Minority Ethnic Communities and Heritage

Ghzala Khan, Projects Manager at the West of Scotland Regional Equality Council, highlights the need for heritage sector governance and policies to include members from all ‘protected characteristics’.

Promoting equal opportunities to disadvantaged communities is at the heart of the work we deliver. As the largest Regional Equality Council in Scotland, West of Scotland Regional Equality Council (WSREC) has a vision of ‘an inclusive society free from discrimination’. Working primarily with minority ethnic groups across a range of ‘protected characteristics’ our delivery is the same regardless of our project; our focus is on building links, supporting community conversations and bridging the gap between services. Scotland is more diverse than it has ever been and it is important to record and celebrate the diversity that will one day become another’s heritage.

WSREC was thrilled, when asked to tell our story at the BEFS event partly due to the recognition that as an organisation we value heritage and cultural diversity and also because this was an opportunity for us to showcase our work, build networks and form further partnerships with the heritage sector.

My usual impressions, when attending these types of events is that many of the individuals representing a sector, who are looking to diversify services, are of a white middle class demographic. This was the case at the BEFS event, however I was impressed that it was addressed frequently throughout and the issue was not ignored like the big elephant in the corner.
The speakers on the day were inspiring and the main theme, I noted, was that heritage policy should not be made in the interest of specific groups but that all backgrounds and buildings should be valued. Also, in hindsight, the fact that I was there as a representative of initiatives, which are funded by the heritage sector to engage with disadvantaged communities, means that steps are being made to ensure inclusivity.

The table discussions further helped me gauge how close different sectors were in getting it right and also how far removed individuals were in identifying the communities that they should be engaging in. The success of our delivery is mainly due to the individuals that we employ to advocate on behalf of our service users. We call them ‘community champions’ and whether they join us on a paid or voluntary basis is irrelevant. They have knowledge of the community that we are supporting and have inside information on how to market, deliver and provide linguistic and cultural support. An example of this would be recruiting volunteers from a number of minority ethnic communities to record migrant oral histories for our ‘Stepping into Diversity’ project funded through Heritage Lottery Fund. Without the means of identifying community ambassadors and having in-depth knowledge of cultural background; the impact of the project may not have been as successful. This highlights the need of employing ‘community champions’ from diverse disadvantaged communities to promote the advancement of services, which are accessible to all regardless of their background.

Similarly, with our Roots Scotland project funded through Historic Environment Scotland, we are working with delivery partners outwith the West of Scotland to ensure our service reaches a wider audience. We recognise that effective partnership is vital to reach out and engage with communities and this message was understood when addressing the table discussion questions. Concurrent themes emerged from the three table discussions that took place that day. These were that groups were keen to diversify their services however; they needed further understanding on how to mainstream equalities and reach out to communities that were not currently accessing services.

So, the need to engage is there, but how? The answer is simple really; to engage, you must involve. The heritage sector needs to be proactive in building networks with community group organisations/representatives. Steps need to be taken to ensure that governance and other decision making policies include members from all ‘protected characteristics’.

Could this be in the form of setting up an Equality Network Forum with ‘community champions’ from diverse communities identifying need and impact of delivery? Would active engagement be supported by diversifying the heritage sector to promote employment opportunities for individuals from diverse backgrounds? Could it simply be the case that the heritage sector need to build links with organisations like WSREC who offer bespoke equality and diversity training to organisations? This would, capacity build and develop skills for effective marketing, outreach and engagement with hard to reach communities?

The BEFS event was hopefully the first step of many within the heritage sector to promote equality and diversity. Scotland is known for welcoming and celebrating diversity. We just need to be sure that this diversity is an integral part of future heritage for others to enjoy.

Ghzala Khan, Projects Manager at the West of Scotland Regional Equality Council.