Leading question

During the racial disturbances in the north of England last summer,
a number of community leaders went out onto the streets to appeal
for calm. Not only did they have little tangible effect, but they
were actively heckled by the young people they purported to

It was a graphic example of how many of those regarded as community
leaders have neither the support of their community nor the
leadership skills to speak on its behalf.

Indeed, when the former director of the Commission for Racial
Equality (CRE), Sir Herman Ouseley, investigated racial divisions
in Bradford last year, he concluded that many community leaders
were actually making the situation worse.

“So-called ‘community leaders’ are self-styled, in league with the
establishment key people and maintain the status quo of control and
segregation through fear, ignorance and threats,” he wrote.
“Community leaders tend to retain their power base by maintaining
the segregated status quo, even when unrepresentative.”

Ouseley’s concerns are supported by research carried out by the CRE
among young Asian women in late 2000 in east Lancashire. These
women expressed their frustration “at the way certain community
groups and organisations, predominantly made up of men from ethnic
minorities, had dominated the management of race equality
services”. As a result women and young people felt “disenfranchised
by older men in the community who speak or moderate on their

This disillusionment is mirrored by a feeling among many within
ethnic minority communities that the mainstream political process
has passed them by. Even black and Asian MPs are seen as putting
party political priorities before the interests of their own

So if neither local community leaders nor mainstream politicians
are truly representative, who can speak up for ethnic minority

According to Stafford Scott of the Bernie Grant Trust, the next
generation of ethnic minority leaders must be able to straddle the
divide between true community representation and the ability to
engage with the establishment’s power structures.

The problem is that decades of broken government promises and
inadequate funding have left many ethnic minority communities
deeply mistrustful of officialdom. “Black communities often tend to
be inward looking and maybe we spend too much time focusing on
ourselves rather than engaging with others who have the power and
resources that could actually make a difference,” Scott says. “That
is partly why we have become so marginalised.”

A director of the trust’s community leadership programme, Scott is
actively seeking to address this marginalisation by training
“culturally appropriate and accountable community leaders, who are
capable of not just involvement but who are also able to assist in
setting and delivering the local agenda”.

The programme is now into its second government-funded pilot
project focusing on the African Caribbean communities in Tottenham
in London and Moss Side in Manchester. Scott hopes to extend it to
other ethnic minority groups soon. The original aim of the project,
he explains, was to help fill the “gulf” in leadership left by the
death of black MP Bernie Grant.

“After Bernie died many of us couldn’t see where our next leaders
were going to come from,” says Scott. “It wasn’t going to be from
within one of the political parties because they just follow party
policy, so we felt they had to come from within the community
itself. Then they would understand what we are going through and
also have the loyalty to stand up for the community.”

The six-month programme offers training in the skills needed, both
to communicate within communities and to engage with key
stakeholders from government, local authorities and the voluntary
sector. Consultation skills are particularly important if
tomorrow’s leaders are to speak on their communities’ behalf,
stresses Scott.

“It’s a very easy criticism to say a community leader is
self-appointed because at the moment we do not have the structures
in place to make sure everybody is accountable,” he says.

Also high on the programme’s agenda is how to take full advantage
of the opportunities offered by the government’s National Strategy
for Neighbourhood Renewal. Launched last year, this
cross-department programme aims to raise the standard of public
services in England’s poorest communities so that “within 10 to 20
years no-one should be seriously disadvantaged by where they live”.

According to a spokesperson from the neighbourhood renewal unit,
one of the strategy’s “underpinning principles” is community
participation. “So there are a number of structures built into the
strategy to ensure that local communities are consulted and are
given an opportunity to influence what happens on the

These structures include the New Deal for Communities, which is
investing around £2bn to boost employment, improve health and
housing and raise educational achievement in deprived areas.
Neighbourhood street wardens have been appointed from within local
communities to help improve safety and stamp out anti-social
behaviour. Community learning chests have been set up to provide
small grants of between £50 and £5,000 to help residents
play an active role in neighbourhood renewal through learning.
Local strategic partnerships have been set up to develop ways of
involving local people in shaping the future of their neighbourhood
and in how services are provided. And the community empowerment
fund is providing £36m between 2001 and 2004 to set up
community networks that bring together local organisations to
ensure that the community is properly represented on the local
strategic partnerships.

But however impressive the government’s commitment to local
involvement might sound, there are many within these communities
who regard the proposals with a deep degree of suspicion. After
all, when previous initiatives started handing out cash for
regeneration, very little of it seemed to end up within the ethnic
minority sector. The Council of Ethnic Minority Voluntary Sector
Organisations (Cemvo) estimates that less than 2 per cent of
voluntary sector funding goes towards ethnic minority projects.

“What is needed is serious long-term investment,” says Harinder
Kang, director of Cemvo’s West Midlands office. “But traditionally
the sector is very poorly resourced.”

Although institutionalised racism within funding bodies may account
for some of this shortfall, Cemvo’s capacity building unit has
identified a number of barriers within the ethnic minority sector
itself that hinder its involvement in the regeneration process.
These include a weak infrastructure, lack of professional staff and
volunteers, inadequate governance structures, absence of a voice in
policy-making issues, and, once again, an absence of

Like the Bernie Grant Trust, Cemvo is actively trying to address
these issues. It runs the Black Neighbourhood Renewal and
Regeneration Network which aims to help black and other ethnic
minority groups engage in the regeneration process. And it has
built a community leadership programme that includes an MBA run by
the University of East London on ethnic minorities and the
voluntary sector.

Elsewhere other organisations are also seeking to address the
shortfall in ethnic minority leadership. For example the National
College for School Leadership has recently joined forces with the
National Union of Teachers to encourage more ethnic minority
teachers to seek leadership positions. Its Equal Access to
Promotion? programme, which begins this autumn, aims to identify
and address the specific professional development needs of ethnic
minority teachers currently in positions such as departmental head.
And with many community activities increasingly based within
schools, the benefits of a higher profile for teachers from ethnic
minorities should be felt well beyond the school gates.

As projects such as these take effect it is to be hoped that a new
generation of leaders will emerge who can help bring their
communities in from the margins and engage in the processes
currently under way to regenerate their neighbourhoods. In this way
we can be sure that when a community leader gets up to speak, it is
the voice of the community that is heard.

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