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#BlackLivesMatter – Statement from BHA Chief Executive

I wanted to send out this statement in response to the Black Lives Matter protests over recent weeks. I see the statement as the start of a conversation within BHA and would welcome any other suggestions or feedback from all staff of how we could and should respond.

“I can’t breathe”.

Like many people, I was shocked and horrified by the video of George Floyd being murdered by a white policeman in the US recently.

It’s easy to dismiss such racist brutality as a peculiarly American problem. We all know that isn’t true. Racism is endemic in the UK too, and seems to me to have got worse in recent years. The realisation that BAME communities are four times as likely to die from Covid-19 is another shocking reminder of what inequality really means.

I’ve been moved (and educated) by the protests here in the UK and forced to confront the fact that, as a white person, my experience is one of ‘white privilege’.  I haven’t been passed over for interviews because of my name, or my appearance; I haven’t had to ‘laugh off’ racist comments – overt or under the breath – when I’ve visited tenants at home or in meetings (or occasionally, in the office); and, as an older white woman, people tend not to lock their cars doors when I walk past or follow me in shops.

It’s uncomfortable to face this, because it forces you to think about what it means if this isn’t your reality. And then think about what responsibility I have, as a senior leader in my organisation and in the housing sector, to make a difference.

At Barnsbury HA, we have made steps to diversifying our Board, involved residents and staff team over recent years. However, there is more to do.

Good quality, well managed housing accessible to people from BAME communities, and services that are both excellent and relevant to their needs, is a tangible contribution that we at BHA can make to tackling the inequality that many BAME people face.

As Chief Executive of BHA, I commit to:

  • Calling out racism when and wherever I see it
  • Ensuring we listen to the diversity of our tenants’ views and ensure our involvement structures are properly representative 
  • Reporting on diversity at different levels of the organisation – Board and Committees, involved residents and the staff team – and use our structures to provide opportunity and experience for future leaders from all backgrounds
  • Making sure that our recruitment processes, candidate pools and interview panels are diverse
  • Reporting on diversity in terms of who lives in and moves within our homes, so that our homes are truly accessible and reflect the diversity of the area in which we work

I want to use the privilege I have had over my career in housing – and my position – to try and make a difference and make sure that this terrible incident – and the protests that followed it – lead to lasting change.

Susan French
Chief Executive
Barnsbury Housing Association