Champions of Diversity forced to take a back seat because of coronavirus pandemic

  • Award-winning BAME group forced to stand down because of pandemic
  • Issues of racism need to be addressed during crisis, say campaigners

Manchester’s award winning hate-crime prevention project, Diversity Champions, have been forced to suspend all current and future activity until further notice due to the covid-19 outbreak.

The project, which was established due the rise in hate crimes after the Manchester Arena attack, has had to suspend its work despite a new wave of xenophobic hate crime rising due to Covid-19.

Research by Al Jazeera found over ten thousand posts on Twitter which included the term ‘Kung-flu’ when referring to the coronavirus, but with the UK on lockdown, people are beginning to question how these rising issues will be tackled.

The Diversity Champions – based at The University of Manchester, aims to work with schoolchildren and young people aged 13 – 15 to help improve their understanding of hate crime and provide them with the skills they need to tackle it in their community.

For Manchester communities, the suspension of programmes such as The Diversity Champions means that the schools and working class young people involved in these projects will be hindered from gaining fundamental training and awareness on issues significant to themselves.

The outreach programmes taught by the project are not required within the school curriculums so fears that young people will be missing out on fundamental training on how to tackle hate crimes have been voiced.

Iqra Shah, 23, who is the student recruitment and widening participation graduate intern at the University of Manchester, has voiced her growing concerns on the suspension of the project: “Our main priority and concern will always be the safety of our staff and students but it is a great shame that we have had to temporarily suspend our outreach work. The young people we worked with were eager to begin the programme this year.”

She added: “These are hard times for everybody but it especially worries me that BAME people are more vulnerable to Covid-19 and I fear what that can mean for our young people. The xenophobia is awful… it really is a great shame that these situations have risen due to the same thing [covid-19] that has hindered our work to tackle them.”

Kids of Colour, another Manchester-based charity which also works with young people has also tweeted a response to the impact of Covid-19 on BAME communities on Twitter: “But due to racial inequality, many Y-PoC [Young People of Colour] will have families who’ve lost jobs, parents struggling to pay rent. They themselves may be going back to schools that have misjudged their grades. The list goes on. This pandemic is deepening inequality for Y-PoC.”

The platform, which strives to encourage young people of colour to explore race and identity and aim to challenge institutionalised racism, was unavailable for interviews at the time.

Iqra Shah said: “The Manchester Access Programme [MAP] has had to adapt due to the Covid-19 outbreak and the majority of young people on that programme are also Black or Minority Ethnic. It seems the struggle for these students will only get worse.”

A year 12 participant on the Manchester Access Programme, Tayyibah Shah, 17, voiced her personal concerns: “I won’t be able to experience The Manchester Access Programme properly but I know it’s more important to just stay at home and to stay safe. My concerns are mainly to do with the fact I won’t be able to experience the university campus and explore it properly like we were promised. People on the Manchester Access Programme are people whose parents didn’t go to university, so that was kind of important to us; touring the campus ourselves.”

When asked about how communications have been effected, Shah said: “I’m one of the lucky ones though, because I’m able to communicate with the MAP team – but some of my friends don’t have laptops or access to internet at home. That being said, though, I don’t want to sound ungrateful but even the introduction of MAP online webinars doesn’t feel like the same experience to me.”

Issues continue to rise as the government recently extended the UK lockdown and the concerns for how The University of Manchester will continue their outreach projects, such a The Manchester Access Programme and Diversity Champions continues to grow.