Charity which supported Grenfell victims found to be ‘institutionally racist’

The Grenfell building with scaffolding around it
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A charity which has supported Grenfell victims has been and remains institutionally racist, a review has found.

Westway

The Westway Trust has a “legacy of institutional racism” and has failed to “understand, identify and address racial disparity” over the years, a report by the Tutu Foundation concluded.

The trust was set up almost 50 years ago to manage the 23 acres of land under the Westway – an overhead motorway – in west London with the aim of working to benefit the local community.

The organisation commissioned the review in July 2018, acknowledging that “serious” allegations of institutional racism had been made over several decades.

The Westway Trust was founded after the construction of a motorway in North Kensington in the 1960s (Victoria Jones/PA)
The Westway Trust was founded after the construction of a motorway in North Kensington in the 1960s (Victoria Jones/PA)

In a 40-page executive summary, the review stated that, given all the evidence, the trust “has been and remains institutionally racist” and recommended a formal, public apology as well as potential compensation to those impacted.

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It added:

The legacy of institutional racism lives within the organisation in terms of the perceptions and relations with the African Caribbean community, which has led to a continuing mistrust. The Trust has failed to understand, identify and address racial disparity in terms of key functions including in relation to service delivery and employment.

Apologies

Following the report’s publication Toby Laurent Belson, chair of the trustees, said the trust “apologises to our entire community”.

In a foreword, lord Simon Woolley described the review as a “watershed moment” for the trust and the community of North Kensington. He said:

I’m convinced that much of Black Britain today will look at this report and the actions taken or not taken by the powers that be, to see how our society can respond to the challenge that has the potential to be so
transformative.

Displacement

The review said the community in the area had already experienced distress in the displacement caused by the creation of the Westway in the 1960s, and then “through a sense of injustice resulting from the experience of a lack of engagement by the Trust”.

The trust states on its website that it was part of a “collective response” in the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower fire in June 2017, which killed 72 people.

The review said:

The strength of feeling experienced by the community has been brought to the fore by the Grenfell fire, which the community believes has arisen because of a culture of institutional racism, indifference and marginalisation which is felt to be prevalent in North Kensington.

It said at some point since its founding the trust had “lost sight of the reason for its establishment and early focus on community and inclusivity”, and had a historical lack of diverse representation at trustee and senior management level.

Voices ignored

Individuals who “sounded the alarm” in relation to matters of employment, service delivery, awarding of grants, and allocation of leases had generally been ignored or silenced, the report said.

It also said there has been a feeling among the community that issues of race, anti-racism, community, and engagement “have not always been seen as important”, and this was combined with a reported “longstanding prevailing culture of institutional arrogance”.

The world-famous Notting Hill Carnival and the culture it represents had historically been treated with “disdain”, the review said, “by physically erecting barriers, employing security and not allowing the carnival to take place on trust land”.

Notting Hill Carnival in west London is world famous (Aaron Chown/PA)
Notting Hill Carnival in west London is world famous (Aaron Chown/PA)

“Reparatory justice”

The review recommended a “reparatory justice approach” which it said could include the offer of compensation to impacted communities, the nature of which could be negotiated and agreed with the community and “demonstrate the Trust’s commitment to the community”.

It also recommended the creation of a Centre for Civil Rights and Culture, which it said could be “a way for the rich history of the area to be preserved and curated for future generations”.

Belson said the trust is “sorry” for the sacrifices people – including himself – had to make to “bring this issue into the light”.

He added:

We are now able to do what is right by our community and take the organisation through the changes necessary to bring about reparative and restorative justice. Those changes will take time. We look ahead to working with and representing our community as never before, so that in time we may be the organisation our community deserves.

The trust said it accepts the report’s recommendations, adding that it wants to be “a truly inclusive organisation that is a beacon of good practice”.

Progress

Sheraine Williams, a trustee who the organisation said resigned due to being disenfranchised and excluded from property and finance decisions, has since returned and said she is “excited” to be a part of “revolutionising” the new trust.

She said:

Progress has been a long and painful process. The fight for change happened internally and externally. It is hard for people to understand just how traumatic it can be to be on the receiving end of institutional racism whilst trying to be professional and do a good job.

I’d like to pay tribute to other black female trustees before me who paved the way for the start of this change.

The trust said it hopes its experience can be a “blueprint for other charities, community organisations, government and businesses to carry out similar reviews”.

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