Monthly Archives: October 2018

Black History Month: Frank Bailey, Britain’s First Black Firefighter

Frank Bailey was born in Guyana, and, like many other Caribbeans of his generation, came to the UK in the 1950s. Black History Month is rightly seen as a time to celebrate the contributions of Black British people to society, and Frank made a hugely positive contribution to his new country after his arrival. By the 1950s, many of the country’s key workers in vital sectors, such as on the London Transport Network and in nursing, were of Caribbean origin. Frank, however, is particularly remembered for his status as the UK’s first full-time Black Firefighter, a position he took up two years after his arrival in Britain, in 1955.

Despite, shockingly, being told that the fire brigades ‘were not hiring black men because they were not strong enough physically or well enough educated to do the job’, Frank decided to challenge this injustice by applying to join the service. He was accepted, and began working for the West Ham fire brigade in East London. A highly talented firefighter, Frank was also a dedicated trade unionist, and became the Fire Brigades Union’s (FBU) Branch Secretary in his station. However, despite breaking into a previously closed-off profession, Frank still faced discrimination, and left the brigade in 1965, citing the fact that he was consistently passed over for promotion.

While Frank’s subsequent career as a social worker was also very successful, as he broke new ground in becoming one of the London Borough of Kensington and Chelsea’s first black mental welfare officers and psychiatric social workers, it is perhaps his status as a pioneer in the fire brigades that is his most enduring legacy. When he died in 2015, the FBU National Secretary for Black & Ethnic Minority Members Michael Nicholas said that Frank’s “knowledge and passion for black self-organisation and progression in our society remains an inspiration to us today and he is rightly thought of as the father of black firefighting in this country and should not be forgotten”. According to his obituary, until his death Frank had remained a committed follower of African and Caribbean politics and a consistent champion of equality and the rights of working people, particularly black people.

Nowadays, fire brigades such as West Midlands Fire Service, far from not hiring black men, are committed to “actively encourage applications from members of the West Midlands’ black, Asian and ethnic minority communities”, as part of their drive to make the brigade more representative of the area it serves. Since the West Midlands Fire Service changed its approach to recruitment in January 2018, 32% of successful candidates for firefighter roles have been from black or other ethnic minority backgrounds. While much more needs to be done, these are encouraging signs that the discrimination suffered by pioneers such as Frank Bailey was not in vain. The gains that have been made so far have been thanks to the tireless organising and campaigning of black men and women such as Frank, and that is why it is important that we should use the opportunity provided by Black History Month to remember and honour the vital contributions that these people have made to British life.


The Future of Corporate Social Responsibility

Last month, The Future Melting Pot attended a Corporate Social Responsibility summit held at Aston University (for a full report of what happened at the event please click here). The summit was focused on the future of Corporate Social Responsibility, and this is a question which is incredibly important to the whole of the third sector, particularly at a time when funding sources are under increasing strain.

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) has a mixed history. As was discussed at the summit, there has been a tendency in the past for big corporations to see CSR as merely a box to tick, something they felt they had to do but not something that was approach with real imagination. Lorna Gavin of Law Firm Gowling complained about the tendency to use highly-trained lawyers to paint fences for corporate fundraisers, not an efficient use of their skill-set. Worse, it could be argued that many big companies use CSR to cover up their wider unethical business practices. This is particularly prominent in the environmental sector, and has led to the coining of the term ‘Greenwashing’, meaning a form of corporate spin in which green PR or green marketing is deceptively used to promote the perception that an organisation’s products, aims or policies are environmentally friendly.

Clearly, there is potential for CSR to be more than paying lip-service to the idea that company’s have a wider, social responsibility beyond providing large dividends for their shareholders, and more than a clever PR strategy to increase businesses’ marketability to a consuming public that is increasingly concerned to purchase more ethically. Some call for businesses to do much much more: Peter Holbrook, the CEO of Social Enterprise UK, believes that every business should be a social enterprise. This means an organisation that is constituted to operate not just for profit, and not just in a socially responsible way limiting their negative impact, but in such a way that they make an actively positive impact on their local community and the wider environment. Social enterprises have been found to have productivity benefits, alongside recruitment and other positives.

Not everyone would argue that it is possible for all businesses to be social enterprises, however, it is clear that more and more companies are choosing this way of operating, while private businesses are coming under increasing pressure to ensure that their CSR is genuine, effective and not just another box to tick. Summits such as that held at Aston University last month, which bring together people from all sides of the debate across all three sectors, can only be a good thing.

Association of Jamaican Nationals Gala & Awards

On Saturday 13th October, The Future Melting Pot’s CEO Estella Edwards was both delighted and humbled to be nominated for, and subsequently to win, a Local Hero Award at the Association of Jamaican Nationals Gala & Awards evening. Held at Aston Villa Football Club, in the heart of Birmingham, the evening was a fantastic celebration of the contribution of Jamaicans and those of Jamaican descent to public life here in the West Midlands.

The evening began with speeches and contributions from luminaries such as Councillor Yvonne Mosquito, the Lord Mayor of Birmingham, Dr Beverly Lindsay, Vice Lord-Lieutenant of the West Midlands and AJN Chairperson, and West Midlands Metro Mayor Andy Street, before musical entertainment and a rousing keynote address by Sir Geoff Palmer OBE. All agreed with the sentiments of Dr Lindsay that it was important for communities, proud of their collective identities, to reward and celebrate their champions.

The awards given to local heroes who have achieved so much in the Birmingham community were linked with national heroes of Jamaica. As we are currently in the middle of the United Kingdom’s Black History Month, this nod to the past seemed particularly appropriate, as the men and women awarded on Saturday were demonstrated to be following in the footsteps of some of Jamaica’s most admired historical figures. These included the protest leader Paul Bogle, Jamaica’s first Prime Minister Alexander Bustamante, the female freedom fighter Nanny of the Maroons, and Sam Sharpe, the martyred leader of the 1831 slave rebellion, with whom Estella’s award was linked.

The evening also saw the rewarding of the next generation, with the impressive young people who won Be Inspired Youth Awards providing reassurance that the future is bright. In bringing together so many passionate and committed individuals, in a mood of both celebration and reflection, the event was a perfect reminder of the importance of strong communities coming together.