During lockdown, it’s become more important than ever for community leaders to come to the fore and look after those that need it and the areas they live in.
In this article, Vinny Munbodh focuses on four standout BAME community leaders in Croydon; two male and two female.
Donna Murray-Turner is an accomplished BAME community activist who wears many hats.
Not by choice, but by necessity, in her eyes. She is the chair of the local Safer Neighbourhoods scheme in Croydon, a member of the local Criminal Justice Alliance and the founder of Another Night of Sisterhood, a parent advocacy program, among other roles.
In her professional life she is an equality, diversity and inclusion consultant.
Ms Murray-Turner said: “We should change the environment in which young people are nurtured.
“Right now, conversations around race are quite uncomfortable for a lot of people. It is supporting and empowering to have these conversations with young people.
“We’re trying to create change in the narrative for everybody.”
She talks of corporate racism and how she tackles this with her skills-set within Croydon. Code-switching, implicit bias, sexual orientation in terms of inclusion and white male authority are some of the topics she trains young people to be aware of in her professional capacity and she helps empower them to change the narrative.
‘Another Night of Sisterhood’ started in 2016. Aimed at adult community members, it seeks to educate parents about major community issues such as county lines, child sexual exploitation and young poverty.
During lockdown, the efforts of Another Night of Sisterhood were vital to many.
“We did small things to start,” said Ms Murray-Turner.
“But these small things ended up having the greatest impact for local families.”
Sanitary products for mums and food drives from food banks were some of the voluntary tasks they covered.
Food banks offer generic food, and some cultures are not adept at cooking these products.
During lockdown, the needs of these cultural communities still needed to be met and Ms Murray-Turner’s novel solution was to provide tailored food products to those who required them.
“Understanding the nuances of the local community was something lockdown afforded me.”
Additional support came in the form of online ‘tea & biscuits’, a forum for parents, community members and the young to vent, chat and engage with each other at a dedicated time and place.
Another vital issue she tackled was making the older local community ‘digitally aware’. Digital inclusion is a major need among the older BAME community and one which is sometimes forgotten.
Ms Murray-Turner is working towards a career in political representation for the local community, especially the poor.
“We are the unsung voiceless majority,” she said and she believes this is the time to raise the voice of poor people and that national representation is key.
Lee Townsend is a community activist focused on wellbeing, arts and creating safe spaces in Croydon for men and opportunities for young people to build their confidence.
Focused on physical, emotional, and mental fitness he supports several projects within his local community. In his professional capacity he is a Macmillan Cancer engagement lead.
Mr Townsend sits on the advisory board for Young People Insight, a project aimed at ‘empowering the voices of young people’ in Croydon.
He is also an advisor to the Father’s Forum, a local support group for BAME fathers, which was founded last year by Emmanuel Jatto.
The group usually meets twice monthly, but in response to the lockdown they have begun meeting every Thursday evening over Zoom to offer each other some additional support.
He has supported the Ministry of Empowerment to co-design their latest project T.R.U.S.T. (Trust, Respect, Unity, Strength & Togetherness) , a support group for people from Croydon who are living with or have been affected by cancer.
While the group is for adults of any age, the members are predominantly 50+, which caused them to have to rapidly adapt during the lockdown learning to use digital technologies in order to maintain their social contact and support sessions via Zoom.
Mr Townsend also runs Lenses of Croydon, a creative media project focused on photography, that he setup in November 2012.
With more than 600 members Mr Townsend said: “We use photography as a common platform to pull people together.
“We value being warm and accepting over tech, the size of your camera or winning awards.”
Lenses of Croydon has since gained worldwide interest during lockdown, with members from Canada, Australia, and Calcutta in India joining online.
Jog and Jam is a local fitness project that he is proud of setting up with Thomas Scannell under their brand Two Local Lads.
The project is supported by Croydon SocialP and the Croydon BME Forum and concerns itself with light activity and provides a safe space for men to speak, share and listen to each other on a Sunday morning.
Similarly to most projects they had to adjust during lockdown and rather than training together they started meeting over Zoom to either make breakfast for their respective families or eat while catching up as a group.
Mr Townsend credits Andrew Brown, CEO of the Croydon BME Forum, who through his leadership supported a large number of local grassroots organisations to develop programmes that could be delivered virtually.
Where necessary the BME Forum made their own Zoom account available for the hosting of events and through their own contribution to ensuring that everyone had sufficient food they were providing food packages with items that were culturally appropriate for the more diverse families from across Croydon.
Ms Lord-Lindsay is the founder of a community interest company called Croydon Community Leaders. They support charities and non-profits dealing with poverty, homelessness, anti-social behaviour (including knife crime), mental health, hate crime, domestic violence, and substance misuse.
They also create initiatives and events to engage the community with the relevant organisations.
Lockdown spurred Ms Lord-Lindsay to form partnerships with critical services such as local food banks, to deliver care packages to those who had been isolating.
“A lot of the voluntary organisations came together which was nice to see,” she said.
“Sometimes there is not a lot of cohesion and partnership between organisations, but the lack of direction and clarity from government guidelines is what made the community really pull together.”
A major lesson she has learnt from lockdown is that “collaboration is key.” She learnt through trial and error how to effectively manage her partnerships during the lockdown period.
Another standout initiative Ms Lord-Lindsay started is community outreach teams. This enables members of the community to be practically involved with issues such as stop and search and preventing knife crime.
This provides effective “community cohesion, accountability and transparency”.
She saw a disproportionate rise in stop and search within the black community during lockdown and is something she sought to address.
She aims to continue this novel project and extend it to other London boroughs, because it is something which is lacking in the rest of London.
Ms Lord-Lindsay also aims to branch her community interest initiatives to other London boroughs within the next year. A firm believer in local cohesion, Croydon Community Leaders is the start of something truly special.
Mark Goodridge has been involved in local community fitness for several years.
His influences include Les Persaud, who ran a charity called Potential 4 You after his son was killed due to street violence, and Sam Nankani, who runs a martial arts gym called SN Combat.
These men have had a major impact on Mr Goodridge’s community work.
Mr Goodridge runs face-to-face and online projects for the community. His organisation, named ‘I’mPossible State of Mind’, is an intervention service working closely with individuals to enhance their mental, physical and social wellbeing and rehabilitation.
They work with people in improving self-esteem and confidence, breaking bad habits and building resilience through interventions such as martial arts, fitness, mentoring, and counselling.
As lockdown started, Mr Goodridge was reluctant to go online, but after assessing the benefits he decided to try out two different online projects.
One to replace his face-to-face project and one to support under 25-year-olds.
His second project ‘Support Through Fitness’ was structured to offer a fitness session on the weekend complimented by a phone call per person, during the week, which became vital to the wellbeing of the participants.
The format developed into a successful one and Mr Goodridge has since added a peer mentoring and academic mentoring element for the younger generation.
“Lockdown has created a space for people to positively reflect and positively adapt,” he said.
He defines how his training had made him ready for change. Lockdown made sure he was ‘on his toes’ when it came to adapting.
Mr Goodridge also works in partnership with a local counselling and intervention service called Off the Record.
He said: “My wife has and is my strongest support. An amazing woman with gifted abilities in listening and helping others. She’s been my back bone through it all.”
He is in the process of designing a portfolio to enable him to open a working fitness space for his community projects. In the long-term he hopes to open a community centre.
These community leaders have been integral in helping the local BAME community deal with lockdown.
This has been ever so vital, as the UK government acknowledge that the BAME community are more at risk of dying from COVID-19.
Here is a graphical representation of the effects of COVID-19 on the BAME population (the further away from the 0 on the y-axis, the higher the risk), taken from some new research conducted by BMC Medicine:
Original data can be found at: https://bmcmedicine.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12916-020-01640-8#Fig1 and the full article at: https://diversityuk.org/uk-biobank-research-shows-bame-groups-at-higher-risk-of-covid-19/
Many thanks to Shaniqua Benjamin for her help in compiling this article.