aim to give female contributions in archaeology, palaeontology and geology the credit they deserve. Clare shared alarming statistics showing that females only account for 13% of the STEM workforce explaining that students from all female schools are more likely to go on to study STEM subjects than girls from mixed schools. Ellie told us how one of her teachers had a big impact on her career choice encouraging her to study science, but also shared her personal experience of gender related and even sexual abuse at work.  Shelley on the other hand shared her predominately positive experience of working as a female in the male dominated engineering field and underlined that positive role models have a big impact on subject and career decisions.

It materialised that apart from role models gender identity and perceptions among teenagers of both genders have a big impact. This does include gender bias and gender branding which we all have experienced in one way or another. There was also the worry that STEM subjects are often taught by teachers, who are not actually specialised on the subject and therefore not passionate about it.

FiL conference 14.JPG 2

A lively discussion followed and we were all surprised that there currently are no numbers showing us, how many young women might opt out of studying STEM due to discrimination or bullying.

I also noticed that although I believe I might have been the only female in the room  with a BME background, the audience was very diverse.

The discussion clearly showed not only how different we are but also uncovered a wide range of coping mechanisms which we all have developed growing up. These would probably depend on personality, experience and the particular situation.

Some people would report discrimination in the workplace straight away; others rather ignore it as it could have a negative impact on their career and atmosphere at work. Some women are deeply upset witnessing their male colleagues staring at Page 3 during their tea break on the building side, others answer this insensitivity by bringing in a magazine full of half-naked men to work the next day, reading it with ostentation – which as we heard worked a treat.

There is of course no right or wrong, and in an ideal world we would not need copying mechanisms for discriminatory situations at all, for they wouldn’t exist.

The discussion however not only gave the audience handy tips but also established clear recommendations as to how to proceed and what needs to be done to entice females into studying STEM subjects:

  • Schools should not take a lack of uptake of STEM subjects by females as a natural situation and instead look into why their female students find STEM subjects less attractive and address the issue within their school
  • Parents should be aware of gender “branding” and ensure that their child’s/teenager’s environment is as versatile as possible and encouraging STEM related interests and hobbies
  • Teachers can look at the Wise campaign for help. Campaign posters showing positive examples of females in STEM professions are also available to challenge conscious and unconscious gender bias
  • Companies should establish more effective campaigns and procedures to make reporting of gender-related discrimination less difficult and uncomfortable
  • The government should encourage shared parental leave more progressively to avoid recruitment discrimination against young women
  • We should identify and challenge gender-bias whenever we encounter them

Does the Failure of “Big Society” mean the end for Community Engagement?


Can decision making really be successfully transferred from the Ivory Tower of the “Big Government” into communities?


Community engagement and involvement seems to have been on everyone’s lips recently. The idea of involving communities in shaping their environment is hardly new. However, Community Engagement has been pushed into public awareness by the government and public services. Posters inviting us to get involved have become  bigger and calls for volunteers have become louder. People who work in the public sector, like me, are likely to have been told the importance customer involvement over and over again. Many colleagues in several boroughs have admitted  to be sceptical entrusting customers with decision making, eye-rolling is another typical reaction when Community Engagement is mentioned. An explanation for this might be that information about background or benefits of this new level of customer focus is often not filtered down the organisational ranks.

Background of Community Engagement

So how did Community Engagement become the talk of the town?

As usual, it is all the government’s fault. Since their election campaign in 2010  Conservative Party has placed a great focus on creating the so called “Big Society“, aiming for a shift of power from the central government  (=”Big Government”) to the local government and communities. The vision is based on the assumption that solutions of many issues such as anti-social behaviour, obesity, personal finance, environment, lack of public services etc. are only possible with the active participation of affected individuals and communities and devolution of public services and also that, after all, people should know best what their needs are.

Local Governments and Housing

Consequently, the Localism Act 2011 was the attempt to realise this vision: local governments and communities took over responsibilities for the majority of public services from the “Big Government”.

The Localism Act 2011 legislation was filtered into the social housing sector via the Homes and Communities Agency’s Regulatory Framework 2012. It demands that tenants should be given the opportunity to shape the services they receive, that landlords have to proof that they understand the needs of their tenants, stakeholders should be able to hold service providers accountable and scrutinise  services and operations.

Evaluation of Big Society

While parallels of “Big Society” concept to utopian socialism can hardly go unnoticed, many critics suspected from the start that it was no more than a spending cut exercise, forcing communities to face an increase in responsibility and budget cuts at the same time.

In November 2013 the Guardian concluded that the Localism Act had hardly any effect on power balance and no significant shift, still depending on central grants and government schemes and legislations. According to the guardian the attempts give more power to communities has failed as cities and boroughs are not entrusted with the control of their funds, which remains with the central government. This would mean that the attempt to create a “Big Society” has so far failed as public services and communities have been given more responsibility but not the financial means to actually take it.

Implications for Community Engagement

“Big Society” might not have succeeded but this does not mean that we can stop trying to involve communities. Instead, the concept has managed to highlight the  necessity for community engagement as a way to create responsive and sustainable communities.

I am wondering if any concept has a chance to succeed if responsibilities and pressure on communities are rising disproportionately faster than the number of people who are prepared to play an active role in their community.

I therefore strongly believe that the priority must be to find ways of getting people interested in actively shaping their environment and public services.