Birmingham 2022 joins forces with grassroots organisations to champion greater diversity ahead of Commonwealth Games

‘We need to do more to celebrate people from Commonwealth countries’

The Birmingham 2022 team have joined forces with organisations championing inclusivity in their communities and workspaces to mark National Inclusion Week.

Designed to celebrate everyday inclusion in all its forms, the city’s Commonwealth Games body set up an ‘Inclusion Marketplace’ at their Brindley Place headquarters to showcase the best of diversity and representation among the many organisations working towards Birmingham hosting the major sporting event next year.

Birmingham 2022 invited organisations and companies with local, national and regional impact including Birmingham City Council, Commonwealth Federation, Saathi House, Team England, Bannatynes, Cycle UK and Migrant Voice; all of whom are working with the Games to promote and improve grassroots relationships with underrepresented communities.

Every year National Inclusion Week has a theme and in 2021 it’s about unity,  with the hashtag #UnitedForInclusion focusing on city-wide organisations achieving this by uniting to share learning, best practice, successes and challenges.

According to organisers, this year’s theme is a response to the challenges of 2020 which included the global pandemic, and the call for action on anti-racism following the murder of George Floyd. Bringing together different communities and organisations allows businesses and charities to work together on how to be most effective in a response to these challenges.

“We will have open conversations. They may be challenging and uncomfortable, but they will drive change and inspire action. Change and action are vital in our mission to make inclusion an everyday reality,” a representative of Inclusive Employers said.

Shah Begum works for the Birmingham 2022 Legacy and Benefits Team and has been identifying key organisations to work closely with the Games over the next year.

“Today we are having an Inclusion Market as part of National Inclusion Week. We’re celebrating the diverse nature of the communities that make up the West Midlands region but also our staff and our games delivery partners, and it’s a way of inviting the community in to tell them about the games, to talk about the games and find opportunities for them to get involved.

“Our games mission is to be the Games for everyone and when we say that we’re not just paying lip service, we are going through all of our work streams, all of our delivery partners and really challenging them to say: What are the barriers and boundaries for people from communities that don’t traditionally take part? What challenges do they face? How can we be proactive and help to break down those barriers and help find a way to invite them in?

“There’s a saying that ‘if you only do what you’ve every done, you’ll only get what you’ve ever got’ so what can we do that’s new, that’s innovative and set a benchmark and be the threshold that future games and future major events in cities like Birmingham and across the globe will aims towards?”

Among the community hubs recruited by Shah is Saathi House, a women’s empowerment centre which primarily serves South Asian and African Caribbean women.

“Saathi House is quite close to my heart, it’s based in Aston which is the community I grew up in and it’s an organisation that I’ve seen thrive. 

“I think it’s important because it has the connections to the people that live and work in that area, you have that connection and those grassroots community feel and the line of communication with them, something that we don’t have at the Games at the moment, so it’s important that we work with Saathi House to get our messages out to the community and ask them to be involved; not just in like sport and tickets but in volunteering opportunities, the jobs and recruitment we’re going to be doing between now and the Games.

“The cultural programme, the festivals and the live sites that we’re going to be bringing as part of the celebration of the Games, we want communities from across the region to engage with that and part of getting that message is through organisations like Saathi House.”

Shamsun Choudhury, health and wellbeing co-ordinator for Saathi House, attended the Inclusion Marketplace.

“It’s a great opportunity for us to meet the people behind the Games and share our input. We’re also a community partner in the Games and run sports activities for our members who come from underrepresented communities so to be part of this allows us to highlight our work and how we can improve access for people from disadvantaged and migrant backgrounds.

“We’ve been playing a key role in recruitment of volunteers for the Games and are working with the team here to recruit Birmingham residents to be part of the key ceremonies for the Commonwealth Games too.”

Saathi House has been ramping up fitness activities post-Covid restrictions with group walks, cycling, aerobics and will be helping to coordinate a new Park Run in north Birmingham with Aston Villa football club.

As part of this strategy, the anchor organisation has been working with the ‘United By’ initiative from Birmingham 2022 to develop and run a programme of services geared towards improving the mental health and wellbeing of its members, most from BAME communities disproportionately affected by Covid-19.

Alexander Appleyard-Keeling, development officer for Cycling UK, attended the week-long inclusivity ‘marketplace’ to highlight the need for greater accessibility in active sport enterprises.

“What we’re doing with the workplaces scheme funded by Transport for West Midlands is trying to get more people to consider cycling for work or actually cycling to work, but we’re also trying to include more communities from across the West Midlands in cycling.

“We do that through community cycling clubs as well as the Big Bike Revival, get funding out to populations usually in either POLAR 1, 2, 3 (the participation of local areas) or ethnic minorities or people with disabilities, to try and get more people cycling because obviously, there is a massive disparity even with cycling in cost and equipment and being able to afford to cycle which is something people have to consider.

“Obviously everyone thinks of Commonwealth Games and they think ‘elite sport’ but I think the trickle down effect of major games can have an impact on local communities if it’s done correctly, and I think people like Cycle UK as well as other British cycling organisations such as British Cycling, Sustrans, Living Streets, can use an event like this show people that active travel is really beneficial… and getting things like that involved around the Commonwealth Games and showing people that active travel is so important can really help have a lasting legacy, not just on an elite sport level.”

Echoing his sentiments, Salman Mirza from Migrant Voice used the opportunity to discuss improving inclusion for people of Commonwealth heritage.

“The Commonwealth Games are about celebrating the Commonwealth but why just celebrate it when it comes to sport? I think we should celebrate Commonwealth people coming to the UK whether they’re care workers or whether they’re athletes, and Migrant Voice is about getting people who don’t get to compete in the Commonwealth Games but are Commonwealth citizens, people who look after us everyday and we clap for them during Covid, getting those voices heard as well as the celebrity athletes.

“I think there should be a legacy of the Commonwealth Games and, if we’re talking about the Commonwealth, we should say there are Commonwealth citizens here who have limited Leave to Remain, who struggle financially, who are victims of a Hostile Environment, and all that should be thrown out in the bin. Because when we talk about the Hostile Environment, we don’t talk about the Commonwealth Games and the Hostile Environment, but we’ll talk about it after the Commonwealth Games.”

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