Why new Sheffield race equality project hopes to ‘transform’ the city

An independent commission is appealing for people in Sheffield to offer their expertise, thoughts and voices, for a project that will address racial disparities in the city and ‘transform’ it.

Tuesday, 18th August 2020, 9:32 am

Sheffield Race Equality Commission will consist of a group of commissioners, who will contribute to conversations about the nature, extent, causes and impacts of race inequality in Sheffield.

Evidence provided by individuals and organisations will also play a crucial role in the one year project. A report with recommendations for change will be published at the end.

Kevin Hylton, chair of Sheffield Race Equality Commission, said: “I’m hoping that, based on conversations we have with keyholders of Sheffield, we will be able to identify the nature and extent of racial disparities across different fields, to a point to which we can name the problems.

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Kevin Hylton, chair of Sheffield Race Equality Commission.

“We want to be looking at customs, policies and procedures that might be perpetuating.

“It’s about tackling them but also looking at where there are good practices.

“We will use this to write recommendations for tackling these issues.”

Kevin, an emeritus professor at Leeds Beckett University, added: “At the moment it is identifying and trying to engage with the people of Sheffield who wish to have conversations, to really encourage evidence and put themselves forward.

Sheffield City Councillor Abtisam Mohamed. Picture: Chris Etchells

“Without evidence or conversations, we will struggle to have a meaningful and substantial report.”

Kevin hopes the commission will consist of ‘an informed representative group of commissioners’ - a spread of people who understand Sheffield and who demonstrate a ‘diversity of expertise, thought and voices’.

He said: “We want a range of key people who can ask the right questions and get at key issues.”

It is not just commissioners who can have their say though, as those who submit evidence will also be invited to speak, whether their evidence is submitted as an individual or as an organisation.

Sheffield City Councillor Abtisam Mohamed. Picture: Chris Etchells

Kevin added: “We want evidence to count.”

He explained how it was an important project for the city, especially in light of the Black Lives Matter movement and ‘the way the Covid-19 pandemic has disproportionately affected BAME communities’.

Kevin said: “We all know what is happening in the world.

“It is a convergence of major historical concerns and issues around race that only the most hardheaded of organisations would ever dare to ignore.”

Kevin Hylton is also professor of equality and diversity in sport and education at Leeds Beckett University.

He wants to try and engage the citizens of Sheffield with these ‘everyday issues’ in the early stages.

Kevin told how the Race Equality Commission would work to ‘transform organisations in the Sheffield area’, by producing a coherent report for the city.

He said: “There will be people that don’t see those concerns. They might see the opportunity slide by, but many will grasp it with both hands.”

When it is distributed, a working group will ‘give oversight on progress that has been promised’.

Kevin added: “Consistently communicating with the community is important.”

The Race Equality Commission will operate like a Parliamentary Select Committee, which will involve a short-focused inquiry, taking evidence and making recommendations.

The meetings will be public and information will be put on the web page, allowing for more transparency.

Abtisam Mohamed, Labour Councillor for the Firth Park Ward and Cabinet Member for Education and Skills, who is also heading up the project alongside Kevin, is encouraged by the amount of interest shown so far.

She hopes that by the end of the project, there will be a more equitable system for people in Sheffield.

She said: “We hope at the end of the journey, recommendations will be made and we can ensure action.”

She told how the current playing field ‘isn’t level’, for example, individuals being disadvantaged and not eligible for promotion in jobs.

Abtisam explained how people ‘weren’t really aware’ of issues until the news of George Floyd’s killing and Sheffield’s corresponding Black Lives Matter protests.

She said: “There were a number of activists requesting for meaningful action.”

Sheffield City Council decided to put forward a commission to look at what could be done both in the short term and long term.

Abtisam added: “Now it’s how we can move forward to being a more equitable city.”

On ensuring that the commission itself is fair, she explained how it is a time limited project, which will ‘hopefully be done in 12 months’.

Abtisam said: “We want to ensure composition, representation and diversity through expressions of interest.

“Individuals are asked to apply so there is fairness in process.”

The fully independent group will demonstrate a diversity of skills and sectors, drawn from elected representatives and communities across the city, including young people.

Abtisam added: “We are appealing for anybody that is interested in race equality, to work to improve structures and processes.

“Different people from independent and voluntary sectors, young people.

“Also those that have skills and expertise.”

Commissioners will be neutral and they will be expected to contribute expertise rather than represent specific interests, ‘to help Sheffield be as fair and prosperous as possible’.

Discussions will be made regarding different topics, including business and employment, civic life and communities, crime and justice, education, health, and sport and culture.

The commission will ask for data from institutions and invite leaders to speak.

Experiences from individuals and organisations of racial inequality will be included. As will examples of good practice or ideas that help reduce it.

The deadline for commissioner applications is September 1 and evidence must be submitted by September 18.

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