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Comment: Life after Ujima case: ‘Now we can move forward’

The BME sector found itself unfairly stigmatised because of the Ujima scandal, says Lara Oyedele, chair of BMENational and chief executive of Odu-dua housing association. Now, she says, the sector can move forward.

“Pretend it’s not an issue – that was my first instinct. But as much as I would have liked to ignore it, it’s there staring everyone in the face. I am talking about the two-year sentence handed down to Paul Campayne in the Ujima fraud case. This may not mark the official end to that saga, but it certainly concludes an unpleasant period for England’s BME housing sector.

“Tainted through association – similar to all MPs being accused of fraud because a handful fiddled their expenses – the BME sector found itself unfairly stigmatised because of the scandal.

“Now, finally, we can move forward and get on with what we do best: providing exemplary services to our tenants.  This is something that BME housing associations have never stopped, and will not stop, doing.

“The fact is that corrupt officials and staff can be found in every sector and industry.  While there are processes in place to protect organisations from unscrupulous behaviour, it will never be totally eradicated. All we can do is learn from past experiences.

“The success of housing associations – BME or not – is primarily built on trust. Trust between staff, tenants and the wider community we serve. There will be individuals that will abuse that trust, but without trust we can’t work effectively.

BMENational chair, Lara Oyedele.

“Our tenants, correctly, believe that we have their best interests at heart. We want them to live in decent, affordable accommodation, lead independent lives and contribute meaningfully to society.

“For housing associations that serve densely populated multicultural communities, there has been, for years, a concerted effort to encourage and empower tenants to integrate with and participate in the wider British community.

“That is why I found David Cameron’s speech on multiculturalism in Munich last month so disappointing. Whilst making many valid observations, the Prime Minister unfairly singled out the UK’s Muslim population as not being prepared to integrate, which threatens to undermine much of the positive work done by housing associations.

“I’m astonished at this government’s failure to fully recognise the link between segregated communities and bad housing. In areas where there has been obvious unrest and disaffection such as Burnley and Bradford, the “segregated” were inevitably residing in the poor quality houses in the deprived part of town.

“Mr Cameron mentions that there are practical things that can be done, like teaching migrants to speak the language of their new home and ensuring that people are educated in the elements of a common culture and curriculum.

“Housing associations, for a while now, have been doing just that. ESOL (English for speakers of other languages) classes are organised regularly, while joint events involving tenants from every background are commonplace.

“Such events are aimed at giving residents an opportunity to meet people from other ethnic backgrounds and learn about their cultures. Just take a look at the annual reports of any BMENational members and the evidence of such work is overflowing.

“There are collaborative projects, too. An Oldham-based housing association recently worked with Oldham Council to merge a predominantly white school with a predominantly Asian school to aid integration in the younger generation.

“Little does Mr Cameron realise how his government is withdrawing much-needed funding from the very community-based groups he is relying on to engage immigrant communities.

“The Prime Minister should focus on providing good homes and work opportunities for all and not pick on young Islamic men. It is poor housing, poverty, and social-economic inactivity that is the problem – not a person’s religion.

“He says that some organisations that present themselves as a gateway to the Muslim community are showered with public money and asks if they encourage integration or separation. “Let us engage groups that share our aspirations,” he said.

“Well, Mr Cameron, we’re waiting for your call.”

This article is reproduced courtesy of 24Housing.

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