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Reflection on our highlights and challenges – End of 2021 message from Yvonne Field, Founder and CEO of The Ubele Initiative

December 21st, 2021

As 2021 draws to a close, and Covid-19 continues to dominate on our daily lives, I reflect on some of our highlights and challenges.

Just as our team begun to explore the real possibility of a hybrid working from next month, new government guidance recommends that those who can work from home should do so. The small window of opportunity that emerged because of the successful vaccine roll programme, alongside a system of PCR and Lateral Flow tests opened new travel possibilities. Earlier this year, the Ubele core team and two other groups of community leaders from Manchester and the Latin American community were able to take advantage and travel on Erasmus+ programmes to Crete for four separate 5-day intensive programmes in strategic planning, Systems Thinking, the Art of Hosting and Community of Practice. Despite having to meet stringent protocols in both countries, once complied with, we were able to forget for a short moment that the pandemic still raged all around us. These large group experiences where people learnt, played, strategised, and even cried together were extraordinary comings together. They offered us a stark reminder of the limitations of online meetings in creating deep community connections that once experienced, can act as a real catalyst for further work. 

Not everyone is able, willing or responds well to Government calls to ‘flex’ or ‘pivot’. The heightened level of insecurity that these past two years have brought, asks each of us to constantly reassess our priorities; create and then suspend expectations whilst being prepared to respond to emerging Covid-19 data and evidence; government guidance and individual and sometimes group members health conditions. All of these to be balanced within a context of the assessment of risk and differing levels of need for social, emotional, and physical contact. I am acutely aware that, for some people, lockdown was never over and they will need to shield for the foreseeable future. 

There is no doubt that this has been another extraordinary year for Ubele; Covid induced. It gave us the opportunity to influence and give voice on behalf of our sector nationally through capacity building; grant making; strategic partnerships and research and development whilst engaging in several new and innovative projects. We have continued to simultaneously support and challenge at a pace despite our own organisational insecurities.

“I hear myself like a broken record as I keep highlighting this phenomenon as despite our relatively high national profile now, our own situation mirrors that of our sector - short-term project-based funding does not provide the level of security that allows for longer-term organisational growth, development and stability. ”

A short essay on funding racial justice work which was published by Probono Economics on behalf of the The Law Family Commission on Civil Society recently, along with a number of other essays, offer insights and challenge to funders, especially now that there is seemingly a flood of conversations about how best to support racial equity and racial justice work; and they are not the same! I suggested that this is a moment for real systemic change; but as we know moments, if not harnessed to greater effect can easily be lost. Opportunities to practically demonstrate are still emerging and could be realised through a number of new funding investments. 

We have produced our first ever social impact report which captures and assesses the impact of the work we did during the first three waves of Covid. We also launched our five-year strategy which centres our strategic aim of Community Wealth building through community asset ownership, development and support for social and community enterprise. This has enabled us to re-prioritise our vision and to continue to put into practice significant place-based asset development projects at Wolves Lane in Haringey and Lloyd Leon Community Centre in Lambeth. We have now raised almost £2.5m of the capital and revenue funding for Wolves Lane. Although LLCC has some way to go to get to a similar stage to that of Wolves Lane, a team of black led built environment specialists including architects and surveyors have just completed a feasibility study for the building and we are in negotiation with Lambeth Council about continued support. These asset development projects though long-term and often highly complex are another highlight in our work. 

Despite delivering to and in partnership with organisations and communities, we are still in the building phase. We have introduced systems and processes, alongside establishing a new layer of staff and associates to help support our leadership. This team of highly experienced and committed people has brought a new dimension, capacity and capability within our organisation. They also provide new expertise in areas such as health and wellbeing and research. The Bayo project offering a space to find collectives, organisations and services from across the UK – run by and for the Black community – to support mental health and wellbeing; and Harakati, anti-racist infrastructure research are just two examples of exciting new work started during the past year. 

I am truly grateful for and proud of the Ubele’s staff and Associates who have continued to offer lifeboats to our sector. I wrote about the Titanic and sinking ships back in April 2020.  I take this opportunity to thank them for another year of dedicated service and look forward to continuing working together as we enter 2022. 

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