Welcome to my first blog…ever!!
Stop Hate UK is celebrating 20 years since its conception. I am Rose Simkins, Chief Executive, and I thought one of the ways we could mark our 20th year would be writing a monthly blog throughout 2015 so that you can get a feel for our organisation, the people who work within as staff and volunteers, the partners we work with and the people we serve or work for. We hope to blog each month around the 20th although as you can see we’re starting a little late
A couple of weeks ago I met with Harvinder Saimbhi, now Head of Anti-Social Behaviour at Leeds City Council and decided that her relationship with our charity was probably a really good place to start the story as it was her who initially created the project which later evolved into Stop Hate UK. It wasn’t hard to engage Harvi in a chat about the ‘birth’ of Stop Hate UK as she looks back at the early years with pride. 20 years ago the focus of Hate Crime generally was around supporting victims of race Hate Crime.
” I’d worked previously in the social housing sector but saw the position of Equality Officer for the council and decided to apply. I remember thinking it was a very specialised job and did I really want to do it. However, a couple of incidents occurred around that time which persuaded to accept the job. My children were in primary school at the time; my eldest child, who had long hair and was wearing a turban experienced name-calling at the school; I went into school and remember feeling very frustrated because the school didn’t appear to recognise neither that this behavior was racial harassment nor the impact it was having on my child. Not too long after that it was the Christmas holidays and my youngest son came downstairs covered in white powder all over his face. I asked him why he’d done this and he answered ‘Well, they won’t call me brown anymore because I’ve got white powder on my face’. At that time, it had got personal I thought I could change the world and I developed a real passion to tackle racial harassment. I did not want anyone feeling that their identity or the colour of their skin made them feel inferior; this is where my journey began.
Initially the job was very policy orientated; the intention was to work within schools. The racial advisory group, within Leeds City Council, had obtained Section 11 funding which the council matched. The year was 1995, approximately 2 years after the murder of Stephen Lawrence. I was given an opportunity to start from a clean sheet of paper; employ staff, agree terms of reference and develop a project that would tackle racial harassment. I remember Councillor Hutchinson, who was very passionate about Hate Crime and the project, driving matters forward; suddenly, everything came together like a jigsaw puzzle.
I talked to a lot of victims of Hate Crime about what was lacking about the services they needed, and accessed, following their experience. I was creating a service, Leeds Racial Harassment Project (LRHP) which attempted to rebuild victims’ confidence, understand their issues and provide somebody who would challenge on behalf of them. We starting building links into local communities; delivered training to the Police about the differential impact on victims of Hate Crime, as opposed to victims of other crimes and the emotional support those victims therefore needed. We introduced CCTV cameras, an advocacy role, a basic helpline and a number of schools. We challenged the police and other agencies when they didn’t deal effectively or appropriately with victims. Delivering training 20 years ago was challenging and sometimes, it was like walking into a lion’s den; we were trying to get the message across that it was the victim’s perception of the race Hate Crime or incident that was important. Recommendation 12 of the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry – ‘a racist incident is any incident which is perceived to be racist by the victim or any other person’ helped moved the agenda forward. The recognition that the emotional harm and impact goes deeper than for victims of other crimes led to tailored services providing more appropriate support. The McPherson report (1999) had criticised the Police stating there was a lack of community engagement; some officers at the time were quite defensive but all agreed it was ‘good’ that these criticisms had been highlighted and were now on the table to be acted upon.
By 1999/2000 it was decided that the project, which was still managed by the Council, would be better placed to attract alternative funding (the Section 11 funded was coming to an end) if it became an independent charity; and the Council’s Equality Team had started to talk about the different ways in which the agenda of supporting victims of Hate Crime could be taken forward.
After taking the LRHP through this process I decided it was time to move on although I still feel attached to my ‘baby’ 15 years later! I still feel so proud about the foundations I laid; I had developed a staff team who worked with passion and commitment and together we helped make a real difference to the way in which Hate Crime victims in Leeds were listened to and supported. I have watched as the charity has since grown from strength to strength and was recognised as a model of good practice by the Home Office. You’ve(Rose) built on those foundations and developed a sustainable model. In my current role, I’m still supporting the charity by facilitating joint working relationships between Stop Hate UK and the police, local authority, community safety teams and local third sector agencies so that victims of Hate Crime receive the best service they possibly can. I am very pleased to say that, over the past 20 years, the approach to tackling Hate Crime has developedimmensely and victims of Hate Crime in Leeds receive a good service from the Police, Council and Stop Hate UK who are all working closely with each other. My biggest concern about the project becoming a charity was around the insecurities of funding – it’s to Stop Hate UK’s credit that they are alive and kicking and in such a robust position today.”
It was interesting hearing Harvi talk so passionately about LRHP because I too share her passion. I started working for the charity in 2006, six years after Harvi had left. I’d previously managed a housing support service for people seeking asylum. As part of that, we were also a hate incident reporting centre. The service was unfortunately very ‘successful’ in that we received significant numbers of reports of Hate Crimes and incidents; we were subsequently one of the members of a Hate Crime partnership in Kirklees. When I saw the job opportunity for Chief Executive at LRHP I didn’t hesitate to apply as my interest in Hate Crime had been well and truly kindled by that time.
At the time of joining, a number of different things were happening; LRHP were about to run a short, 6-8 week pilot for a 24-hour Hate Crime helpline and I was invited straight down to London to discuss the pilot; the idea being that LRHP coordinate the helpline on behalf of all the West Yorkshire local authorities.
Previously, the helpline had provided an answerphone service; people often left indecipherable messages because they were distressed, hung up, or left clear messages but no contact details; clearly there was an opportunity to improve the service level for callers. The pilot therefore introduced a ‘live’ service, 24 hours a day and no matter what time a caller rang they would have access to a ‘real’ person. It ended up becoming a six-month pilot across the Yorkshire and Humber region. This was the first time I met Doreen Lawrence; the idea for a 24 hour helpline was originally her idea; it was a really exciting and interesting project to walk into at the time.
I had a number of meetings with funders, including Leeds City Council (Equalities) and we decided that we would extend our remit across all the 5 monitored strands of Hate Crime – Disability; Faith and Religion; Gender Identity; Race, nationality and ethnicity; and Sexual Diversity. We kept the existing 0800 number and extended the service to include receipt of calls from victims across all 5 strands. Operationally, this was the beginning of a difficult time for the organization as a number of workers and volunteers needed to be trained to support people around numerous issues on the 5 strands; we needed to draw up a 24 hour rota, develop branding and promote the service as widely as we could. It’s the branding that we developed back in 2006 that we still use today; the service became known as the Stop Hate line. As we were delivering a new service across a wider geographical area we changed our name from LRHP to Stop Hate UK. Doreen Lawrence delivered a speech at our launch event in Hull; it was an exciting time as nobody else had really come up a proper solution which met Recommendation 16 from the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry – ‘The ability to report 24 hours a day.’ At the end of the 6 month pilot and funding period, the Board and staff at Stop Hate UK were unanimous in our belief that we couldn’t and shouldn’t close the helpline, 6 months had been far too short a time to undo the decades of cynicism around Hate Crime reporting so we decided to continue the service and seek funding using a model of small contracts from police forces and local authorities as no central funding was available.
In 2009, with funding from Ministry of Justice’s Victim Fund, we were able to advertise for paid helpline operators and continued to expand the areas in where we worked. We increased the number of ways that people could report Hate Crime; we introduced web chat, text and an online form. We currently have 8 ways to report including BSL and access to interpreting when needed.
The next change came at the end of 2012 when Voice UK, an organisation we had been working with ran into some difficulties and went into liquidation. They’d been running a learning disability helpline; we stepped in quickly to prevent the service closing and secured funding from the Ministry of Justice. It’s now been two years; managing this helpline has enabled us to develop our expertise particularly on learning disability Hate Crime and we now employ an advocate to ensure people get the support they need. In late 2014 another opportunity to have a targeted helpline arose; with funding from the Equality and Human Rights Council we launched the Stop LGB&T Hate Crime helpline in January 2015. This has been a great way to start our 20th year of supporting people; these specialist helplines allow us to further develop our specialist resources around particular strands, widen the reach of the organisation and supporting people which is what we’re all about.
I’ve always worked in the world of supported housing management, homelessness, asylum seeking and refugees so being able to work in a job like this, developing these services is really important for me. I was brought up by family to believe in equality and social justice and this job brings those things together for me; I have the opportunity to campaign for people who either can’t do or are unable to campaign for themselves or simply aren’t being listened to. It’s great providing a service that can demonstrate its openness to everybody and deliver a message that nobody should be targeted because of aspects of their identity. I’m really proud that we have developed a service which meets Recommendation 16 in that somebody is here 24 hours a day, so that if you, or anyone you know, has been affected by a Hate Crime wants to speak to someone, you can. To be able to say we’ve achieved that is enough to ensure that I and the rest of the team here at Stop Hate UK come in every day; our service is accessible, consistent and I’m very proud to say a sustainable service.
Watch out for our next blog later in February!