Interview with Leeds BME Hub

What is the Leeds BME hub? 

The hub is a Council Equality Hub, which means we are one of Leeds City Council’s hubs but hosted independently by the charity Voluntary Action Leeds. 

We exist to make sure that voices from culturally diverse communities are heard across every aspect of the city. The hub and its members have identified priority areas that they want to be focused in which are arts and culture, health and wellbeing, and education, employment and training. We work on these areas, and our members will volunteer an hour or two of their time every month or so to move forward the agenda in that space.

We support organisations and individuals with things like funding advice or facilitating connections to help any projects that have a racial equality theme. We also consult with organisations to help them be as inclusive as they possibly can be and think about issues they might not previously have thought about.

Who is in the hub?

The hub is special because it’s a member-led organisation, made up of organisations who are led by culturally diverse people or members of the community themselves. Any organisation or individual who have a vested interest in what we do and want to be part of the conversations, can be involved. It means that organisations can pick up on any changes or initiatives that are happening in Leeds on a grassroots level and make sure they are actually adapting to keep up with those. 

Image Credit: BME Hub

Can you give any examples of specific things you are working on at the moment?

On our arts and culture theme, we work very closely with Leeds Museum and Leeds Art Gallery – in addition to other organisations in the city sitting in the arts and culture space, that aren’t just statutory bodies. 

One project we’ve been helping with is looking at decolonising and understanding the history of the art currently in Leeds Art Gallery. Similarly, in Leeds Museum we are looking at what they currently have on display and seeing what they can offer to attract more culturally diverse people to the museum. 

These are long term projects – it takes a long time to look internally and dismantle and restructure things like this, but we are continuing to have conversations around that and making sure the community have an input on how these changes are shaped. 

What are your current priorities for black and diverse communities in Leeds? 

In terms of health and wellbeing, mental health is currently a massive focus for us  – especially given that some of the communities we support are really overrepresented in the statistics in this area. 

For example, for black men, we know that services are more likely to become aware of their mental health problems at the crisis stage, as opposed to at the beginning when they could have been helped much earlier. So we are working to find out why that is and what can be done to make sure people get contact at those crucial beginning stages. 

There’s a lot of strategic work being does across the city around mental health at the moment. For example, a really good move has been the appointment of a new mental health inequalities lead of public health and an equivalent for children and young people, within the Council. This is a new role that has never been done before, that is specific to culturally diverse communities and will be working with organisations to try and close the inequality gap.

You recently hosted some events on the theme of ‘I Choose Joy’. What was the thinking behind this theme? 

We hold regular hub meetings throughout the year and one of the themes that kept coming up was exhaustion. With the murder of George Floyd last year and all the coverage on social media, as well as trying to go about your normal life whilst feeling like you had the responsibility of educating people and protesting and dismantling the system, a sense of fatigue and exhaustion starts to set in. I think there’s a really important conversation to have around how you centre wellness in all that heaviness. 

That movement is actually happening all over the country. I’ve come across several events and projects recently that are centered around joy and talking about what that means in black spaces. At the end of the day, we are human beings and we experience love and loss like everyone else, on top of this added trauma and re-traumatization that is currently happening. Obviously that’s something that has always been happening, but it has really intensified in the last year.

How can people get involved with the hub’s work? 

I’d encourage people to sign up to the hub bulletin, or send me an email if they want to be involved. The bulletin is a good way of finding out about what is happening in the community that especially affects culturally diverse communities and where we need voices and input. It also has updates on ongoing projects or opportunities to be involved with projects happening in the city.

I know that the Council is currently looking at pulling together their City Plan strategy for the next few years and they want to speak to as many people and engage as many communities as possible before that’s fully written up. So keeping up to date with the hub bulletin means people could get an invite to actually come and have their say in a conversation like that. 

What would you recommend to students who want to understand more about black and diverse communities in Leeds?

I know from experience that University can be a bit of a bubble, but Leeds is such a history-rich place and there are so many incredible things going on across the whole city. I’d really encourage people to properly explore the city around them and all that it has to offer.

Jo Williams (@leedsblackhistory on Instagram) does black history walks where he explains the historical context of the city and celebrates black civilisations and their links to Leeds and Yorkshire, which are a really good thing to get involved with. 

What do you think is the best route to achieving positive change for black people and culturally diverse communities in our society?

Protesting and demonstrating are very much needed. But I always say that, after that, there is the added work, especially when we’re talking about institutional racism, of actually being in those spaces and trying to influence change. Not that it’s easy, I definitely don’t want to make it seem like change is some easy thing. But by engaging with the work of the hub and other organisations in Leeds, you can at least start to know about what’s going on and have a chance to actually be part of those conversations. 

We’ve had people that have come before us and done their bit and moved it forward but we really do need people to get engaged and move the work even further for our generation. So please do get in touch! 

Find out more about the Leeds BME Hub, subscribe to the bulletin or get in touch with Abigail here – 

Image Header Credit: BME Hub