9 July 2021

One year on - tackling racism, inequality and social injustice



One year ago, we set out our intention to become an anti-racist organisation, in response to the murder of George Floyd and a resurgent Black Lives Matter movement.

Standing with all those who came together to bring about change and support the fight against racism, we made a number of commitments that would set us on our own journey to tackle racism, inequality and social injustice. We have been making progress on those commitments, and I wanted to share some of the highlights of that work with you.

Tackling inequality head on

To support the development of our Equality, Diversity & Inclusion (EDI) strategy, we launched an EDI taskforce. That group is chaired by a member of the Board, Hugh Thornbery, and is made up of colleagues from across Octavia, including members of our Uplift and LGBT+ affinity groups. The taskforce meets regularly and was set up to ensure progress against our BLM commitments.

Increasing our awareness and understanding

Sharing information is vital as we seek to increase awareness and understanding, so we’ve created a learning hub for Equality, Diversity & Inclusion which is available to all colleagues and includes a range of resources from blogs to articles, as well as book suggestions, podcasts and videos.

To inform our strategy, we’ve captured equality data across our organisation, together with ongoing feedback on diversity through our Pulse surveys. Capturing this data is important because it helps us identify where there are inequalities and to support positive action to address them. To build knowledge and awareness across our leadership team we’ve also delivered EDI training to all senior leaders in Octavia. That training is being rolled out to all managers soon, and then to all colleagues later this year.

Engaging with residents has enabled us to better understand any disparities relating to our services. We know from that research that Black residents are still more likely to be living in overcrowded housing or to have been served a notice due to rent arrears. So we contacted all residents living in overcrowded households and on our transfer waiting list, reviewing their situation and our response, enabling 21 families to move to a more suitable home, including 12 through our mutual exchange scheme. We were also able to help more than 250 residents struggling to meet rent payments, through our newly established Financial Inclusion service.

As part of our commitment to connect with external networks to share ideas and identify best practice on being anti-racist, I was invited to join the Leadership 2025, which has been established to

dismantle structural inequality within the housing sector. I am also a member of the National Housing Federation’s CEO diversity group, which is helping housing associations improve equality, diversity and inclusion at board level. We’ve also been working closely with the Race Equality Foundation to understand and highlight ethnic disparities within the housing market.

Supporting Black and Asian colleagues

Our organisation is diverse, and that diversity is one of our many strengths. In addition to our existing LGBTQ+ affinity group, we established Uplift, our Black staff network, to create a safe place for sharing and mutual support. These groups feed into the EDI Task Force, to help us build understanding in all areas of diversity and inclusion, and to make meaningful change in the medium to long term. Both our affinity groups play an active role in promoting a more inclusive workplace.

Take affirmative action

The majority of colleagues at Octavia are from Black and Minority Ethnic communities, with just 32% of colleagues identifying as white. At a senior manager level, the split is almost equal, 50% white and 49% Black and Minority Ethnic, though 67% of our Leadership team members (‘Head of’ and above) are white. 43% of our volunteers in 2020/21 are from non-white backgrounds.

Whilst we have begun to make some good progress, these figures show that there is much more to be done to ensure that talented individuals are able to progress their careers with Octavia. We are committed to opening up pathways to leadership roles in order to improve the representation of Black and Asian colleagues at leadership level. As part of that commitment, we’ve signed the Race at Work Charter and begun to develop our allyship and mentoring programmes to promote and inspire inclusion and opportunity across our organisation. We will seek to open up pathways into leadership roles that address the glass ceiling for underrepresented colleagues. We will also examine other areas, such as pay, travel and expenses, and our recruitment process, to ensure that our language, job descriptions, candidate pools and policies reflect the diverse nature of our organisation.

Our Board, though diverse, does not currently reflect the communities we serve. We remain determined to address this as future opportunities arise. To support our continued focus on equality, diversity and inclusion in the meantime, we have appointed an apprentice from a Black background to the Board.

Amplifying voices within our communities

In 2009, we released a documentary called ‘Grove Roots’, which highlighted the racism and injustice faced by many members of the Windrush generation, who settled in London in the 1950s and 1960s. This documentary is one of four films produced by young people from diverse backgrounds which highlights the experiences of Black people and their contribution to the fabric of London and the communities we serve.

Building on the success of that award winning documentary, later this month, we will be releasing two new films, under the title ‘A Time For Change’, which will highlight and explore unconscious bias as seen through the eyes of young people living in London. Those films have been written, directed, acted, produced, filmed and edited by a mixed ethnic group of young people from our Base@theReed arts and digital media youth club located in North Kensington.

As a result of our film and digital projects, a number of young people from Base have gone on to further education or to work in the digital arts professions. This year, five young people secured offers at leading creative institutions such as The Brit School and the London Film School, the highest number of offers in any one year to date.

Supporting our communities

As part of our pledge to leverage social value from our suppliers, contractors and consultants, we were contacted by Mears, our repair and maintenance partner, as a direct result of our BLM commitments.

Since then, we have been working with Mears on a number of projects and initiatives through their independent charity, The Mears Foundation. This relationship has been instrumental in supporting a number of our fundraising initiatives, and our befriending services, which offer vital emotional support to vulnerable or lonely adults. Mears, in partnership with the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea and the Venture Centre, have also helped us develop a new community food pantry to provide residents in North Kensington with access to fresh, frozen and cupboard items at a dramatically reduced cost.

As part of our commitment to provide opportunities for employment and training for under-represented groups, we’ve also supported 103 people with access to new employment during the year, with 16 people supported into work. Working with our IT services partner, Aaeron, we have also developed a pilot mentoring scheme to provide coaching and advice to help people into work within the tech sector, which has also led to offers of full-time employment for some of those taking part.

We are already promoting Black Pound Day, which encourages consumers to switch up their usual shopping destinations to local and online Black-owned businesses on the first Saturday of every month and will start to explore how our procurement activity can open up direct opportunities for black-led businesses - one of our stated commitments.

Later this year we will publish our new Communities Strategy, through which we will seek to address inequality by harnessing our services to ensure equality of outcome for disadvantaged groups. We will continue to promote skills development and better life chances for younger people through inspiring opportunities and help to build generational wealth by supporting financial literacy, facilitating entrepreneurship and providing training to help people develop their careers.

A lasting legacy

Tackling racism, inequality and social injustice is fundamental to what we stand for. We know it will take time to affect real change and our commitment remains as strong as ever. It is an ongoing struggle and one where we need to sustain not just the conversation but action.

As a housing provider, we have a vital role to play in improving quality of life and equity of opportunity, by ensuring that residents are empowered, not excluded, by their housing. That is why we embedded tackling inequality as a key part of our new corporate strategy, Better Lives for All, which we launched earlier this year.

There is still much work for us to do, but by continuing to champion equality, diversity and inclusion, within our own organisation and within the communities we serve, we can build a lasting legacy for future generations.