Membership Spotlight: Sheffield BME Network

The only strategic organisation representing BME groups in Sheffield tells Eva Nyandoro about their struggle to be heard. Every month we feature one of our V4CE members and ask them what their organisation is doing. 

This month we feature Ronnie Lewin from, Sheffield BME (Black Minority Ethnic) Network, who revealed his frustration about progress to address inequalities in the city. His organisation represents over fifty BME groups in a city with a 20% BME population.

He claimed some Sheffield councillors and council officers have shown ‘disingenuous attitude’ towards demands for race equality and accused the town hall of using a ‘divide and rule’ approach.  

Lewin, a board member, and owner of a bespoke contemporary furniture company ‘Genius Design’, said: Unfortunately they haven’t been successful in bridging the gap in inequalities. The amount of hours and energy we spent as a board and community versus successful outcomes is patchy and it’s something we are not happy about.

“I personally feel that when the council engages us it just a ticking boxes exercise. We offer strategic solutions based on feedback from the grassroots communities about difference action and steps to reduce inequalities gap for different ethnic groups.

“They have taken away money from us to give to other rights groups. It does feel sometimes like it a classic divide rule strategy. When you consider we are the only strategic grassroots organisation that represent just under 20% of the population in Sheffield it’s hard to understand that decision.”

The Sheffield council describe themselves as being ‘fully committed’ to reducing inequality across the city and are putting fairness at the centre of their values.

In 2012 the council set-up the ‘Sheffield Fairness Commission’ to tackle inequalities between different communities. But the council has recently seen a 50% cut in funding which has impacted on grants to community groups.

The Council have adopted a new ‘equality hub’ regime that looks at tackling disadvantage across all the equalities areas instead of treating each area of discrimination separately.

Ronnie said: “Although the new council equalities hub has been set up for voice and influence the council haven't begun to deal with the issues that the BME network has raised to date in the past three years - so why reinvent the wheel?

“The issue is not more talking but is about them not doing enough! We’ve seen a 56% increase in unemployment among young black people ages 16 to 25. Sheffield has no strategy to deal with this although we have raised this many times at the city level meetings.”

The Sheffield BME Network slogan is ‘equal to not better than’ and works towards ‘voice, influence and action’. The network lobby, campaign and partner with key institutions such as NHS and the police to challenge inequalities.

The Sheffield BME Network has identified inequalities gaps they could help to make an impact on, from structural concerns in education, employment, and the commissioning process to young people and integration.

The network applies a strategic sustainable community approach which focuses on economic agenda and education to help bridge the gaps between people feeling marginalised.

Ronnie said: “Sheffield BME network is a link between communities - BME voluntary community organisations, BME individuals and the local authority.

“Before the network was created there was a vacuum of frustrated disproportionality economically marginalised people within the city that didn’t have an effective vehicle to get their voices heard.

“With a population of over half a million - making it the 5th largest city - and an ethnic representation that make up 20% of the population in the cities the need for strategic organisation is ever present.”

Explaining why the Sheffield BME Network joined V4CE membership, Ronnie revealed: “We went to a free policy and parliament training session held in Sheffield. After the day we decided to join V4CE membership to find out about opportunities and to try to connect with other network.  We hope through collaboration and partnership with organisation across the country we can become one strong voice.

Sheffield BME Network has started a fundraising development plan to galvanise funding as a result of funding cuts to their budget.

Ronnie added: “We currently rely on local authority funding but in the long term we are looking at donations, patrons and invited philanthropist to support our work to help stabilise the network and provide long term sustainable funding pot.

“Since my dad came to this country in 1960s from Jamaica; society has moved on from race equality issues but the issues are still ever present today. We need the communities to come together as one active voice.

“I believe we create a network that connects the grassroots organisation across the UK we would have a powerful voice. When Rev’d Jesse Jackson came to Sheffield he talked about a National Black Trust; that if every a black person put a pound in a collective pot we could have strong long lasting economic base to help eliminate the ever increasing the gap between black and white.”

The Network was set-up in 2009 and gained a charitable status in 2012. If you are interested in becoming a volunteer, coming on board, Patron or working on partnership collaboration please email at: enquiry@sheffieldbmenetwork.co.uk or hgeelah@sbmen.co.uk

For more information about Sheffield BME Network visit website:  http://www.sheffieldbmenetwork.co.uk/ or Click here for FB