Our work to tackle racial inequalities
In Lewisham we pride ourselves as being an open borough that celebrates our diversity and history of standing up against racism. We have been working for many years to reduce inequality and injustice for all groups. The range of our activities is extensive and includes work with our residents, with our staff and with partner organisations.
This page brings together some of the work we are undertaking to show the breadth and depth of our ongoing work and commitment to tackle racial inequalities.
We launched the ground-breaking Birmingham and Lewisham African & Caribbean Health Inequalities Review (BLACHIR). This major national review will improve our understanding of the health inequalities highlighted by COVID-19 and find ways of achieving better health outcomes for our Black communities.
We have also set a new priority of BAME health inequalities for our Health and Wellbeing Board. Every meeting, board members discuss the action plan to tackle the inequalities that exist amongst BAME residents. The board’s BAME Health Inequalities Working Group meets monthly to ensure the programme is progressing at pace.
In addition, we have commissioned Lewisham-based BAME organisations to conduct research projects with Black African and Black Caribbean people on food and obesity.
Work is underway in our schools and colleges to actively tackle race inequality. This work is bringing new energy, expertise and a fresh collaborative approach.
We are also specifically recruiting more Black and BAME governors for Lewisham schools to make our governing bodies more representative of the young people they serve. Of the school governors who have declared their ethnicity, 23% are BAME. Although there is more work to do, this is much higher than the 4% national average.
The Young Mayor and apprenticeship programmes
Meanwhile, our Young Mayor programme, which we established more than 15 years ago, has been replicated all over the world. The Young Mayor and the Young Mayor’s Advisers speak on behalf of young people in Lewisham, where our school population is 76% BAME.
We ensure that recruitment of our apprentices reflects our local population. Of the 570 young people who have been through the Mayor’s Apprenticeship Programme, 75% are from Black and minority ethnic backgrounds.
Youth First, Lewisham’s youth service, work across 11 sites in Lewisham. Youth First work with over 6,000 young people in Lewisham and the majority of service users are Black and BAME.
Our public health approach to violence
We acknowledge the over-representation of Black boys in the criminal justice system, and of BAME people amongst knife crime victims. Our public health approach to violence reduction takes an evidence-based and whole-system approach to reducing the impact of crime and violence. Find out more about our public health approach to violence.
The Mayor is also campaigning nationally to challenge and reform the UK’s drug laws which disproportionally affect young Black residents. Read more about the Mayor's campaigning in his annual report.
Borough of Sanctuary
We have become a Borough of Sanctuary, creating an open and welcoming environment for refugees, asylum seekers and migrants who access our services. We are also working with partners to identify national policy issues where we can work collectively to encourage and enable change.
We are leading the way on refugee resettlement. We will continue our programme to resettle 100 refugee families fleeing war and persecution around the world. Lewisham has always welcomed and supported refugees, with Lewisham welcoming Vietnamese refugees in the 1970s and 1980s. We are proud to continue that tradition today, building on the legacy of previous generations. We fund the Lewisham Refugee and Migrant Network to support this work.
Heritage and culture
One consequence of the appalling killing of George Floyd in the United States in May 2020 was questions being raised around the world about the commemoration of historical figures associated with the slave trade. In response we published our approach to celebrating our heritage appropriately and our work will feed directly into the Mayor of London’s Commission for Diversity in the Public Realm.
Every year, we proudly celebrate Black History Month and support the fact that #itsmorethanamonth. We recognise and celebrate Black culture through activity in and across the borough and in partnership with our community. You can read about some of this year’s Black History Month activities on the I Am Lewisham website.
Internally, our staff have re-established the BAME Professional Network for BAME employees to discuss issues affecting them. The network is developing a programme to support Black and BAME staff and influence positive changes in all areas across the Council. Representatives meet regularly with the Chief Executive and other senior officers to work in partnership on issues that are raised by network members.
We have launched a BAME leadership programme to find the next generation of senior staff from our diverse and talented workforce. 43% of our staff are from BAME backgrounds so we want to invest in future leaders by offering bespoke training and mentoring specifically targeted at BAME staff. As part of an internal ‘Big Conversation’ and with the support of our BAME Professional Network, we are also holding a series of listening events on topics such as race equality in the Council.
The Mayor has appointed high-profile specialist advisers to support and critically challenge the Council as we tackle Black and BAME inequalities. Equalities campaigner Barbara Gray is working with us on BAME health inequalities. Professional trainer and coach Royston John is working with us on BAME career progression.
Working with partners
We work collaboratively and in partnership with Black and BAME-led organisations, service users and community representatives to develop appropriate services.
Lewisham BME Network
The Lewisham BME Network is made up of over 120 stakeholders. The network:
- helps communities develop a strong voice in decision-making
- provides a forum for sharing ideas, skills and resources
- builds BAME organisations’ capacity to maximise their impact by developing their thinking, skills and infrastructure.
Other voluntary and community organisations we partner with include:
- The Lewisham Community Response Hub. This hub was set up to support shielded and vulnerable residents during the pandemic and received over 14,000 referrals. 52% of these residents identified as being from BAME communities.
- Metro Charity. This charity provides a variety of services to the LGBTQ+ community and develops specific projects for BAME residents.
- Lewisham Refugee and Migrant Network and Lewisham Multi-lingual Advice Service (LMLAS). These are members of the Advice Lewisham partnership, and offer generalist and specialist advice in person, by phone and online. They provide access for BAME residents to free advice and information.
Annual high street survey
Lewisham is home to so many independent businesses, amongst the highest in London. We have shops and family-run businesses and restaurants with products and food from all over the world.
Independent and BAME-owned businesses don’t just make Lewisham a more vibrant and fun place to live, they’re good for our local economy too.
We will carry out a new annual survey of our high streets. We will be the first council to count and publish the number of independent retailers and the number of Black and BAME-owned businesses on our high streets. This is a clear signal to small businesses that they’ll always be at home in Lewisham.