Anti-racism at A New Direction

22 December 2021

Reflections, insights, and lessons from our year-long programme of anti-racism training

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In September 2020, A New Direction undertook an internal Black Equality and Empowerment review led by an external consultant, Ola Awosika, who presented a list of recommendations based on reviewing our existing processes and policies and spending a week interviewing and observing our team.

These recommendations, alongside thoughts and feedback on the review from our team and trustees, were used to create a number of actions aimed at improving our organisational practices so we can become the organisation we want to be: an organisation that champions anti-racism and challenges structural inequality, both internally and externally.

One of these actions included a year-long programme of training, with learning and development involving all staff and trustees. As we near the end of this initial training programme and look ahead to how we will embed anti-racism across the organisation, we wanted to take a moment to reflect on the process so far, and, in particular, look back at the successes and challenges. We hope this blog can offer some useful insights for organisations currently considering their own approaches to anti-racism.

Our approach

A number of individuals volunteered to be part of what we initially called the Black Equality and Empowerment Group. The focus of the group was to design, commission, and evaluate a training programme involving monthly sessions for all staff and trustees. The group researched, consulted, and interviewed a range of trainers, consultants, and organisations, and designed a curriculum shaped in response to themes and recommendations that emerged through the Black Equality and Empowerment review. Black staff were also offered the opportunity to join a Black Staff Forum – a safe space where they could talk openly and confidentially, facilitated by a freelance consultant.

Topics explored in the training sessions included unconscious bias, microaggressions, language and tone, recognising intersections, effective allyship and the historical context of racism in Britain. Each topic included a theory-focused session followed by a more practical session, where staff were encouraged to actively explore real-world examples of racism.

At the beginning of each session, we were careful to try and establish a safe space where staff felt free to share their own experiences. We emphasised the importance of ‘sitting with discomfort', but also made it clear that anyone was free to step away and take some time if they needed to. Sessions were mandatory for all staff, and trustees were also invited to attend. We also set up an anti-racism Slack channel where people could share links to articles, events, resources etc. and continue conversations between training sessions.

As the work developed, it became clear that the organisation needed to move the work from what was initially a response to the Black Lives Matter Movement to a programme of training exploring racial justice, and expand this work to include all forms of racism. The Black Equality and Empowerment Group was renamed the Anti-Racism Working Group to reflect this widening remit.

Successes

Attendance rates at training sessions were high, despite some inevitable calendar clashes. All sessions were also recorded so staff could catch up in their own time if they missed one.

We asked everyone to complete a baseline survey after each session to help us understand the impact the training was having, and to gather feedback to be actioned by the Anti-Racism Working Group. Survey results showed that staff got the most out of the practical sessions, such as the Forum Theatre training on micro-aggressions, which helped move people from theory to embedding changes into their day-to-day. Feedback identified that the most impact was had when the training was action-focused on what we can actually do moving forward.

Our Anti-Racism Resource Library provided a way of collating our ongoing learning. Staff were encouraged to share recommendations for books, films, podcasts and more, along with recommended social media accounts to follow. The resource bank has continued to grow and exists as a central source of information which can be used for further learning outside of work.

In addition to sessions led by external facilitators, we also ran a self-led session which many staff reflected positively on. Ahead of this, everyone was asked to read, watch, and listen a selection of articles, videos, and podcasts, and to find something new to share as part of the training. The session began with an hour of self-guided study, utilising resources shared in the Anti-Racism Resource Library. Staff then reconvened to share and reflect on what they’d learnt. The self-led nature of this session created a more informal space where people felt more comfortable to speak up. Programming in study time also allowed staff to explore our existing bank of resources in more detail, something which can often be tricky when juggling busy work schedules.

Challenges

A challenge we quickly came up against was the differing starting points everyone had in regard to prior knowledge of, and lived experience of, racism. The nature of privilege is such that, while for some, hearing accounts of racism and discrimination will evoke reactions of shock and horror, for others it will bring up feelings of frustration. For many, racism – both overt and covert – is part of their everyday lived experience, and so to witness others learning about it for the first time can, understandably, be a challenge.

This is tied closely to issues we encountered when trying to bring new starters up to speed. Joining halfway through or towards the end of the process meant new staff members were often left without the foundational knowledge that others had built up over months of training. While recordings of every session were available to watch back, we recognised that expecting a new starter to watch hours of training was never going to be possible.

These challenges were reflected in feedback from our baseline survey, with some staff members reflecting that certain sessions felt slightly too theoretical. This may have been a result of new starters missing some of the more practical sessions, coupled with the limitations of virtual delivery. Occasional tech issues, screen fatigue, and at-home distractions such as childcare were all factors that impacted participation.

Moving forward, the Anti-Racism Working Group will be reviewing our approach to anti-racism training to ensure all new starters are inducted consistently. We're also exploring ways we can tailor training to account for different starting points and lived experiences, while still ensuring new starters are clear on the behaviours we expect as an organisation.

Next steps

We’re taking steps to embed anti-racism across all of our work, and this has been reflected in our refreshed Vision, Mission and Values. In March we worked with consultants Maddy Amadi and Munam Wehbe from C and E Advisory to engage the whole team in a process of re-assessing our long-term goals and re-articulating what we stand for as an organisation. Our new set of agreed values are designed to run through everything we do; determining our activity, guiding the way we work and behave, and influencing decision making at every level.

Connected to our value of Equity, we have articulated a commitment to challenge the structural and systemic inequalities that influence children and young people's lives and opportunities, and to prioritise those that experience these. We are also committed to an inclusive working culture, where everyone who works for or with us is treated with dignity and respect. We have high expectations of those we work with to share this value and will not shy away from challenging discussions where needed.

Over the past year, A New Direction's Employment & Skills team has been doing a lot of work with our employer partners to ensure that their workplace cultures and practices are as inclusive as possible. We are developing an employer self-assessment process based on the Mayor’s Good Working Standards, and a series of employer workshops and events to support inclusive growth, to be delivered via the Good Growth Hub. We are proud of the work the Employment and Skills team has done to provide ongoing advice and guidance to employers across our STEP, Kickstart, Flipside and Royal Docks internship programmes – using 1:1 support calls, resource signposting, and partner meetings as a forum to set our baseline expectations for fair practice, and collectively share challenges and problem solve.

Through our Teaching for Creativity programme, our Education team has worked in collaboration with teachers and London’s cultural sector to develop resources designed to broaden and diversify the curriculum. The resources explore topics including Black history in London, and the connections between colonialism and the climate crisis. Teaching for Creativity forms part of our longer-term commitment to generating relevant and accessible learning materials that help us have braver conversations in the classroom. We’re now planning the next stage of this work, with more resources in the series coming soon. We’re also proud to be supporting Inclusion Labs' Decade of Diversity initiative, aimed at embedding diversity, equity, and inclusion in our schools by 2030.

We are now working with Ola Awosika to development A New Direction’s new Anti-Racism Framework. The Framework will comprise a set of practical behaviours which speak to our organisational values and commitment to anti-racism and will be designed for all staff to refer to in their day-to-day work. We recently ran a session to gather thoughts and feedback from the team and reflect on our personal commitments moving forward. These will now be factored into the final Framework, which we plan to share in the new year.

We believe we’ve come a long way in the past few months, but recognise there is still a long way to go. For anti-racism to be truly embedded across our organisation, a continued process of learning and reflection must take place. As mentioned above, we look forward to expanding the remit of our Anti-Racism Working Group and continuing to develop and improve. We will continue to share insights along the way, and hope these will provide some useful touchpoints for other organisations currently considering their own approach to anti-racism.