I took on the responsibility of being CEO of Manchester Youth Zone just four months ago. Since then I’ve been very conscious of my white privilege during a period where young people from our incredibly diverse Black communities have continued to experience racism, disadvantage, and the hugely disproportionate impact of Covid. Black communities have faced higher instances of Covid related fatalities and long-standing health issues, redundancies, missing out on furlough due to zero hour contracts, and the resulting impact of poverty – it truly is a devastatingly unfair reality. We have also seen many of these children failing to get access to equal education opportunities or having less access to educational support where English may not be the first language.
With over 65% of our members having Black and Asian heritage, addressing the unfairness of disadvantage and discrimination is a core aim. As an organisation it has been essential that we have talked with our local, Black-led community organisations, our families and our children to identify how we could use our available resources and influence to make a difference in the lives of our black community members.
We refocussed our investment and support to make a difference. Working with other organisations to distribute money, digital devices and available resources more fairly to those grass roots organisations embedded in black communities who were delivering vital interventions and support. During this last year Manchester Youth Zone has successfully applied for and received almost £600,000 in grants and trusts. Of which it has redistributed over £400,000 to local community grassroots organisations through community partnership approaches to make sure all of our communities benefitted.
Listening to what was important to families also influenced how we changed our provision. We focussed our smaller bubble work on children with disabilities, children living in multi-generational families, children experiencing bereavement and children living in poverty. Making sure that the reduced face to face offer we continued to deliver was aimed at those most in need and under pressure.
Addressing food poverty became a priority, ensuring all children who attended Manchester Youth Zone had a free hot meal, delivering culturally appropriate food parcels to families in need, and when we could get back together as a full Youth Zone – using food as a way of celebrating us reuniting, reconnect and rebuilding our Youth Zone support network.
During this period our young people have also been exposed to the wider societal reaction to the Black Lives Matter movement, racism in football and local deaths of young black men as a result of street violence. We have worked hard to create safe spaces for young people to talk to us and each other about how this has impacted them individually and collectively. Creating visual places and spaces where young people can both celebrate the achievements of their black peers and also have remembrance boards, so that the brilliant young lives that have been sadly lost are not forgotten.
Black History Month is so important to the youth work calendar and serves a reminder to all of us about how much proactive work we need to continue to do to make sure all our black community members are safe, have opportunities and thrive.
Our young people never fail to amaze me with their talent, energy, skills and resilience. We really do have an ethos that focusses on our collective belief that ‘together we make a difference’, and we have so much fun whilst we work on creating those opportunities through drama projects, film nights, music production, sports tournaments, games, cooking, community events – the list is endless.
This Black History Month we have worked with our members to develop a varied programme of activities that will enable us to continue to embed anti-racist values and showcase positive black identity work.
We will use the auditorium facilities at our partner UA92 to screen a film chosen by our black young people that enables us to look at the struggles and achievements of black people in society (Hidden Figures is the current highest place contender), after which a number of local black community leaders will complete mini Ted-Talks with young people to share their successes and life lessons.
We have also designated our learning kitchen as a space where our black families can come and cook with wider members, their favourite meals from African and Caribbean heritage and as we eat together share stories of family, food and celebrations across cultures.
Our music partners Brighter Sounds are also working with members to create and produce beats and sounds that explore positive identity and culture. However, leadership is key and as CEO my commitment over the next month is to ensure that our new 3 year strategy is founded on principles of equality, diversity and inclusion.
Of course, this work isn’t just about this month, it is a year round effort to ensure our organisation reflects and celebrates the rich cultural diversity of our community. We’re committed to ensuring that the backgrounds of our workforce of youth workers reflects the children who need us the most, and that these staff are provided with the support and opportunities that enable them to progress to be the leaders that inspire the next generation.
Amanda Naylor, Chief Executive, Manchester Youth Zone