Liverpool City Council has set up the Black and other Racial Minority Network (BRMN) in Liverpool. This has brought a wide spectrum of community groups together. They act as a voice for the black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities in the city.
Key learnings for other councils
- A network representing many community groups has much greater influence in local decision making than any single group on its own
- It is important to organise and run the group in a professional manner making sure that disagreements are handled constructively and a small number of disruptive members are not able to derail a meeting.
Following the 2001 Cantle Review, Liverpool Charity and Voluntary Services (LCVS) successfully bid for a grant to tackle cohesion issues. They set up a variety of community-based networks, one of which was the BRMN.
At the time, there were various black community groups and an informal network in place. These formed the starting point for setting up the BRMN.
The BRMN's main purpose is to be a voice for the BAME communities and to enable them to be aware of local decision making. It was also to find a way of getting them involved in decision making.
Who was involved?
The network comprises community groups and agencies together, administered by LCVS and funded by Liverpool City Council. LCVS's role includes providing the secretariat for the network. In addition, it provides officers to help implement the action plan and general support for network members.
There are five sub-groups within the network:
- Education and Young People
- Employment and Enterprise
- Health and Social Care
There is a steering group, whose members are elected from the network members. The steering group directs the work of the network, according to an annual work plan. Currently, steering group members include:
- Yemeni Arab Muslim
- West African
- black British
- white British and mixed race people.
The BRMN has created a joint action plan, with the goal of eradicating inequalities. The priorities in the action plan are compiled based on an annual consultation with BAME communities. This leads to suggestions for projects for the network for the coming year.
Community cohesion is a standing agenda item. Any group doing work relating to cohesion can inform the others and can get advice from the network. Network activities relating to cohesion are also monitored.
The problems and how we tackled them
The network experienced many challenges when setting up the steering group: finding a harmonious way to work together was not easy. As the network consolidated, a mutual understanding of what they wanted to achieve and how arose. A small number of disruptive individuals found themselves isolated and later resigned.
The network members realised the importance of being professional towards one another. They recognised that while they needed disagreement in order to move forwards, this had to be approached in a constructive manner.
LCVS was influential in helping to keep the group's work professional. It ensured, for example, that meeting papers were sent out well in advance. It also encouraged attendance at meetings.
Outcomes and impact
- Different BAME groups have been able to come together, learn to get on with one another and to work together.
- As a network of about 100 BAME community groups, they have more influence with the city council than any one group could on its own.
The network has successfully presented the views of BAME communities on many important local issues. These include the successful campaign to keep open a local mental health support centre. The issue was taken up by the Health and Social Care Sub-group who wrote to the primary care trust (PCT) chair to explain their concerns.
There is much greater awareness of the work being done in the city to improve community cohesion among network members. This is as well as a grasp of emerging cohesion-related issues. The network itself is a good example of different communities coming together, building mutual understanding and working together.
Particular issues relating to equalities have been picked up by the network as part of the joint action plan. For example, research into the relatively poor educational attainment of some BAME groups has led to increased resources to tackle the issue.
The general decrease in funding to the voluntary and community sector (VCS) is presenting difficulties. With fewer resources, BAME organisations have less capacity to get involved in the network.
There are also concerns for community cohesion generally. The community groups are seen as vital for bringing benefit to communities and for acting as a voice for their community.
The network is working with senior city council officers to review financial requirements for the coming year. It is approaching the dialogue in a non-confrontational way and aiming for negotiation and compromise.
Mohammed Taher, Black and other Racial Minority Network Development Officer
Liverpool Charity and Voluntary Services
telephone: 0151 227 5177