‘I encourage all, regardless of race and ethnicity, to participate, decolonise and celebrate, through the month of October, and beyond.’

Introducing you to Allison Pitcher, Project Worker and EDI Champion – Minority Ethnic Representative

My name is Allison Pitcher, and I’ve been Project Worker at William Collier House for just over a year, having started in August 2020. I completed a BA (Hons) in Media Studies, focusing primarily on psychosocial and cultural theory, analysing the representation of marginalised members of society through the media. I then went on to specialise with an MA in Gender Studies, again focusing on psychosocial and cultural theory, but prioritising the intersection of protected characteristics, and how minorities are seen/treated within society and specific institutions such as the criminal justice system, religious and minority cultural groups, and education.

Although I am aiming to complete a PhD one day, I found through my studies that a lot of what I researched and wrote was through assumptions and second-hand knowledge and I began to look at the importance of having worked frontline with marginalised people before trying to help through research. This led to a long but fruitful road of seeking out the charities I was passionate about, watching a lot of investigative documentaries, and volunteering where I could. I began to look at the high rates of homelessness in Brighton and started to research why Brighton seemed to be a hotspot for people to migrate to when going through hardships, and now having worked and lived here for a year, it’s clearly down to the sense of community and support available. I had begun to research YMCA Brighton, their values and services offered, and I bookmarked their “work with us” page, frequently checking for updates until a few roles had become available and I immediately applied. One month later, I was offered the position and my career path had begun.

Since starting my role, I have always been quick to grasp any opportunity to learn and do. Frequently offering to partake in any challenging activities, engaging with clients as often as I could, and always asking questions. Within weeks I felt like I had been with YMCAB for years, and I still appreciate the support I received from my colleagues who were always keen to answer any questions and are still always ready to support and uplift at any given opportunity. I initially was allocated the additional role of Physical & Sexual Health and Wellbeing Lead which allowed me to work with clients dealing with such sensitive and personal issues, and truly grasp how complex our clients’ lives can be, and how much a simple check-in could uplift a client when they’re dealing with so much. I gained so much knowledge around the complex nature of specific health issues, and it drove me to want to do and learn more. In February 2021, I was then moved to the role of Complex Needs which was something I greatly welcomed. Since beginning my time at the YMCA, I had always taken an interest in working with clients who had so much going on, with so much support needed, as these clients can sometimes appear overwhelming, and in most cases, end up being marginalised, even in the third sector, due to the complexity of their individual situations. I not only have an array of clients I support solely, but being able to engage with the majority of the clients living at WCH, provide extra support to my colleagues where needed has allowed me to grow, not just as an individual, but as a project and keyworker too.

1)    Why do you feel Inclusion is important?

Inclusion is extremely important in all aspects of society, especially within the workplace as it develops a safe space for not just marginalised staff, but all staff, to allow for equal and fair treatment, and to create a sphere for discussion that will broaden our understandings and perspectives of minority issues and experiences. Inclusive and diverse environments are also essential to share our varied experiences, regardless of the sector, that allow for all staff to learn from each other and to impact the work we do with others. Most importantly, I believe inclusive and diverse environments allow for us to band together, work collectively to combat prejudice and oppression, and for all non-marginalised individuals to have the chance to become allies to those often overlooked in society.

Inclusion has always been important to me as an individual, as being mixed-race and an immigrant has meant I was “different” to those around me. Not just in appearance, but in experience whether personally or professionally. Prior to beginning my time at YMCA Brighton, I had never worked in an inclusive and diverse environment before. I often received ignorant and aggressive comments regarding my appearance and would alter my behaviour to fit in with colleagues and work twice as hard to avoid being scrutinised by my colleagues or bosses. However, coming into a more inclusive environment at William Collier House, I feel more accepted, more seen, and more heard. I am praised for my accomplishments and positively critiqued with the goal of helping me improve my skills. Most importantly, my identity is seen as the protected characteristic it is, and I have been involved in decision making and discussions regarding the inclusivity of minorities and excluded individuals, whether they be clients or staff. Inclusivity is key to not only treating all staff equally and fairly, but also considering the disadvantages and inequality they face in a range of circumstances whether it be career progression, working with clients or colleagues that may be ignorant to the negative impact of prejudice/microaggressions, or those that are hostile towards minorities. Whilst I have had negative experiences of racism and prejudice, I have been more impacted by the response of my colleagues, who hold EDI at great importance, and work to ensure I am comfortable with decisions made and always offer support going forward.

2)    The theme of the day is ‘Unite for Inclusion’. What does this theme mean to you?

“Unite for Inclusion” means to me, grouping together as an organisation to improve our EDI journey by allowing marginalised individuals to share their experiences and challenges, offering advice on how to progress as an organisation and as individuals, and to offer a safe space for all staff to engage in meaningful and essential discussions to improve all our understandings on inclusion and diversity. It also means it is a rare and welcomed opportunity for staff and clients of all backgrounds to gather and engage with people who have had similar experiences, to gain comfort in being around similar individuals, and to promote and celebrate a positive and diverse community within the organisation.

3)    Today is the start of Black History Month 2021. What will you be reflecting on during this month of recognition?

Black History Month is a great opportunity for me to reflect on my own experiences, and that of others. It is a great chance for me to reflect on how far Black and Brown people have come, give thanks to, and discuss with others, the notable individuals who put all their strength and focus into liberating Black people of oppression, racism and prejudice; but to also accept that whilst we have come so far, we still have a long way to go in eradicating racism and oppression. For myself, Black History Month is a time for me to acknowledge the racism I have experienced and may have chosen to ignore, but to also praise myself for the growth I have had in terms of fighting for Black and other minority rights, standing up for myself, and always being willing to engage in discussions around Black experiences and anti-racism with all those I encounter. Most importantly, I will be using Black History Month to acknowledge and accept my colonial background, but also looking into how I can help progress my own home country, Zambia, and other countries impacted by colonialism.

4)    What do you enjoy most about your work at the YMCA?

What I enjoy most about working at the YMCA is the fact I get to work with so many individuals who have experienced so much and come from an array of different backgrounds. I enjoy seeing the strong and passionate sense of community amongst the street community, and the way in which they all tend to look out for each other. I also really appreciate that staff across the YMCA come from various backgrounds, and every individual has overcome challenges that enable them to do their jobs effectively and passionately, without an ounce of judgement. Most importantly, I really enjoy seeing both clients and colleagues hit goals, whether it’s a colleague making a breakthrough with the engagement of a client, or a client hitting small goals such as reducing substance use, becoming for independent with budgeting, beginning to take initiative with appointments. I truly believe the YMCA works to create a warm, welcoming, and non-judgemental environment for all staff and clients, and find this makes it extremely easy to get out of bed and come to work.

5)    Tell us one unique thing about yourself.

I am royalty on both maternal and paternal sides, as my Zambian great-grandfathers were chiefs of two different kingdoms!

6)    Is there anything you would like to share as part of our virtual library that inspires you or encapsulates what inclusivity and diversity means to you?

Ain’t I a Woman? (1851) – Sojourner Truth

Your Silence Will Not Protect You (2017) – Audre Lorde

Black Skin, White Masks (1952) – Frantz Fanon