Hi everyone, I’m Mervin Louis. I’ve been working for Respect for nine years as a Helplines Advisor on the Men's Advice Line for male victims, and on the Respect Phoneline, for people who want to stop using abuse in their relationships. I’ve got a lot of experience as an advisor but I’ve always been interested in comms and campaigning. I’ve been working with the team to develop my skills in this area, so when the opportunity came up to lead Respect’s Black History Month activity, I was really excited to work on this project. 

As part of the Drive Partnership, and alongside the HOPE Consortium, we developed and delivered two programmes focusing on building a more diverse workforce. One focused on equipping sector leaders to challenge racism, and the other focused on supporting staff from racialised communities to grow their leadership skills. I took part in the second programme, and for me, it was a significant and enjoyable experience.

For my Past, Present, Future campaign for Black History Month, I spoke to fellow graduates about the lasting legacy of this project, and to Tina Patel, Head of National Systems Change at the Drive Partnership, about what comes next in this area of work.

First, we asked Ntokozo Dlova, who works as a Helplines Advisor at Respect, about her experience on the programme,

“The most powerful thing for me after eight years of working at Respect was being with a group of people who shared my experiences. It was empowering to have the language to express the feelings that I often thought were only felt by me. The facilitators were really inspirational, and it was so good to be part of a leadership programme tailored to my needs, with people who shared my experiences and were supportive and loving when I was overwhelmed with emotion”

“I have held leadership posts in the past, but for the last six years I have not been in a leadership role. The biggest impact from the course was actually realising that I am good leader, and that I should think about other ways of using this skill. In hindsight I realise that I was deskilled and losing confidence. When I embarked on the course, I had no great expectations but I am delighted to say that I have come away feeling motivated and optimistic.

“I don’t know what the future holds but I am exploring some ideas of self-development and growth using some of the things I’ve learnt on the leadership programme, so time will tell. I now walk in my power as a Black woman, unapologetically, and I confidently challenge racism. I am grateful for the opportunity and excited to build on this.”

Victoria Kigozi, who also works across the Respect helplines, grew in confidence over the course of the programme,

“When I heard about the H.O.P.E Leadership course I was very excited. Having worked in the domestic abuse and safeguarding field for over 10 years, I had begun to feel really stagnant and so welcomed the idea of a leadership course. I didn’t know what to expect, because knowing how to get into a leadership role always felt like a mystery. I had applied for roles and been told that I just didn’t have that experience in leadership that would be needed for the role.

“Upon joining the programme, I wasn’t disappointed, having had a wealth of knowledge shared by course leaders and speakers who shared their journey and experiences. I’ve left feeling that I have a much better understanding of what leadership can look like. I have a better understanding of the different styles of leadership and have left feeling so much more confident in myself and in my ability to take on a leadership role. I’ve come to understand that there is more than one way of achieving your goals and sometimes you have to make a way for yourself.”

Tina Patel also took part in the programme. At the time, she was working at Respect member TLC: Talk, Listen, Change, and she has since taken on the role of Head of National Systems Change at the Drive Partnership.

“The HOPE training conceptualised my personal experiences of racism and discrimination as an Asian woman.  I’ve worked across different sectors where Managers have all been white heterosexual men. As a manager I had no voice in this space and this was sadly normalised. Through my experiences I learnt that I had to navigate around white managers and also spaces made for white progression. 

“HOPE Training gave me access to a support network and linked me up with other Leaders from ethnic minority backgrounds who shared very similar experiences to me all across the country and out of the UK! We were able to champion each other and encourage one another. There was a sense of solidarity, love and belief between us all. During the course we got to meet many inspirational guest speakers who did not follow the traditional corporate ladder but built their own career by setting up their own companies which is very inspirational. It showed us that when the opportunity is not there for someone to progress into senior leadership, we can use our difference to make a difference and create our own path, write our own history, not allow someone else to define our impact.   

“For all the new Leaders on the HOPE training, allow yourself to be vulnerable, share your truth and keep rising. Focus on what you can contribute to the world. Focus on serving a mission that is higher than yourself! And do it with love, joy and patience.”

Finally, we spoke to Tina about how the Drive Partnership is building on this area of work

“Alongside our work with the HOPE Consortium, we’ve been working with specialist by-and-for organisations to better understand the role we could play in addressing inequity across the sector and supporting the provision of both culturally specific and culturally competent services. Building on a consultation with by-and-for organisations, we are taking forward a new workstream to co-design two culturally specific behaviour change programmes alongside by-and-for organisations, individual practitioners, experts from relevant communities, and experts by experience. We have started by establishing two co-design groups (one developing responses within Black communities, and the second within South Asian communities) to develop culturally specific responses to perpetrators of domestic abuse, and we are in the process of establishing an advisory group to support on the development of a Cultural Competency Toolkit, and provide guidance on a broader advocacy role for The Drive Partnership.”

Respect is a registered charity in England and Wales, number 1141636, in Scotland, number SC051284 and a company, number 7582438. Registered address: VAI Second Floor, 200a Pentonville Road, London N1 9JP
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