Black Matters in Citizens Advice: celebrating 30 years of the Black Workers Group

Katherine Gordon, Secretary of Citizens Advice Black Workers Group and Trustee of Citizens Advice Sandwell

October is Black History Month – a perfect time to launch our new project celebrating the history of the self-organised Black Workers Group (BWG) at Citizens Advice. We aim to provide insight and expertise on race and ethnicity to better help Citizens Advice reflect our  multiracial, multicultural and multifaith society.

Although Black History Month started in the US in 1926 as Black History Week, it was first celebrated in the UK in 1987, a year after Citizens Advice adopted its Anti-Racism Policy – and a year before the regional Black Workers Groups that had existed since 1985 formally joined together to become a national group.

Black History Month is about recognising and celebrating the achievements and contribution of Black individuals and communities to British society, recognising past struggles, and using our understanding of those struggles to draw out lessons for the future. These objectives are echoed in our work in the Black Workers Group.

We exist to promote race equality and challenge race-based discrimination. Our work over the years has included contributions to Citizens Advice reports on immigration and nationality policy and practice – in particular a briefing paper for the organisation outlining the implications of the MacPherson Report on all aspects of its operations. We also initiated the first Equal Opportunities motion at a Citizens Advice AGM in 1986.

Recording our history

1991-national-agm-conference
Members of the Black Workers Group at Citizens Advice annual conference, 1991

2018 marks our 30th anniversary, and as we approach it we’ve realised that the BWG has made a sizeable contribution to Citizens Advice over nearly 3 decades but our work hasn’t been systematically recorded.

Many of the people involved with the group over the years have moved on and some have even passed away. While individual people have some of our documents and records, no one has a complete archive of everything we’ve produced over the years.  

Given that the regional Black Workers Groups were up and running from the mid 1980’s, a good few years before computers became widespread in the charity sector, much of the material from the early days only exists if individuals kept hold of hard copies.

We’ve therefore decided to undertake a project – ‘Black Matters in Citizens Advice’ – to record the history, achievements and legacy of our group. We want to gather stories and records of what we’ve done and talk with people who’ve been involved with us.  

We plan to create a timeline of our work with Citizens Advice that raises awareness of the contribution we’ve made over the years, as well as a booklet and travelling exhibition.

To gather together the materials we need for our project, we’re looking for any past members of the Black Workers Group (regional or national), anyone who’s attended one of our events as a delegate or speaker or undertaken research or any partnership work with us at any time, to get in touch. We’d like you to share your experience of BWG with us, and if you own any old documents, we want to hear from you!

To find out more about the project or send us a contribution contact Kate Gordon at bwg@citizensadvice.org.uk

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