Easing community tensions – practical advice for charities

Following last Thursday’s referendum result, charities are deeply concerned about the increase in hate crime across the country.  The campaign rhetoric was divisive, igniting racial tensions within communities. Our sector’s roots in local communities make us well placed to speak up for the victims of racist and xenophobic attacks. Our role is clear – civil society must come together to facilitate dialogue and bridge divisions in the communities we serve. Equally, it is crucial that organisations equip their staff and volunteers with the skills to tackle racist or xenophobic behaviours against the people they support.

But what can your organisation and staff do? Below are some practical tips to help ease tension and encourage cohesion.

Xenophobia and racism are unacceptable – make your message clear

In response to the rise of public racist and xenophobic abuse, charities must demonstrate their commitment to inclusivity. It is important to broadcast clearly that xenophobia and racism are unacceptable both internally to staff and to the public. At NCVO, we’ve put up a poster in the entrance of our building that emphasises our continued support for staff and visitors from all nationalities and backgrounds. Sending an email to all staff offering to discuss any concerns in private can be a helpful way to offer support without singling out particular individuals.

Thomas Lawson, CEO of LEAP Confronting Conflict, gives us some examples of how charities can support their staff:

‘As a leader or manager, keep watch on the emotions within your team or organisation. On the day of the Brexit vote we at Leap Confronting Conflict had a staff lunch, being a voluntary safe space for discussion of the thoughts, feelings and implications of the Brexit vote for individual staff members, and how this was affecting people within the organisation.

‘If you are going to encourage spaces or conversations, think about how these will be managed to encourage listening and mutual understanding between colleagues. We ended our discussion with the question: ‘what opportunity can emerge from this change?’ Change always brings opportunities and it may be that there is one for your organisation that can be identified by your staff.

‘At Leap Confronting Conflict, we are suggesting that our board sends a message to all staff recognizing the value that comes from having staff from different countries and acknowledging the concern that some staff may have about their rights to work in the UK in the long term.’

Wearing a safety pin has become a simple way to show solidarity with migrants and ethnic minorities. Originating on Twitter with the hashtag #SafetyPin, potential targets of abuse have a visible reminder that they are not alone.

However, it is essential to follow through with action to complement your message. Fiyaz Mughal, Director of Tell MAMA, explains what charities can do to translate a strong, inclusive message into action:

  • Charities can highlight shared values in articles between communities in our country and promote the need for communities to appropriately challenge prejudice where they come across this.
  • They can hold local events with officers from their local police force about re-assuring communities and also ensuring that senior officers ramp up visibility at times of tension or national crisis.
  • They can challenge local media headlines that play on divisions by writing in, meeting with editors and getting others to write in and campaign against a ‘clickbait’ culture that is developing through inflammatory headlines.

Support organisations working with affected groups

Organisations supporting refugees, promoting migrant’s rights and combating racism are likely to see an increase in demand for their services. Get involved with their campaigns or volunteer locally to make a real difference.

Kate Allen, Director of Amnesty International UK adds:

Lots of people feel worried about the way things are going across the country, and are concerned about a sense that we have seen a shift in what’s considered appropriate. Some people clearly think it’s open season to say racist, xenophobic things. There’s no doubt that unpleasant rhetoric used in the referendum campaign endorsed divisive behaviour here, and we want people all over the country to call on their local councils to commit to stepping up protections as well as denouncing racism.

You can get involved with Amnesty’s #againsthate campaign here.

If you experience or witness an attack – report it

Many people feel intimated or afraid if they are faced with, or witness, an attack, and do not know how to respond. Whether you are a victim or a passer-by, you can report a hate incident or crime to the police. Filming the incident on your phone can be helpful evidence for the police and has led to convictions. Alternatively, it’s useful to collect as much information about the offender as possible – such as age, height, build, gender, ethnicity and clothing.

For details on how to report an attack, the Citizens Advice website is a useful resource. If it is safe to do so, witnesses should tell the perpetrator to stop their abuse. Politely but firmly asking the offender to stop signals that their behaviour is unacceptable and prevents the victim feeling isolated. Liberty has compiled a list of organisations to contact for support if you are victim to an attack.

Fiyaz Mughal, Director of Tell MAMA adds that charities should make this information available to staff and the public:

Charities can inform the public about the need to report hate incidents and crimes and provide some basic information on what this means, where it can be reported in and the unacceptable nature of it with signposting.

Volunteering as a bridge between communities

In short: Charities should feel confident when taking on asylum seekers and refugees as volunteers.

We are currently reviewing and updating our guidance on accepting volunteers from overseas, to give organisations and potential volunteers accurate and up-to-date information. We aim to reduce barriers to volunteering and give people the confidence to volunteer. Involving volunteers from diverse backgrounds, including refugees and asylum seekers, as volunteers could bring new perspectives to your work and introduce people that may not have met otherwise.

My colleague Jarina’s blog has some useful pointers on how you can help refugees to volunteer and guidance on the rules.

Connecting communities

The referendum result has revealed that people feel disconnected from one another and distrustful of those that govern them. It is our duty to reach out to our local communities and give voice to their concerns. And it is our responsibility to challenge xenophobia and racism whenever and wherever it takes place. We will be using the hashtag #welcomehere to show our support for migrants over the coming weeks.




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Kimberly McIntosh was trainee policy officer at NCVO. She worked on the Freedom of Information response and administered the Campaigning Advisory Group secretariat.

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