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Spotlight – The Connection at St Martin’s

Spotlight – The Connection at St Martin’s

For this month’s spotlight, we feature The Connection at St Martin’s (CSTM), a long-standing homelessness charity in the heart of London, who work with people who are rough sleeping to move away and stay off the streets in the capital. The charity probably needs no introduction given its rich history and impact over the years in this area. This feature is to highlight the work which has been taking place and is yet to come, in their Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) journey.

Over the last couple of years, many organisations have been questioning their work culture, as a result of key events happening within the social and public arena. These have included: the tragic murder of George Floyd and the subsequent Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests in 2020. The murders of sisters Nicole Smallman and Bibaa Henry in 2020, Sarah Everard in 2021 and Sabina Nessa some months later, all by male perpetrators in each case. These unrelated incidences and the most recent murder of Zara Aleena by a stranger in June 2022, remind us of the continued fight in addressing acts of violence against women and girls, and their subsequent safety on the streets. Finally, since 2019, the world has participated in the fight against Covid-19 and the ensuing pandemic, which has magnified social and economic inequalities across various communities, including our health, social care, and education systems to name a few.

CSTM has engaged with the themes emerging from these incidences. At the end of last year, 2021, members of the team from various departments and at different levels, who were eager for the organisation to be proactive in understanding how inclusive it was, put out a tender to carry out a 3-month EDI review. This took place between January to April of this year. They recruited Dr Ope Lori as a consultant from PILAA to carry out the assessment, which would culminate in a set of recommendations being outlined that the organisation could implement.

As part of the assessment, they wanted to know how they could best improve their approach in 3 key areas:

1. Recruiting and managing our workforce and volunteers

2. Developing anti-discriminatory practice in everything we do

3. Working towards excellence in being a diverse and inclusive charity

The review saw a qualitative approach being taken, through 1-1 informal interviews being conducted between Dr Ope Lori and roughly 75% of their workforce. In addition, there were 1-1’s with Trustees, a Volunteer and as important, a group of clients, whom the charity serves. The project was a collaborative endeavour, built on trust, mutual respect and a shared desire to improve on EDI.

An executive summary about the report and the ensuing recommendations will be made public by the CEO Pam Orchard in the coming months and will be published on the organisation’s website. Here we briefly outline 3 key themes which emerged from the review, but which are part of a larger conversation across the sector and other workplaces at large.

Actors discussing challenges in the workplace from past experiences (2021) PILAA

Lived Experience

The first was around the notion of ‘lived experience’. It became a key phrase throughout the review and from an EDI perspective, we learnt that it was more complex than meets the eye. Having ‘lived experience’ is a criterion which is being used more frequently within the landscape of recruitment, however within the context of the organisation, what is being referred to is, ‘the lived experience of homelessness.’ Multiple users spoke to this, not only as a criterion to be included on job descriptions or within the criteria for trustee selection, but more crucially, within the lens of what it meant for the services to be delivered in an authentic way. A lot therefore could be learnt from tapping into this element of experience, which the organisation will be building on. 

Facilitating Difficult Conversations - On Race

A major theme we have seen across a range of industries, especially after the social injustices outlined earlier, is that many organisations are asking, to what extent are they an anti-racist organisation? To what extent are they equipped as an organisation on an institutional and individual level, to challenge discriminatory behaviours against race, but also any of the other protected characteristics? To what extent are frontline staff, in particular black colleagues and those from minority ethnic groups protected and supported from racial abuse, specifically made by clients and what policies are in place? These were by no means easy questions to answer at CSTM, especially when trying to get the right balance between the needs of employees and those whom they serve. CSTM, as with other organisations seeking to be an anti-discriminatory, anti-racist organisation, will have to recect on past wounds, in order to achieve a better future. As Randall Robinson, the African American lawyer, author and activist urges us to do, we must “know and embrace our past in all its fullness, for therein lies our only hope for a healthy, self- agrming present – and future.” (1)

Diversifying Recruitment

Good work was already happening in this area, especially at Board level of the organisation, where a recent recruitment of Trustees at the end of 2021, had brought more diversity into the group. How to diversify teams and truly understanding what diversity means beyond difference, was a challenge that multiple departments were conscious of tackling. There were simple effective measures that could be taken, such as re-working governance pages and making them more “user-friendly”, in the sense of adding personality to trustee bios, in order to appeal to a wider and future set of applicants. Longer measures, related to unpacking the root issues that could cause an ongoing perpetuation in a lack of diversity. To this end, a recent study by Rathbones, stated that up to “90% of charities recruit most of their trustees through word-of- mouth and existing networks.” (2) If trustee members are therefore recruiting who they know, unless their pool is mixed on multiple levels, then who they recruit, will continue to be predominantly, white, male, from a higher economic background and from similar work industries, as seemed to be the general case across the landscape of governance. Therefore, challenging old ways of doing things in order to eradicate room for unconscious biases to manifest, is critical in changing the narrative and the landscape of diversity within the context of recruitment.

To find out more information on The Connection at St Martin’s and their work on EDI, and to read about the review in the coming months, please visit here.



(1) DeGruy, J (2017) Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome: America’s Legacy of Enduring Injury and Healing, Joy Degruy Publications Inc; Illustrated edition

(2) practical-guide

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