October is Black History Month in the UK, a time when all of us celebrate black contributions to British society. As we see councils being condemned for the re-branding of Black History Month, we believe there has never been a more important time to celebrate it. 

Our belief in celebrating black culture and achievements means that we want all of our staff to have the opportunity to gain insight into Bristol's local BME communities. This helps build professional and personal cultural competence and confidence for our frontline and management staff. 

Around the world in five stops 

The first people you meet when you come to The Station are our estates staff. Our reception area is where you're welcomed and offered information. Young people need to trust not only our youth workers, but also anyone who they see on a regular basis. They need to feel welcomed and be comfortable enough to ask our receptionists where they can get support. 

That's why during the summer we found it important to organise an away day for our estates staff to go on a SARI cultural awareness tour. We already welcome a wide range of people to The Station, including our Welcome Wednesday session specifically for young asylum seekers and refugees, and we're always keen to improve our services by raising our knowledge and understanding of Bristol's ever more diverse young communities.

On the day, we visited three religious buildings: a Hindu Temple, a Mosque and a Sikh Temple and had talks from leaders in the Gypsy/Traveller and Somali communities. It was very interesting to see how each differed with regards to tradition and custom but also to see how much each community shared.  

A sense of place

The aesthetic differences in the buildings were pronounced, the Hindu Temple was opulent and the Hindu Gods, male and female, sat side by side at the shrine.

The Mosque was understated, sparsely decorated apart from the scriptures on the walls and the Sikh temple was a series of vast rooms where several paintings hung showing iconic Sikh battles.

Our speaker from the Gypsy/Traveller community talked about travelling life and the need to have the freedom to choose where to call home and also the barriers faced by traveller people in accessing services that require you to have ‘roots’ such as doctor’s surgeries and schools.

Then in the Somali community almost the opposite, the desire to have a place to call home but being displaced due to circumstances out of your control. The sense of space and place are incredibly important.

The religious spaces in particular offered a constant – somewhere that, regardless of where you accessed them, was a familiar anchor connecting you to your religion and therefore your community. It was interesting that stability meant different things to different people but overall it was generally having a place that felt safe and familiar.

I wondered whether The Station offers this? Whilst we work together with partners, such as Babbasa, Youth Moves, ACE, Empire Fighting Chance, all embedded in their local communities, what else can we do to make sure young people from our diverse communities have access to high quality support. Do we, for example, provide enough spaces for people to fulfil their religious obligations? Are we providing a space that is welcoming to people who speak another language?

I’m just like you

The commonalities, particularly around shared values, were acute. Across the religions there was a prevalence of giving and sharing. I also noticed that all communities shared the idea that ‘it takes a village’ to support all aspects of life, whether it be education, raising children or sharing wealth. We also take this shared approach when we work with young people: we get to know all aspects of their lives and enable them to build a support network.

In Hinduism, Sikhism and Islam children are steered toward education and encouraged to follow the religious ideals of clean living and sexual abstinence before marriage. The world outside of tradition appeared a daunting prospect for parents of young teens and particularly if those teens were female. The roles of men and women were clearly defined. Separate places to worship, different jobs in the home, different ways to socialise and I wondered how this would affect young people’s engagement with The Station.

Are we offering enough opportunities for males and females to socialise separately or is this something that we should be encouraging at all? Do we need to open the conversations with these communities about how young people can safely socialise together? And whilst we work with Bristol City Council to run the Unity Youth Forum, a group of BME young people who campaign to get their voices heard on city-wide issues, what more can we be doing?

Overall a fascinating day that opened up lots of questions. Let's start a conversation. What do you think? Let us know in the comments below. What can we do to further improve and be a space for young people from all backgrounds?