Leicester leads way on race equality


SCHEME: Race equality

LOCATION: Leicester

STAFFING: Affects all mainstream staff activities, but Leicester
has a social services race equality unit with two policy officers
and two consultation officers

INSPIRATION: To rise to recent developments in community
COST: About £100,000 (for race equality unit staffing)


Following the race riots in 2001, a government task force was
set up to suggest ways of improving racial cohesion. No surprise
that an early port of call was Leicester. The city shines as a
leading example of ethnic diversity and community harmony. And has
since been awarded beacon status for promoting racial equality,
writes Graham Hopkins.

On visiting Leicester, what is so striking is that so much,
which for others might be classed as ground-breaking, is simply
part of the everyday. And yet there’s no delusion that its everyday
is in every way perfect. Leicester recognises, for example,
imbalances in its workforce. A recent report conceded that while a
quarter of “our junior administration and clerical staff are Asian
females, they represent one in fourteen of our managers.”

It’s simple stuff – like the inclusive language (“our managers”)
– that works. Even its approach to something as potentially
daunting as institutional racism is refreshingly open and
all-embracing. “When the Macpherson report into the death of
Stephen Lawrence came out, we were quite willing to accept that we
weren’t perfect,” says Leon Charikar, service equality officer for
social services, “and that there were examples of institutional
racism and that we needed to identify them. So, we developed an
audit tool for use by staff to talk about the service, to go
through it step-by-step to see whether systems or procedures were
unwittingly discriminating against ethnic minorities. And we did a
number of training courses with staff. Some things were really
amazing. For example, were we getting people’s names right?

One thing that recently arose was Hindu funerals. “Somebody
wanted to do a cremation,” says Charikar. “But found the city
services closed for Easter. That’s an example of unwitting
discrimination against a minority group. So we need to think about
that and change it. And in a style that is saying, ‘Okay, sometimes
we make mistakes, it’s not done deliberately, but let’s look at it
and if that means we have to change our staff holidays or make sure
we have staff working on those days, then let’s do it.'”

One area that Leicester has started to do it is in working with
the increasing numbers of its dual heritage population. Often dual
heritage children, for whom their is little recognition of their
needs or role in society, are brought up as black or white
reflecting the stronger parent’s influence, and miss out on one

“For years there have been a lot of dual heritage children being
referred, who are usually cared for by a single, white mother ”
says Jacqui Francis, officer-in-charge of Charnwood children and
family centre, which organises a support group for parents of
children with dual heritage, “but there didn’t seem to be any
services specifically for them.”

Francis continues: “So the idea was get a support group together
so parents could meet, share ideas, talk about experiences and to
see if there were any common difficulties.” While its aim was to
help parents better understand and challenge racism, it also looked
to provide practical information on physical care, health and

As with all things there is some way to go. Even its name – “A
group for mothers of mixed parentage children” – is up for review:
at the  first meeting a father turned up. Also, although set up for
any mixed parentage children, the centre now specialise in working
with white/Caribbean children.

“We try and make it friendly,” adds nursery officer, Sue
Williams. “We’re not just there to preach. We want them to be as
involved as possible. It’s just to make them aware that children
can get racism. But we do try to make it fun – have quizzes, for

But rather than finding ways to stimulate the group, it’s
finding relevant resources that’s proving the toughest challenge.
“There are dolls that claim to be dual heritage but they don’t
really look that good,” says Francis. “It’s just highlighted the
gaps that are there really. You often find that only parts are
relevant so it’s a case of cutting and pasting. Our latest video is
“Give racism the red card”. Some bits of that are relevant. Videos
help generate a lot of discussion.”

Despite the need for continued fine-tuning, the main purpose of
the group has been, as Francis says, “to get people thinking, get
people talking – that’s the only way we’re going to effect

Getting people talking is not a problem at the Belgrave
Neighbourhood Centre. The ex-methodist church is positively 
bursting with purposeful bustle. “We cater for anything and
everything,” smiles Pravin Ruparelia, facility manager. “Our
monthly attendance is 15-20,000 a month. It’s busy, yeah…”
Although open to all, there is a strong emphasis on the older Asian
community. The elderly activity club (anything from swimming to
massage) runs seven days a week. Other services include legal,
immigration and nationality advice. Help is also provided on
benefits, DSS form filling, housing and employment. And just in
case the centre’s extensive programme is not enough, trips out to
Navratri festival, Diwali show and Satyanarayan Katha are all
planned this summer.

The lunch club for elderly people runs Monday to Friday and the
splendid food is a big hit. “It is very good here,” agrees the
table of people I sit and eat with. This is undoubtedly a community
centre with the community in it.

“We have 35 projects that are specifically run by ethnic
minority service providers,” says Chariker. “There’s been a very
deliberate strategy to encourage the ethnic minority voluntary and
community sector to get involved. But we are also working with more
mainstream traditional service providers. Age Concern, for example,
have their own project now for ethnic elders, which is very

“It’s recognising that communities have the expertise,” he
continues, “and that you can empower those communities to deliver
social services.” This is clearly the case at the Sanatan Manvata
day care service, which aims to plug a gap in services for Asian
older and disabled people. It allows users to communicate in their
own language and express their culture, customs and traditions with
others. It is run by a management committee.

Occupying a small part of the ground floor of an old school, the
building is not especially welcoming – unlike the small staff team
or the service users, mostly Hindu or Punjabi, who are keeping
their minds sharp playing competitive card games, chatting and
singing along to music. After tea and a small breakfast on arrival,
the users “pray to God and do a prayer which involves clapping – it
is a religious exercise but a little physical one as well,” says
day care assistant, Jayana Shah.

Everyday 23 older people from local community attend, “but we
have 28 people on the waiting list,” says day centre officer,
Yashwant Patel. Those who have a place have but one complaint: they
want more time here. “We’re looked after well – like mother and
daughter,” say Mrs Pithra, “I have two days here but I want to come
five days.” Mr Gautami agrees: “The food is good, the people
looking after us are very good – so I like it here.” If the service
did not exist, Mrs Lakhani was clear about the consequence: “We
would get bored,” she says.  As was Mrs Patel: “I’m not very well
and at home I am very, very lonely. Coming here is very nice

Yashwant Patel explains the cultural camaraderie simply: “Many
have an English language problem and they want to be with people
who they can understand.”

Indeed, it is understanding – a fair, open and spirited
understanding – that instructs every step of Leicester’s approach
to race equality.


Information pack available. Call Leon Charikar on 0116 225 4764
or e-mail: charl003@leicester.gov.uk

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