In my last blog, I shared some experiences of being on Step 6 of the journey to better Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) at Reading Voluntary Action. Step 6 is about identifying your priorities so that actions can be put in place to create real, effective, everlasting change. It also mentioned how important it is to celebrate successes. This blog explores that in more detail and how we can build on those successes so that we are all contributing to growing our organisation. It showcases some of the work that has been led by Rhiannon Stocking-Williams. Rhiannon is the Ready Friends Coordinator, small grants manager and our go-to person for her photographs capturing some of the wonderful people and places in our town! She explains how she has recognised, evaluated and developed the inclusion aspects of her projects and work.
Can you tell us about one of your projects and how this showcases an inclusive culture?
The two small grants schemes – Reading Community Grants and BAMER Mental Health grants – that I have been managing since last summer, have funded 14 projects that support a variety of Reading’s communities who were hit hardest by the pandemic. Most of these groups have been providing vital support to a range of BAME communities and many are volunteer-led, with no paid staff. A number of the project leads also kindly gave their time to contribute to new forums such as the Voluntary and Community Sector (VCS) Vaccine Support Group, which fed community-specific information on local need directly into planning around the vaccine rollout.
Collectively, the projects reflected the imagination, flexibility and creativity within the local VCS to reduce loneliness in a culturally-sensitive way. They have shone a light on alternative approaches that complement traditional befriending – and we have much to learn from them. I hope to continue working with them on achieving sustainability and increasing their capacity.
Tell us about how Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) runs through the heart of one your current projects
I’ve been working with Herjeet Randhawa, RVA’s Advice Manager, on a new Small Groups Learn and Share Network, which we launched in May. It was born out of the groups delivering Reading Community Grants projects and most are from local BAME communities. The Network not only helps to identify and support challenges and training needs within small and emerging groups, but it also acts as a platform for sharing our collective knowledge, raising awareness of the issues faced by different communities but it will also shape RVA’s work going forward.
What were your proudest work achievements for EDI in 2020?
Getting grant funding out quickly to the Reading Community Grants and BAMER Mental Health Grants projects, within a very tight timescale. For some of the groups, this was their first experience of applying for funding and they report that it has given them the confidence to successfully apply for more funding. One described their Reading Community Grant as ‘an organisational game-changer’. Facilitating a discussion within the Befriending Forum about how people get information and access to activities that would reduce loneliness for them, if they don’t read or speak English or read in their own language. While this issue is not new, I hope it contributes to change in local practice and support.
What are your plans for the next 3 months in this area?
Develop a new section in the Ready Friends Toolkit called Be Inclusive! with resources, articles and research that are adaptable to suit a range of voluntary and community organisations in their work, be that service review and development or evidence data for fundraising. To scrutinise and reflect on my own practice and include conversations about Equality, Diversity and Inclusion in my everyday work with individual groups and in the forums that I’m involved in. To challenge the reply ‘our doors are open to everyone’ as being the only thing we need to do to be inclusive. To keep asking ‘So, how is this inclusive?’ when I plan something new. The ‘how’ is the keyword – we need to evidence it.
What tips would you give others who are ready to recognise and evaluate their own projects with EDI in mind?
To reflect on who they are reaching – and not reaching – and ask who could support them in becoming more inclusive. There are lots of resources, including RVA’s own Inclusion Development Worker, Azra, who is a delight to work with. It can be a very creative and rewarding experience to work on EDI, and ultimately will benefit all of the people of Reading.
Thank you Rhiannon for an insight into your vital work and for your shout out (no money was exchanged for this comment!). This is also an important reminder that it is key to have open, honest dialogue to gather people’s thoughts, ideas and feedback. Having a space to hear everyone’s voices in your organisation empowers people to self-reflect and think of tangible actions that improve inclusivity in their own role. This reaps benefits for your organisation as a whole.
‘Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much’ – Helen Keller
- If you are currently on this step or any others along your journey and would like any support and guidance, please do email firstname.lastname@example.org.
- For further information about Ready Friends or to get in touch with Rhiannon please email email@example.com.
- Join the Befriending Forum on 24 June, 1pm to 2.30pm. An online session where we have a special guest speaker from Ageing Better in Camden with a focus on ‘A Warm Welcome’ – reopening our face-to-face services: ‘People have told us that being welcomed (or not!) to a community activity has a big impact on whether or not they will return. Everyone had their own story of being welcomed, or feeling rejected. That’s why we decided to explore what a warm welcome looks like, and how it can help tackle social isolation and loneliness’. Book your free ticket via Eventbrite.