Blog: Developing Black leadership

Published: 1 Oct 2020

Author: Yvonne Field
Blog: Developing Black leadership

My Fellowship was part of a personal quest to find solutions that can help to support the long term sustainability of the African diaspora in the UK. Back in 2010 it was become increasingly clear to me that there was a need to help build community wealth through creating the next generation of enterprising leaders and sustainable community spaces (community centres, sports facilities, shop fronts and so on).

"During this very challenging period, I have witnessed examples of dedicated community leadership, and was delighted to have been awarded a Covid-19 Action Grant by WCMT" - Yvonne Field, Fellow

Fortunately for me, the idea of creating a ‘Plan B’ for descendants of the Windrush generations (who would not follow their parents’ and grandparents’ dreams of going ‘home’ because the UK is now home) resonated with WCMT. My application for a Communities that Work Fellowship, jointly funded by the Rank Foundation, was submitted just four days before the uprisings of 2011. It was successful first-time round.

In 2013, I spent two weeks in Atlanta, USA, to better understand Black-led community leadership. I met some awesome people and attended a Black women’s conference at Spelman College, one of America’s historically Black universities. In early 2014, I travelled to New Zealand for three weeks and lived with families from the Maori community, to learn more about community enterprise initiatives and long-term community development.

This life-changing experience took place at the same time as three years of informal dialogue sessions in London, the purpose of which was to build a community of African diaspora change agents and to identify emerging needs. These foundational activities were ultimately supported by national research captured in my report A Place to Call Home in 2015.

My charity, the Ubele Initiative, emerged from all this as an intergenerational, community-based response to some of negative effects of ‘gentrification’ in London. It supports the development of a new generation of community-based leaders, change agents and social activists; offers five-day, intensive capacity-building programmes to individuals and organisations in mainland Europe (through Erasmus+); and provides practical advice and support to help BAME-led organisations with community spaces become more sustainable.

Ubele now co-owns a 3.5-acre food-growing and community space in north London, the Wolves Lane Centre. We are beginning a process of major redevelopment, including a new, environmentally-friendly, community space built on the site.

Yvonne (top centre) with site users at the Wolves Lane Horticultural Centre, London (photo taken by Amanda Stockley)

We are also leading the development of an iconic community centre in Brixton, which was given to the Black community in the aftermath of the Brixton uprisings in 1981. The Lloyd Leon Community Centre is also the home of the internationally acclaimed Brixton Dominoes Club and the well-known Brixton Soup Kitchen. Over the next few years, Ubele will work with local stakeholders to extend and refurbish the centre, provide new services and create new management arrangements.

Earlier this year we were appointed by the Greater London Authority as the main regional BAME infrastructure organisation for London. We are the only one funded by the GLA, and report to the Mayor’s office. There has not been a supported BAME-led infrastructure organisation for 10 years. We are also one of seven strategic partners for Power to Change, a leading independent trust that supports and develops community businesses throughout England.

We now find ourselves playing a lead national role in the Covid-19 response. We are supporting BAME-led community organisations and individuals, through organising a wide range of activities and events, providing fundraising support, and influencing national plans for funding to go to BAME-led organisations. We have also developed an advocacy and campaigning branch of work and are demanding an independent public inquiry into the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on the BAME community, through the #We Need Answers campaign.

During this very challenging period, I have witnessed examples of dedicated community leadership, and was delighted to have been awarded a Covid-19 Action Grant by WCMT. This will allow me to collect some of the stories of BAME women leaders on the frontline of communities over the coming months.

The murder of George Floyd heightened the world’s awareness of the continuation of institutional racism and the need to be proactive in attempts to dismantle it through anti-racist action. Through the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter millennial-led movement, I, for one, felt deeply heartened to see the next generation of community leaders (including my daughter) in action, with millions of young social activists and change agents convening across neighbourhoods, cities and intervening in systems globally. The work of Ubele has been strengthened by their often fearless efforts and I am truly grateful.

As they say, a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step. There is no doubt in my mind that the 2012 Fellowship has helped me to leave a significant footprint from this phase of my professional and personal life story.

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