Attending an interview for the Review into Institutional Racism at the Westway Trust brought some catharsis.
To know that your voice is joining at least 50 others in sharing experiences, and knowing that such a desperately needed examination into the past and current history of the Trust is finally actually happening, is good to know. But, I am personally left numb by the effort it has taken to reach this point.
I am also completely and absolutely eyes-wide-open aware that the Review will have failed if it does not bring about the radical change that Westway23 advocate, with completely new leadership and a significant repurposing of the Trust to reflect our current 21st Century reality, including the recovery from the Grenfell Tower fire.
We are hoping and believe the Review can be a silver bullet to help bring about this change.
With all of our experience, we have no naive expectation that it will be.
It is painful to recount one of my earlier experiences of the Westway, as a teen being entirely turned off from the space after being told a tennis court was to cost my friend and I £16 an hour. Not in todays money. In the mid 1990s, so around £30 today....I am in a mild state of shock to see that figure in front of me on the inflation calculator.
It was only meant to be a game of tennis. it was meant to keep us out of the sort of trouble that we did eventually get into, which in turn led both of us into a 50/50 situation where both of our lives could have been significantly different. Lives turn on such seemingly small things.
I realise that a current joint CEO has been at the organisation all that time.
He has been working his way up to a £90k salary and no doubt a hefty pension, overseeing accounts that nobody in the community can get their heads around.
Enabling all that has gone on.
Whilst people like myself have travelled through our entire youth and younger adulthood, living in the local area completely disengaged from the compensation that ought to have made a positive difference in our lives.
I enter a further state of shock if I dwell on it too much.
I must supress my anger (as one learns to do) when recounting in the interview the email I sent to Angela McConville and Alan Brown on 30th November 2015, shortly after the community shutdown AGM at St Helen's church (A stub of an Evening Standard article on that here: https://www.questia.com/…/campaigners-halt-meeting-over-pla…):
Myself and many others are still waiting for an adequate public response to the now multiple allegations of institutional racism and misinformation that have been put to the Westway Trust:
1 Consultation images that contained minimal - if any - ethnic minorities, despite being filled with people.
2 A survey on the Stables that contained no option for 'Black', 'African, or 'African Caribbean' people.
3 A suggestion that the wellbeing of Westway staff would be in danger at a public meeting - despite holding a similarly public meeting 2 weeks later - attended by 300 local people of all ages and backgrounds ( IE "the community"), held at a highly venerated venue.
4 Claiming that a reason for this withdrawal were comments left on social media. The comments were made either by the very person Angela McConville was privately arranging the meeting with (not a member of the organising group, Westway23) or they were factual comments made by myself and taken entirely out of context.
5 Claiming that a reason for the withdrawal was to avoid "200 conversations", despite it being made clear that the format of the meeting was to be a "Question Time-style" panel discussion, a tried and tested format for large crowds. And despite the meeting being held by Westway23, a group with multiple members who are highly experienced at leading community meetings and avoiding "200 conversations".
6 The make up of the board of Trustees, tokenistic members notwithstanding.
7 A lack of any public statement of apology regarding the closing down of multiple community venues in the past year.
I look forward to receiving your response within the week - as you have promised on your website - addressing each point clearly.
Two responses to the email came back.
(I will not post the entire contents here, for fear of the kind of heavy handed Trust action that has happened in the past, which includes threatened and actual legal action against local people.)
The first response arrived on the same day, 30th November.
It stated that the Trust were "pulling together their response" to everything that had been raised at the 2015 AGM at St Helen's Church.
Notably, it was signed "Angela & Alan". A significant fact.
The second response came a few days later on 3rd December. As with the first response, it was sent to both myself and Alan Brown.
In it Angela not only accepted that the decision to pull out of the Westway23 public meeting at the Tabernacle was a mistake but, also that the way it had been communicated was offensive.
She further apologised for the "insensitive mistakes" made with images and surveys and stated that "these mistakes are offensive and risk excluding members of the community from working with Westway Trust".
To me, that looks like an unequivocal acceptance of, and apology for, Institutional Racism.
At the very least it looks like something worthy of further independent and trustworthy examination by the Chair of an organisation that continues to be happy to spend significant sums of community money on outside consultants and organisations.
Instead, what we got was the current Chair of the Westway Trust, Alan Brown, on at least 3 occasions, publicly and on record, flat out deny that any evidence of Institutional Racism had been put to him. And in doing so, he prevented an independent investigation of any value to take place.
In doing so, he forced members of our local community - myself included - to spend 3 years chasing his empty promise of "rebalancing the board".
He also forced out members of staff who themselves had had the humility to take on our tiresome experiences and the courage to defend our values.
That promise lies broken beyond his repair, with a number of other reneged upon agreements.
Therefore, I have no hesitation in repeating my demand and the demand of my fellow Westway23 members, because the time has truly come for real change and we hope others will join us now to push for this change once and for all.
- We need real and radical change NOW.
- We need the resignation of Trust Chair, Alan Brown NOW.
- We need a process to rid the organisation of its toxic corporate Executive structure NOW.
- We need a radical rethink on the purpose of an organisation that spends many millions on itself and puts barely a couple of hundred thousand (or a couple of percent of its income) directly into the hands of the local community NOW.
- We need an organisation that is not a "partner" (indicating by the way that it is something OUTSIDE OF US), but an integral part of our community NOW.
- We need an unequivocal structure of community Trustee control over the governance and activities of the Westway Trust NOW.
- We need the opportunity to own this process for ourselves, as the local community and as a campaign that has spent literally thousands of unpaid voluntary hours pressuring this organisation into every significant change it has made in the past four years and has taken it to the brink of something that can finally be seriously considered REAL CHANGE.
We need all of this and more NOW.
(I'd highly recommend anyone that is umming and erring over taking part in the Review, to book an appointment now. It is going back to the beginning. So, if you've seen something or heard something, say it, no matter how long ago. Details here: https://westway23.org/)
Westway Trust Exposed 2015 AGM
Dodge This - Review into Institutional Racism