As we continue to market the GROW Fund and spread the word about this fantastic opportunity in the community, we can’t help but think about all the work that still needs to be done in making it equitable and inclusive to all. We realise there is still a lot of work to be done – deep systemic work in fact.
So far, many applications for the GROW fund have been from founders, entrepreneurs, and organisations who are black-led and female-led – it is great to see representation from these groups in the borough. But we have not yet reached LGBTQ+-led organisations for example, or people with ideas to positively impact the LGBTQ+ community in Barking and Dagenham.
This is raising questions for us, especially as we start to enter into conversations about the diversity and inclusivity of our fund, and in other conversations with the community. As we look to the future of the GROW Fund, we must question how we are going to attract others from underrepresented demographics in the borough.
We believe more engagement and participation with LGBTQ+ persons is a prerequisite to resolving or spreading equity; but, there are inherent and systemic barriers for queer people in the borough, including the awful legacy left by police wrongdoings in the handling of the infamous Stephen Port case.
The LGBTQ+ Mixer
As we loom into March, we would like to reflect on last month’s LGBTQ+ history month. Adeshola, our Content and Communications officer, and I attended an LGBTQ+ professional mixer last Thursday at Factory 15, the amazing bar and event space at the bottom of our office building. The event was hosted by the local authority’s LGBTQ+ staff network – it’s thanks to Athena, Carlos and Wayne that we were able to come together for rich and insightful conversations over some good food and drinks.
Half of BD Giving’s team identifies as queer so it is very close to our hearts. We attended the event with open minds and open arms as we looked to create new relationships with both queer professionals and residents in Barking and Dagenham.
The room was full of optimism and solidarity, with everyone looking for a brighter future for the LGBTQ+ population in the borough. We know from speaking to people in the room, as well as insight we have sought from others, queer visibility in the borough is not great. Some people at the event said that they felt unsafe here and are fearful of abuse and prejudice.
Indeed, just last week I met with a community artist who told me that when deciding where to live with their partner, they decided to move to another London borough. They had thought about living in the now RIBA-nominated House for Artists building in Barking but concluded staying in the borough was not an option for them as they didn’t feel safe and comfortable living in Barking as a queer couple.
Something needs to change
At the event, it was clear that everyone present wanted to see a change in the borough.
They were all united and committed to enacting that change, together. While it wasn’t clear what the next steps were, there was a tangible commitment from the group that we would continue these conversations. It felt like the start of something great. The moment felt glorious and powerful.
The event was a perfect opportunity for networking and stakeholder engagement as we heard from residents of the borough to capture their truth. During the event, I asked questions to people about what change they want to see in the next 1-3 years and how realistic this change was, as well as what’s currently happening and missing for queer residents. Questions pinned to the wall for guests to answer evoked interesting responses and information about the queer experience in Barking and Dagenham.
What stuck out the most for me was this…
“There are queer people here in the borough. We are here and we’re not going anywhere but we’re just hidden away.”
In some form or another, I heard this repeatedly. It did make me stop and think … I realised that more work must be done to create a safe and welcoming space for LGBTQ+ people; current residents and people moving into the borough.
What could we do?
It got us thinking about how we assess the social impact and legacy of the GROW Fund and how we think about equity, diversity and inclusion in our processes.
We know there are people and organisations out there who are currently pioneering social investment in underrepresented and marginalised groups. The fantastic work by Unltd and Big Issue Invest and their joint venture, the Growth Impact Fund, is an example with a specific focus on diversity-led organisations and harbouring impact in underrepresented communities across the U.K.
In their first learning report, the Growth Impact Fund says they have already learnt so much, with only 6 months of operations under the belt and no investments made yet. Though, they already explicitly state that there is an unmet demand for investment from diverse-led social purpose organisations.
The fantastic work of Trust for London is an example of how to embed diversity, inclusion and equity into social investment. They’ve been making social investments since 2012, specifically attracting groups that are led by or working with: women, disabled people, BME people, refugees and LGBTQ+ people.
We’d like to know more about their success stories and how they continue to attract groups/organisations who have been intentionally excluded from traditional funding bodies and opportunities. We do place-based work and have to navigate different micro-nuances of place and space, so maybe we look to see insight from other social investment bodies who practise targeted place-based social investment work.
Finally, we encourage applications from people in the LGBTQ+ community – and other underrepresented groups. If you are a queer entrepreneur, with an interest in curating a safer space, we urge you to find out more (click here for more information).
We see the future of our borough as one where underrepresented groups have the same opportunities as others. We want to spread equity across the borough. If that takes a bit of work beforehand, then it’s going to be worth it.
BD Giving Notes is a weekly blog aimed at sharing some thoughts on running a social infrastructure charity. Each post focuses on a couple of things we have learnt or done in the previous week; what’s gone well and what didn’t.