As we approach the end of the year and a new decade beckons, I find myself reflecting on some of the joys and pains of growing an intergenerational social enterprise.
This past year has seen us achieve some major milestones, one of the most significant being formalising the Wolves Lane Consortium with Ubele becoming one of the 3 'stewarding' organisations of the Wolves Lane Centre - a 3 acre food growing and community site in Wood Green. Running a multi-use community space is not for the faint hearted. Relationships and the physical infrastructure have to be managed, especially when doing it in tandem with your own organisation’s work.
We also continued to support the redevelopment of the iconic Lloyd Leon Community Centre in Brixton – home of ‘Brixton Dominoes Club’ and ‘Brixton Soup Kitchen’.
We completed 4 projects, started 3 new ones and have been incubating 5 initiatives including Black Rootz which, if successful, will lead to London’s first Black led commercial food growing initiative. Black Rootz ran a highly successful Windrush Food Fest in Haringey in June and have already grown prize winning vegetables.
We helped build change agency capacity and capability of more than 80 people working in front-line services through offering 110 places on 5 international courses including the Art of Hosting, Appreciative Leadership and Action Learning.
It was not all work and no play – we designed and delivered the Power to Change ‘Back to Nature’ staff Summer Party, a creative nature workshops. Food was cooked by an amazing chef who prepared a British-Nigerian fusion menu.
We also carved out some time for introspection and future scoping (in Greece). Using Systemic Constellations as a model, we begin a highly creative process of shaping our 2020-2023 strategy which will be launched next May. One point felt like a very special ‘Wakanda’ moment with all 17 of us bringing the full power of our respective communities to the gathering – it was a magical moment that was truly inspiring and made all the hard work worthwhile.
Late 2019 saw us secure new Erasmus+ funding to deliver 232 individual mobilities starting next year and into 2021. We will collaborate with European partners in Denmark, France, Germany, Portugal, Netherlands, Slovenia and Spain. We are unclear about the future of this type of funding post-Brexit, but we will continue to create and offer international learning opportunities to BAME communities for as long as we are able to do so.
An increasing number of organisations are approaching us for support with the development of their community assets. It has been difficult to offer much more than a sign-posting service as we are not resourced to offer this much needed support.
Apart from the sheer numbers of people we have reached, I am also reflecting on some of the ways in which we have made a difference to the lives of people we have engaged and communities we have worked in. Given my growing interest in food growing (!), our connection with individuals and groups allow a seed to be planted and begin to grow, some extraordinary shoots have begun to emerge as a result. The Ubele story started 10 years ago and our journey towards helping create more sustainable BAME communities feels like it is just beginning to gain momentum. This is not because we haven't been intentional in creating and driving forward our mission - this can be clearly seen through our strategic plans, numerous projects and activities, partnerships and reach of over 3000 people across England. However, it is probably because we have had to wait for almost a decade for the wider system to see itself as well as how and where this long period of austerity has really impacted. Organisations that were established during the same period as Ubele are now waking up and beginning to take a deep look inside themselves. They are beginning to notice that their own systems do not reflect those they aim to reach. An article I wrote back in the day (well it was in 1992!) shed light on the lack of diversity in very senior positions within newly established education departments (post ILEA). Although they were in inner London (I worked in Greenwich Education at the time), only one was led by a Black male – seems that nothing much has changed!
‘Ubele’ taken from Swahili, means ‘the Future’. I hope it pays-off to have been some years ahead of the game. About 5 years ago, I was told by a potential funder, that Ubele could not be local, regional, national and international at the same time (I think that was the end of a potentially interesting relationship before it even really started!). As I do not ascribe to such limiting beliefs about BAME led organisations, I told him that it would happen with or without the support of his charitable trust. So, we wait patiently for others to play catch up through smelling real coffee – I deliberately mix my metaphors here! Hopefully we can explore the potential for some interesting and impactful work we can co-create (as they now say!).
I also want to take this opportunity of thanking our staff, associates, partners and cheer leaders who believe in our work; have supported and strengthened it this past year as well as the hundreds of people we have joined the Ubele network. We look forward to making merry with you and yours in 2020 and beyond.