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The fences aren't just round the farm. They're up here, in your heads

Jun 30, 2014 - Comments: 0
Ginger in the film Chicken Farm

You’ve got a great idea you want to develop; you want to learn a new skill; you want to completely change your direction in life.

You’re not going to, though, are you? What’s more, you’ve got the perfect reason not to (underline as necessary):

I can’t take the risk
I don’t have enough time
I don’t have the skills
I don’t know where to start
I have to plan everything first
I’ll do it someday
I’m not creative enough
It’s not the right moment to do it
It’s too late for me now
People will think I’m crazy

This kind of thinking stops you from taking action, from growing, from realising your potential.

The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.  Chinese proverb

You might think that you will take action but first you’re going to collect all the necessary information, analyse and categorise it and use it to create an action plan. This can be an excuse for avoiding taking action.

You look like you’re working towards your goal but often you’re confusing activity with productivity. The accumulation of data is pointless unless you are going to use it; plans are useless without action.

A life spent making mistakes is … more useful than a life spent doing nothing.
George Bernard Shaw

Much of this inability to act comes from fear – fear of failure, fear of making mistakes. We can learn from mistakes though. They can show us what works and what doesn’t work in a way that thinking about something can’t

If at first you don't succeed, try, try again. Then quit. There's no point in being a damn fool about it. W. C. Fields

A funny line, but not very helpful. Amy Purdy could have quit. She had both her legs amputated when she was 19. Despite that watch her dancing the Quickstep

People often don’t fulfil their potential because they fear stepping out of their comfort zone. Outside of the comfort zone is where all the development occurs. What could you achieve if you took that step? As Thomas Edison said:

If we all did the things we are really capable of doing, we would literally astound ourselves.

photo credit: Adam Jones, Ph.D. - Global Photo Archive via photopin cc

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You never know who’s watching…

May 19, 2014 - Comments: 0

Or listening! As I walked home from work yesterday complaining down the phone to a friend I felt a tap on my shoulder. It was my old Head of Sixth Form. I smiled and said hello and then gasped!

Had she heard my conversation?

This rant wasn’t for her to hear! I found myself going back over what I had said trying to reassure myself that it wasn’t that bad (it wasn’t, thank goodness). If I had waited to have that conversation at home I wouldn’t have had to worry about who had heard or seen my frustration.

We often get so caught up in ourselves that we forget that the moment we step out of our front doors we have an audience; an audience that may consist of our Head teacher’s wife, future employer, future mother-in-law, a new client.

In fact, even before we leave our humble abodes we’re open to the world: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn…. We’re exposed 24/7 and our audience is definitely always watching.

We do have a level of control of what information we put on our profiles and the pictures we upload, but when you are face to face there are no Instagram filters to mask your weak points, just as there are no screens to block your light.

For instance, a few weeks back I was asked what the secret to my smile(s) was as I seemed like one of the happiest people this person had met. I didn’t realise that I was overly happy or smiling anymore than usual but they had met me and made this judgement.

This really made me think about the impact we can have on others without consciously trying.

For this reason I urge you all to be a little more mindful of your actions the next time you meet a stranger. Smile at the stressed-looking passenger you see on your morning commute, ask the person on reception how their day has been as you leave the office and why not buy that homeless guy a hot cup of tea?

You may not be a happy bunny everyday so this might sound easier said than done, but that smile on the train could lead to a conversation about your dream job or news of an amazing event that you’d be interested in, or it might not; BUT what harm will it cause you to smile?

Whether it’s an old school teacher or a potential employer someone is always watching, so ensure you show them the best version of you when they tune in!

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5 blogs that small business starts up should read

May 14, 2014 - Comments: 0

It can be hard to keep up-to-date with what’s happening in the business world when setting up your own business. Blogs are a quick way to focus in on what’s current in the start-up world.

Here are five blogs that will keep you informed of what’s happening:


  1. Start-ups business blogs  A range of topics about business start ups

  2. Start-up donut A variety of resources for businesses of all sizes

  3. The British Library Business and IP Centre Information and advice about the services that the Centre can provide to business start-ups

  4. Small business blogOpinion & comment on all things related to small businesses

  5. Bright Ideas Trust Useful information for business start-ups by young entrepreneurs and a delivery partner for Start-Up Loans, a government funded scheme to provide loans and mentors for entrepreneurs

Read a blog a day to stay informed and follow them on Twitter for regular updates.  

Follow the Opening Doors Programme on Twitter @openingdoorsnet

Visit our website at

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10 ways to prepare to influence

May 14, 2014 - Comments: 0


How to prepare for that crucial meeting where you want your  influencing skills to shine



The steps to preparation include:

1. Knowing what do you want to achieve?

2. What is the range of things the other person could offer?

3. What would you be prepared to accept?  (i.e. what is your fallback position?)

4. What are the facts and figures behind the situation?

• When did it happen?
• How many times?
• Over what period of time?
• What is the effect on the customer/department/ individual/company?
• What evidence can you provide?

5. Who are you influencing in terms of personality and style of working? What approaches may help influence them? For example:

• Are they statistics orientated?
• Like examples painted for them?
• Are they visionaries where you describe what it would be like if they agree to your proposals?
• Do they respond best to information placed in graphs/pie charts?
• Do they prefer flowcharts and diagrams?
• What values are important to them?
• What sense of humour do they have?
• What pressures and challenges are they faced with at this time?

Thinking about the influencee in this way can help us plan our communication style during the meeting:

6. How will you approach the conversation? What will tune them in? What words will you use? What tactics will you use?

7. What objections may they come up with?

8. How will you overcome these objections?

9. When is the best time to influence?

10. Where will you influence? (it can be advantageous to meet the influencee away from interruptions at their desk)

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Ethnic minority employment – where now?

May 13, 2014 - Comments: 0

by Tim Riley

On the 3rd April Inclusion and BTEGheld our second annual Ethnic Minority Employment conference. We think this event is particularly important because we are concerned that reducing the inequalities between ethnic groups has fallen off the agenda of the current government and we want to do what we can to drive up the profile of the debate. After all, the employment rate for ethnic minority groups is a whole 13 percentage points lower than for the white population, and this gap in employment rates is actually up around 2 percentage points since May 2010, having fallen steadily over the previous decade. Clearly this gap needs to narrow. As Omar Khan, Director of the Runneymede Trust, pointed out at the event, this is not just a matter of social justice, but also an economic imperative for the country.

Employment rate gaps between BME and white population

Read the full article here

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Positive Vibes & Bright Ideas

May 13, 2014 - Comments: 0

We have become used to reading and perhaps focusing on negative headlines about young black males.However, recent events in both my work and personal life have made me realise how much talent we have among young black males.

Unfortunately, not enough time is spent celebrating or acknowledging the great things that these young people do.

It was great to see that BBC television programme The Voice UK had its first black male reality winner this year. Hackney-born Jermain Jackman became 2014 winner with his amazing voice and talents. His demeanour and attitude were ones to be proud of as he humbly celebrated his success.

From the beginning of the show there was something special and unique about this young man. He was a black man that not only wanted to live his dream of being a singer but had ambitions of bigger things. Breaking stereotypes beyond belief he intends on pursuing his interests in politics and becoming the first black Prime Minister in the UK. His mentor Will.I.Am was extremely proud of his mentee and believed that no-one else deserved it more.

News headlines like these are rare but, like Jermain, I want more good news stories about young black men to hit the headlines, because there are many that we could celebrate.

According to the 2011 REACH media monitoring report, seven out of ten stories about young black men and boys in mainstream news are related to some form of crime, compared to four out of ten stories for all young men and boys. Of course this could have a negative impact on the way these young black men perceive themselves.

From my perspective, I would like to see more mainstream news reporters share positive stories and, when possible, black organisations in both the community and voluntary sectors promote the positive work and outcomes they see from young black males with whom they work.

Recently on the Routes2Success Programme (our project that aims to inspire young black males to reach their full potential in education and employment) I have seen lots of talent. The workshops and events that the role models have held have had positive vibes and we have seen many bright enterprise ideas from young black males from around the country.

These young men thrive from being able to meet and discuss their futures with successful black professionals. It is clear that a positive atmosphere and vibe breeds positive young black men. 

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Offending & employment - tough challenges facing BAME offenders

Apr 09, 2014 - Comments: 0

The MOJ recently launched an updated report on its longitudinal study on offenders and employment entitled `The pre-custody employment, education and training status of newly sentenced prisoners’.

The report highlights that nearly a third of the cohort of prisoners (32%) reported having paid employment up to four weeks prior to their imprisonment; 13% stated that they had never worked.

Disappointingly, the cohort had a small BAME component in comparison with the figures for BAME representation across the prison system. However, the findings do replicate well established labour market inequities for BAME groups, such as higher levels of qualifications and lower than average levels of pay compared with the white group.

For me, a question that comes out of a piece of research like this is: should employment status be a factor taken into consideration by magistrates and judges when they make sentencing decisions?

Certainly, there may well be offences that are too serious regardless of a person’s employment status. However, in the case of minor and non-violent offences, surely this could be a situation to look at alternatives to custody. Banging up somebody who is in gainful employment seems to me something we should avoid unless the nature of the offence demands a custodial sentence.

As for BAME offenders, the wider labour market landscape for BAME communities whether having a criminal record or not is extremely difficult and undoubtedly compounds a difficult position.

For certain ethnic groups (e.g. young black men and Pakistani women) the picture is far bleaker than for their white counterparts. This recent article in the Guardian gives a succinct overview.

Educational attainment is an interesting aspect of this. For example, black African and Caribbean boys saw a major improvement in their GCSE scores during the past decade. However, this educational boost has done nothing to improve their labour market outcomes.

In BTEG’s view this context of BAME labour market outcomes must have a bearing on how policy is formulated in relation to resettlement services. This is particularly pertinent in the context of Transforming Rehabilitation.

What we need is two-fold:

  • greater understanding of the specific challenges facing BAME offenders in getting back into the job market

  • providers that can develop targeted responses

That involves not only unravelling the challenge of the barriers faced by an ex-offender but understanding and addressing the specific challenges faced by BAME communities and the job market. 

Self-employment and small business start-ups must be part of the agenda. BTEG has just launched a new project Opening Doors with this focus in mind.

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Footballers, rappers and drug dealers – the need for positive role models

Apr 09, 2014 - Comments: 0

Guest blog by Lee Pinkerton (R2S role model)

The recent Channel 4 series Top Boy came in for much criticism from some quarters.

There are those that argued that this gritty urban drama set in east London, which depicted a young black drug gang, was yet another negative depiction of black males on our TV screens. No wonder, they argued that black men are disproportionately targeted by the police and face harsher sentencing by the courts, when we are so often depicted in the media as sociopathic criminals. Not only this, but how can young black boys aspire to become positive members of society when they are forever seeing themselves portrayed in this negative light?

Similar criticism was directed at the E4 series Youngers. This programme also had two black males from an inner-city council estate as the lead characters, but in this case the two main protagonists were not aspiring drug dealers, but instead were wanna-be Grime artists.

Criminals, rappers or athletes?  How can our black boys aspire to be anything greater, some argue, when these are the only role models they see? To make matters worse all the music that young people listen to seems to be promoting a ‘bling and bitches’ lifestyle and espousing the ‘get rich or die trying’ philosophy made famous by 50 Cent.

I see things differently.

I sat and watched both of these series with my teenaged sons, and took the time to discuss with them the issues raised. I wanted them to see - from the comfort of their living room sofa - that this is how too many of the less well-off tenants of the nation’s council estates live. I wanted them to understand that, right here displayed in glorious HD, was the reason that I and their mother chose to move out of Hackney when they were still in infant and primary school. Back then we could see that if we stayed there, their life chances would be greatly diminished.

Sadly many other parents realise this fact too late to save their sons.

In one scene from Top Boy the solicitor of the main character Dushane (played by Ashley Walters) describes the estate on which Dushane lives - and proudly claims to be the boss of - in less than flattering terms. “Somerhouse is a shit-hole”, she spits dismissively. “Well done, you’re the king of shit-hole.”

Dushane displays the same poverty of aspiration as so many of our young men. For him, the fact that he was the ‘top boy’ of his housing estate means that he is a success; that he has reached the top of the totem pole. He struggles to see any life for himself outside of the confines of this small deprived patch of east London.

This all too widespread lack of aspiration cannot be blamed on Channel 4’s script writers, or any other television channel. If you, as a parent, are expecting the television to imbue your child with ambition, then you both need help.

There is an argument that black children are underachieving in schools because they don’t have enough role models there either. Not enough black male teachers and not enough black people on the curriculum. Black educational underachievement, they argue, is partly because black children feel that the curriculum doesn’t relate to them.

However, I would ask, ‘How come Indian and Chinese children do not have the same problems, when they are equally ignored by the curriculum?’ Chinese children in fact have the best educational outcomes from the UK school system, despite there being very few Chinese teachers, or Chinese historical figures on the curriculum.

Could it be that Chinese and Indian children are not relying on the UK school system for their sense of self?

We can see many examples of more recent immigrants to both the UK and US, who after only one or two generations leave the indigenous blacks far behind, strangely unencumbered by the racism and discrimination that indigenous blacks complain prevent them from progressing.

The real reason why we, as a community, are doing less well than our Asian brethren is because they are not relying on the host community to define them or to give them a job/success.

Yes, we all need role models, but it’s much better if they are closer to home. Real people that we can observe in real life, speak to and ask for advice. If the only older males that you can look up to in your hood are the local drug dealer, the best rapper on the block, or the guy that got a contract with the local football team, then that’s all we can aspire to be – rappers, footballers and drug dealers.

That’s part of the reason that Chinese kids and Indian kids are out-performing African-Caribbean children in school. Because they have real life role models in their own community, who they can actually observe and learn from.

The first role model for a boy should be his father; but what if you are growing up without a father, as too many black boys are? Then you have to find someone else to fulfil that role. It is this vacuum that leads so many of our young to turn to gangs – looking for a father figure – a phenomenon called ‘father hunger’.

Part of the reason that so much of our youth is so disengaged from the educational process, is not just down to the ‘stale and pale’ curriculum, but because they don’t see the benefit of an education. They are doubtful if there will be any jobs available at the end of the process, and even if there are, if they actually want them. They’ve seen how hard their parents have worked, and how little they have to show for it. No wonder the promise of the fast money to be earned ‘on road’, or the fame and fortune of a career in music or football seem so much more appealing.

The school system is set up to allow you to obtain qualifications that you can display on your CV when applying for jobs to work for someone else. What they don’t teach you in school is how to be self-reliant: how to set up your own business and create your own job.

If no-one in your family is running a business, how then can you know how to set one up and be a successful entrepreneur? If no-one you know has a good job, how do you find out how you go about getting one? That is where role models and mentors come in, and there are numerous organisations in Britain that exist to fill that gap.

So, if you are really concerned about the values that our kids are aspiring to, don’t waste your time and energy writing angry letters to Channel 4 or campaigning against the likes of Rick Ross and 50 Cent. Get involved in your community.

As Ghandi put it, ‘be the change that you want to see’.

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ESF Funding – a patchwork quilt?

Mar 24, 2014 - Comments: 0

At a meeting today, one of my colleagues used the term ‘patchwork quilt’ when describing European Social Fund (ESF) funds.

Reflecting on this I agreed that over the last 10 years, that is exactly what ESF funding has been like:

  • overlapping programmes
  • sudden announcements of new programmes
  • extremely short deadlines at times
  • delayed decisions.

This is on top of the enormous pressure of completing the paperwork.

It is extremely hard for small community based organisations to tap into such money unless they approach it via lead organisations.

Saying that, I have to stress that the ESF was set up to improve employment opportunities in the European Union and so help raise standards of living. It aims to help people fulfil their potential by giving them better skills and better job prospects.

The 2007-2013 England ESF programme invested £5 billion over seven to provide new opportunities to people who face the greatest barriers to work and learning.

By the end of May 2013, there had been:

  • over 3.8 million participant starts on the programme
  • over 357,000 unemployed or inactive participants have been helped into jobs.
  • over 149,000 participants have gained basic skills
  • over 433,000 participants have gained qualifications at level 2 or above
  • over 403,000 disadvantaged young people have been helped to enter employment, education or training.

More BME organisation need to explore potential opportunities and tap in to this resource.

For a comprehensive list of Providers and subcontractors in your area have a look at the links below.

  Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) – London

  London Councils

  Greater London Authority

  London Development Agency

  Skills Funding Agency – London

  London – Technical Assistance

  National Offender Management Service

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The indomitable Steve McQueen - a role model for our times

Mar 20, 2014 - Comments: 0

The triumph of British film director Steve McQueen has been an inspiration on a variety of levels.

The movie 12 Years a Slave had a trio of victories at the Academy Awards:

  • best film for director McQueen, born in the UK of Caribbean parents
  • best screenplay to African American John Ridley
  • best supporting actress to Kenyan actor Lupita Nyong’o 

This reflected the triangular geography of the Atlantic slave trade itself with the victors representing the Black African diaspora of Europe, the Americas/Caribbean and Europe.

The film itself, as well as providing an empowering personal story, has given us the most authentic glimpse of the realities of the Atlantic slave trade ever seen on screen and reminded or given a new audience to the life of Solomon Northup.

The horrors of the slave trade have been airbrushed from history and certainly do not form any significant part of modern school history curriculums either here or in the USA. McQueen has given us not only a searing memorable piece of art that will stand up over time as a classic but he has made a huge cultural and political contribution to pulling off the shroud surrounding slavery.

Art has always been at its best when it is challenging, educational and political and McQueen is an artist who encompasses all of these in his work.

When I saw the film I was reading a book by Malcolm Gladwell, Outliers. In the book Gladwell develops a concept called cultural legacy. This is the notion that values, principles and culture can affect communities for many generations.

Gladwell himself states about cultural legacies that they

“persist, generation after generation, virtually intact...and they play such a role in directing attitudes and behavior that we cannot make sense of our world without them."

After seeing the movie I wondered what are the cultural legacies of slavery?

My personal affinity with McQueen grew after reading an interview with him in the Guardian by Decca Aitkenhead.

The dialogue was interesting because McQueen, like me, is the son of West Indian immigrants. Hearing him speak about his schooldays, which he described as a waste not just in terms of his own experience but also the waste of talent around him, really echoed with my school experience in multi-racial London comprehensive in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s.

In a BBC interview with Mark Kermode McQueen spoke about making his first film Hunger about the IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands. He talked about how the events of 1981 the inner city riots and the hunger strikes left an indelible impression on him as they did on me at the same time.

McQueen comes across as a very private man. He lives in Amsterdam with his Dutch partner and children, “Anywhere but New York, London or LA’ he told Kermode in his BBC interview. He is certainly not an attention seeker, so it was a revelation in his Guardian interview when he spoke for the first time of his own challenges and demons with dyslexia.

The term role-model or even black role-model, are possibly ones McQueen himself would spurn. However I would suggest McQueen is the perfect role model, the reluctant role model, the role model who lets his work do the talking.

In an age where celebrity and consumerism saturate our modern lives McQueen would certainly be the kind of role model I would want my two sons to look up to.

As the actor/producer Brad Pitt introduced him at the Academy Awards he is undoubtedly the indomitable Mr Steve McQueen.

Here are the links to the Guardian interview, the BBC Culture Show Special on Steve McQueenwith Mark Kermode  and Malcolm Gladwell’s website

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