Recent Developments with AWAZ Cumbria's Work
FIGHTING OFF ISOLATION FOR CUMBRIA'S MINORITIES
News & Star, 5 September 2011
The presence of black people in Cumbria is not new, says Aftab Khan, a development officer with the group AWAZ.
They have been here for many centuries, since the 16th century, working and contributing equally to the economy, culture and heritage of the county.
The problem, Mr Khan says, is that they are "under represented” in civic and public roles.
"There is a lack of celebration as to the unique perspective black and ethnic minority groups bring to society,” he said.
In many parts of the UK the black and ethnic minority population is quite concentrated, which allows communities to provide mutual support and the growth of community organisations.
In rural areas, like Cumbria, the more sparse distribution of people from black and ethnic minority backgrounds, can lead to isolation and a lack of support.
There are estimated to be about 495,000 people living in Cumbria and 19,800 of these are from black and ethnic minority groups.
Statistics show that in the last few years’ migration has increased, creating a more racially diverse Cumbria.
There are now more than 40 languages spoken in schools across Cumbria.
There are more Eastern and Central Europeans, Nepalese and Thai migrants in the county than ever before.
Most of the black and ethnic minority workers are either entrepreneurial or work in the service sector.
Cumbrian Attitudes Survey, which was undertaken by Cumbria County Council and Cumbria police, established that there is a considerable level of discrimination and prejudice against minority groups in Cumbria.
An analysis of the results showed that 73 per cent of respondents are prejudiced against at least one minority group.
Of this group, 35 per cent also expressed prejudice towards three or more groups.
Both of these figures are higher than the national averages.
Further analysis revealed that the groups most likely to experience prejudice and discrimination are gypsies and travellers (42 per cent); refugees/asylum seekers (32 per cent); and ethnic minorities (30 per cent).
Cumbria police registered 321 race hate crimes during April 2008 to April 2009.
AWAZ, which means voice in Persian, was first established in 2005 with the aim of providing a voice for black and ethnic minority communities to influence public policy and provide specialist information, advocacy, guidance and support.
It was registered as a community interest company on May 2007. It works with the voluntary, public and private sector.
Some of its aims are:
- to improve the quality of life of all black and ethnic communities in Cumbria;
- to increase opportunities and life chances for black and ethnic minority people;
- to enable change and empower black and ethnic minority people to engage in decision making at local, neighbourhood, district and county level;
- provide a voice for those people to influence public policy and service delivery in the county.
Over the next three to five years, its three priorities are social injustice, equality and enterprise.
Mr Khan immigrated to Cumbria from Kashmir in 2007. He joined AWAZ, which is based in Penrith, in 2009.
He said: "I remember driving up the motorway and the sun was rising and shining. It wasn’t dissimilar to back home. The geography and topography is the same and the people are no different.
"No two days are the same. My job is diverse.”
"I can go from translating and interpreting at a doctor’s surgery, to taking people to hospital appointments to helping people with job interviews.
"These things are not part of my job but sometimes people just feel they are isolated and they can talk to me.
"These people have to be supported emotionally because they are isolated and often have no family around.”
Sometimes it can be relatively simple matters that Mr Khan can help sort out.
He said: "One lady who was really good at English and had a degree could not get a job. I asked her why? She said it was because her qualification wasn’t recognised in the UK.
"I explained to her that there is an organisation that translates your qualification into the equivalent in other countries. She didn’t know this but now she does.”
Mr Khan says there are very few barriers to problem solving but a lot of "perceived barriers.”
"Sometimes people just need the right information and then the problem is solved,” he said.
One event, which is growing in popularity each year, is the Culture Bazaar.
It takes place in Carlisle and invites different cultures represented in the county to showcase their country through cooking, dancing, language and art.
Mr Khan also has praise for the Migrant Women Project in Ambleside and the Chinese New Year celebrations in Barrow.
His group will be involved in Whitehaven Carnival and Festival next year and will also have representation at events like The Cumberland Show.
The Cumbria Interfaith Forum celebrates religious diversity at Brockhole every year.
"When times are hard people often go back to their faith and seek comfort,” said Mr Khan.
Enterprise is something much Mr Khan feels Cumbria needs to develop.
He said: "Cumbria depends on its bigger companies like Sellafield and BAE Systems but does not have much support for its small and medium enterprises.
"If you go into a supermarket and buy your groceries very few of them are made locally and so no money is coming back into the local economy.”
Recently, AWAZ Cumbria was given cash from Northern Rock for its Pathways to Changing Lives Project this week.
Northern Rock pledged £72,457 over the next three years to fund the project.
The project aims to create strong and vibrant black and ethnic minority communities and get them involved in the decisions which affect their growth and development.
They also work with gypsies, travellers and migrant workers.
The develop worker will help form relationships with individuals and newly formed groups and support victims of racism. He will also support young people, women and migrant workers to plan and prepare for their future.
Organising training and promoting community cohesion is another aspect of the work as well as encouraging black and ethnic minorities to play full and active roles in the Big Society.
People can report hate crimes at www.awazcumbria.org or on 0800 0232792 or by texting 07537 402350.