Blog by Steve Nelson, CEO of Wesport (the West of England Sport Trust)
It has been virtually impossible to ignore the conversations sparked by the Black Lives Matter protests following the death of George Floyd. For me, it has led to conversations at home and at work (virtually), making sense of what this means to me, to who we are, what we do and how we work as an organisation.
On a personal level, as a 1st generation black British man of Jamaican parentage, this debate is not a new one. I would sit and listen to my dad and uncles discussing loudly as a young teenager, as well as experiencing overt racism directed at me, friends and loved ones. I had honest conversations with my wife when our mixed race children were born, as to how some people in society will view them, based on the colour of their skin.
Sport appealed to me as a place where I felt judged on my actions, not what I looked like. I was able to turn my enjoyment of sport into a professional career, where some of the normal pressures in society are diluted – I played a sport (basketball) with high participation levels of black people, which tended to attract followers who were not racist, at least not overtly so. My full personal and organisational statement can be read here.
Conversations with my team at Wesport, led me to speak to a few colleagues – CEOs in other Active Partnerships. . This led to the establishment of a small group of 10 Active Partnerships, who then worked on and sent a memo to our national team, board and shared with the network. It set out initial thoughts and principles for us to respond as a network to the issues raised by Black Lives Matter, here in England.
Around the same time, Sadie Mason (CEO, Active Sussex) and I took part in a podcast with Simon Kirkland (Sport Structures) talking about our personal experiences, particularly related to our experiences in basketball.
As a network, our potential to respond collectively and positively to the inequalities that black people face in this country is significant. It has been rewarding to see the willingness of my colleagues to act… and to act together.
Through a number of meetings in the summer, the small group (now 12 Active Partnerships CEOs, with Lee from the national team) have been developing our thinking and ideas for moving forward and acting together on an issue of huge social importance. With the support of the national team, we have developed a starting point to take us forward, building our ability to act on this issue, individually, as organisations and as a network.
Every Active Partnerships, CEO has been invited to the first of 3 learning events (with an ambition to cascade training into the regions and for all staff) on Monday 5th October. The first session will aim to build awareness, create confidence and provide a safe space to learn and share. Two additional sessions will follow on and will help; Identify the commitment to what we want to achieve and the tools available to help to do so; and agree actions at Active Partnership national, local and individual levels.
We are pleased to have secured psychologist John Amaechi as our opening speaker at our first event – please look him up on twitter, Linkedin or google – he has been very active and vocal on this and related issues.
A session for Active Partnership Chairs has also been organised to discuss equality and diversity at board level. The statistical correlation between diverse teams and boards, and organisations making better decisions, more money and being more creative are proven – diverse workforces outperform non-diverse workforces every time.
This is a beginning. It is time to start to make the changes that will lead to long-term changes in how this country deals with race. This is the time to use our influence, teams and networks to be part of the solution. I look forward to working with colleagues across the network to ensure Black Lives Matter.
Steve Nelson, CEO, Wesport
Wesport is the Active Partnership for the West of England, working across the four Unitary Authorities of Bath and North East Somerset, Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire