Why Black History month is important

During Black History Month, the inevitable question arises… “Do we still need Black History Month?”

208 words, approx. 1.5 minutes to read

In October we celebrate Black History Month and the inevitable question arises… “Do we still need Black History Month?”

My answer is always an emphatic “yes!” Black History Month (BHM) is a key opportunity to shine a spotlight on the often hidden achievements of people of African descent throughout the diaspora. In an ideal world, these accolades would be celebrated year-round, but as that’s not yet the case, BHM is very much needed. 

Many of you will know stories of African-American heroes. This BHM, Rise is bringing the focus closer to home — highlighting Black-British pioneers who have enhanced the fabric of British society through their contributions to science, economics, entertainment, culture, politics and beyond. We have selected 31 individuals to celebrate throughout the month, whose stories range from the 1700s to today. 

Most of these stories were new to me, it would be great to hear how many you’d heard of!

We will also be hosting a number of events:

Keep an eye on the blog and Co-op colleagues can stay up to date on our Yammer group for more details.

Annette Joseph
Digital Delivery Manager and Rise Chair


Rise Network Commons visit and Ethnicity Pay Gap reporting

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Co-op Rise Network’s Atif and Eram attended an event at the House of Commons, hosted by Dawn Butler, All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG)

In June, Co-op Rise Network’s Atif and Eram attended an event at Portcullis House at the House of Commons. The event was hosted by Dawn Butler MP who is chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Governance and Inclusive Leadership (GAIL).

The purpose of GAIL is to improve the working lives of BAME employees and raise the issue of inclusive leadership and governance in all areas of society with the key aim of giving people from visible minorities fair opportunities to progress to positions of power and influence throughout the UK.

It was a fantastic event attended by various businesses including Network Rail, Bank of England, and the NHS, all at different stage in their ethnicity and diversity journey. 

At Co-op we began this journey last year with the creation of our Rise Network, the first step towards improving our ethnic maturity as a business. We were able to use Commons event to gather best practices and ideas used by other organisations and we will look to collaborate with our HR team to work out which ideas and practices would work for us at Co-op. 

An example of this would be urging colleagues to input their ethnicity data on their workplace’s HR system. I would recommend all colleagues fill in this information as it gives the business a better understanding of the composition of people working at Co-op and the ability to monitor the progression of colleagues from different backgrounds as well as understand potential ethnicity pay gaps and provide a benchmark to compare to other businesses. 

One of the things Dawn Butler is championing is mandatory ethnicity pay gap reporting across businesses, similar to the mandatory gender pay gap reporting we have today. A survey was conducted in October 2018 by APPG GAIL to better understand whether employers and individuals felt Ethnicity Pay Gap Reporting would create positive progress. The most common responses amongst 142 respondents were:

  • Opportunity to look at intersectionality – gender and race, and identify further diversity and intersectionality disparities
  • Encourages companies to begin to collect data which is essential to help highlight gaps and work to close them
  • Giving boards a buy-in to create real change across the organisation.

We think this is an important part of the progress on the diversity journey because in order to address the potential issues, we need to understand the size of issues first. Feel free to make your suggestions by commenting on this post or by emailing us on rise@coop.co.uk


Eram Akram and Atif Hussain
FOS analyst and Business Intelligence Analyst

A Colourful Past: India’s ‘Festival of Colours’

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I’m absolutely thrilled to be part of the Co-op’s Rise Network and tell you all about my favourite Hindu festival – Holi.

I’m absolutely thrilled to be part of the Co-op’s Rise Network and tell you all about my favourite Hindu festival – Holi.

I’ve been working with the Co-op for over 2 years now initially working as a Commercial Analyst and now within the Co-op’s Data Management Team as a Business Analyst.

I was born and raised here in the UK with my roots going back to India. I grew up in Manchester with a traditional Hindu family. Me and my two sisters were all taught the basis of Hinduism. It’s so exciting to have been part of this Holi celebration every year since birth.

What is Holi? 

Every year, at the beginning of spring in India, is our openhearted Holi Festival – a.k.a an all-out dry powdered paint war!

Holi, also known as the Festival of Colors, has a long tradition rooted deeply in Hinduism. For many, it’s a day to forgive and create new beginnings. Like many other festivals in India, Holi signifies a victory of good over evil. We celebrate the joy of friendship, the coming of spring and equality for all.

While it is unknown exactly when Holi dates back to, the first mention is believed to have been in 4th century.  

What can you expect on Holi? 

Holi took place this year on 20 March. During the festival, our friends and family all gather together and play Holi outside and splash each other with bright powdered colours. The brighter the colour, the better.

The coloured powders that we use in Holi represents love, happiness, and the freedom we have to live our lives vibrantly. Holi is celebrated across the globe, including here in England. Back in 2016, I lived and worked in New York and I was proud to have joined a beautiful crowd playing Holi on 48th Street.

You’ll never have experienced anything like this…people chasing each other equipped with packets of dry powdered paint, splashing everyone from head to toe in colour whilst singing and dancing their hearts out to classical Bollywood or Bhangra music. It’s a free-for-all…and so much fun.

It’s a time where we all get to connect with our family and friends, meet others, laugh and forget our worries.

What I love the most about Holi is the fact that we all have a smile on our faces – enjoying the company of everyone around us. You feel proud to be part of a festival where you can see people happy on such a big scale. It’s amazing, wonderfully different, a congregation of music, food and colours. There is no better way to experience the Indian culture than to celebrate the Holi festival.

Kavita Mistry
Business Analyst

South Asian cultural event

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Following the success of our Caribbean Event in November last year, the Rise Network invited colleagues from across Co-op to attend a South Asian themed evening.

Hey, Atif here,

Following the success of our Caribbean Event in November last year, the Rise Network invited colleagues from across Co-op to attend a South Asian themed evening.

South Asia is a region of the world that comprises the nations of India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Maldives and Sri Lanka. At Co-op, we have a diverse mix of people with origins from these countries and they all bring with them varied customs and traditions.

It was a family friendly affair with a fantastic turn-out from across the Co-op where colleagues mingled together to talk about food, cultures, music and even work!

We put on traditional clothing and some of my colleagues even did couple of dance numbers, I really need to up my game on that. Any takers for a dance lesson with me?! I can start with Salsa, Tango and make my way to Bhangra (a punjabi folk dance to the beat of drums).

Rise organises events like these with the aim to promote diversity and raise cultural awareness in its truest sense. When you know your colleagues better, you work better together and create a thriving environment for the common goal of serving our members and communities.

These events are a success because of the involvement of everyone, no matter what their background. If you have any ideas to share for other events or if you’d like to join us, let us know Rise@coop.co.uk.

Diversity is good for communities, and it’s good for business.

Atif Hussain 
Business Intelligence Analyst (Co-op Property)

Empathy is good for Co-op

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We’re hosting a series of events focused on different cultures to celebrate both our similarities and differences.

Did you know that the benefits of building a workforce of diverse people and an inclusive culture are huge – from better financial performance and more innovative problem-solving to easier employee retention and greater appeal to customers.” 

The communities we serve are changing. I stepped up to become Chair of the Rise Network a few months ago so that I could be a part of making the Co-op ready for the future.

We live in a multicultural society, yet most of us spend the majority of our time with people who are just like us. Without perspectives from different backgrounds and cultures, our worldview is skewed as the representations we see in the media only offer, at best, a 2-dimensional view. Without a full picture, it’s difficult for us to envision the world as someone else may experience it.

Simply interacting with individuals who are different forces group members to prepare better, to anticipate alternative viewpoints and to expect that reaching consensus will take effort.”

A typical example of one way that cultural awareness makes us more able to serve our customers was given by a fellow colleague the other day. They facilitated some training with our Co-op Academies. At lunch, their chosen meal deal lunch of sandwiches, crisps and a drink was provided to the group. When a large portion of the students immediately turned over the bag of salt and Chardonnay vinegar crisps to ensure there was no alcohol, the colleague realised they’d overlooked a small but vital detail — as most of the students were Muslim and they don’t consume alcohol.

One of the main purposes of Rise is to create empathy and common understanding amongst colleagues of all cultures. To help with this, we’re hosting a series of events focused on different cultures to celebrate both our similarities and differences.

“Eighty-three per cent of employees are more likely to innovate – and are more than twice as engaged – in workplaces that are both diverse and inclusive.”

The first of these events is on Friday 23 November at Federation House from 4 – 8pm. It will focus on aspects of Afro-Caribbean culture and give the attendees the opportunity to network with colleagues from many different cultures in a social setting.

We invite you to come together to enjoy authentic Caribbean food, great music and learn about each other. Children are welcome, although they must be accompanied by an adult at all times.

Sign up to the event here

Diversity is good for customers, it’s good for communities and it’s good for business

Annette Joseph
Digital Delivery Manager and Chair of the Rise Network

Diwali – significance and celebrations

561 words approx. 3.5 minutes to read

Diwali, a 5 day festival, is celebrated to mark the triumph of good over evil.

Diwali, a 5 day festival, is celebrated to mark the triumph of good over evil.

It is observed in many countries such as India, Malaysia and Nepal, or where there are larger Indian communities such as Canada, Britain and New Zealand. Diwali has same significance for Hindus as Christmas does for Christians.

Other than Hindus; Sikhs, Buddhists and Jains also celebrate Diwali, although for each faith it marks different historical events and stories with the same symbolic victory of ‘light over darkness’; ‘knowledge over ignorance’ and ‘good over evil’.  Whatever your faith, you can join in the festivity that is ‘The Festival of Light’ or ‘Deepavali’.

Diwali is celebrated to honour Rama-chandra, the 7th avatar (incarnation of god Vishnu). It is believed that on this day Rama-chandra returned home after 14 years of exile during which he won a battle against the demons and their demon king, Ravana.

How I celebrate Diwali

Title image Pooja ThaaliI start the preparations for Diwali by doing a spring clean of sorts. I decorate my home with wall hangings, make Rangoli and draw small footprints over my home, to welcome the Goddess of wealth, Lakshmi. I will do this before the 1st day of Diwali or Dhanteras.

In the evening, I will light small oil lamps called Diyas and place them around the home. The light symbolises inner peace to fight off traces of darkness and ignorance.

1st day Dhanteras (Day of Fortune) – I will simply go shopping!! It is customary to buy utensils and ornaments on the first day of Diwali.

2nd and 3rd day (Day of Knowledge and Light) – We wear new clothes and jewels. Bake sweets, snacks and savouries. These are traditional offerings for Diwali and exchanged as gifts.

Diwali day (3rd day), I, along with my daughter, perform rituals (Pooja) to seek divine blessings from the Goddess of Wealth, Lakshmi and the God of prosperity, Ganesh.

After Pooja, we meet up with the extended family for our family meal and then go out to set off fireworks. Back home in India, normally neighbours will get together and join in with the fireworks.

‘The loudest the better’ is the motive on the day, which is common part of Diwali. While kids are doing fireworks, under supervision of course, Elders will retire to play card games for money.

4th Day Annakut (New Year) – New financial year starts for the Indian business community and Hindus celebrate their New Year.

5th Day Bhai Duj (Siblings love) – Brothers and Sisters celebrate the day by reaffirming sibling love. My daughter do ‘Tikka’ on the forehead of cousin brothers to show her love and appreciation. Her brothers, in return, give her gifts and pledge their love and to always be there for her, no matter what.

Spiritual significance of Diwali

Beyond lights, gambling and fun, Diwali is also a time to reflect on life and make changes like give and forgiving – forget and forgive the wrongs done by others, unite and unify – Diwali is a unifying event and can soften even the hardest of hearts.

It is a time for people to gather in joy and embrace one another illuminate your inner self – It is believed that the light of lights is the one that shines steadily in the chamber of the heart and by fixing the mind on this supermen light illuminates the soul.

Namratta Bedi 
Project Merchandiser

Black History Month

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This year celebrates the 70th Anniversary of the Empire Windrush arriving at Tilbury Docks, Essex, carrying hundreds of passengers from the Caribbean hoping for a new life in Britain.

This year celebrates the 70th Anniversary of the Empire Windrush arriving at Tilbury Docks, Essex, carrying hundreds of passengers from the Caribbean hoping for a new life in Britain.

This symbolic event heralded the start of a wave of Caribbean migration to Britain from 1948 to 1971.

As a child of one of these migrants, I grew up thinking that this was also the start of the Black history timeline in Britain. This was mainly because my history lessons in school were predominately based around subjects like the Industrial Revolution, War of the Roses and the individuals of those periods. It would be easy to believe that prior to 1948 there were no Black people in Britain.

Recently I have come to learn that Black history in Britain originates well before 1948, in fact almost 2000 years before.

A fourth century inscription tells us that a Roman Military garrison of approx 500 North African Moor soldiers were stationed on Hadrian’s Wall in Cumbria. Evidence suggests that this unit was sent to protect the Roman Empire borders in Britain.

A few years ago in Eastbourne — an ancient skeleton named ‘Beachy Head Lady’ who lived during the Roman period and is thought to have originated from Sub Saharan Africa. There is strong indication that she grew up in Southeast England. She was possibly born in Africa and travelled to Britain while she was young, or it’s even possible that she was born in Britain. But she is certainly the earliest recorded Black Briton, 1700 years ago.

Fast forward a few hundred years to the Georgian period and I discovered the story of Francis Barber. Francis was born in Jamaica and travelled to England when he was 15. He was sent to be the valet of the writer Samuel Johnson and he assisted Samuel in revising his famous Dictionary of the English Language and other works.

His story isn’t an isolated one and there is evidence that during the Georgian Period there were approximately 10,000 black people living in Britain.

Examples like these are a few of many. Yet, when I look back at my history lessons in school, there was very little Black History being taught, let alone Black British history. Even now the timeline of most schools’ Black history curriculum follows slavery and Martin Luther King.

These are very important subjects but I can’t help but feel that it does leave a hole in British history. This is what the celebration of Black History Month endeavours to fill.

My parents came to Britain from Jamaica a number of years after the arrival of the Empire Windrush. Like many Caribbean migrants, the decision to leave the home where they grew up was a difficult one.

To most Caribbeans, Britain was seen as the mother country and as my parents were British Subjects. Britain was viewed as “having streets paved with gold”, and seen as an opportunity of a better life.

When they arrived the reality was much harder. Early in their arrival, it was a struggle. Facing racial inequality, adjusting to a new society and getting used to the weather.

The difficulties Caribbean migrants encountered with housing meant that my parents had to live in a house with 5 or 6 other families who were from the same area of Jamaica, until they were able to buy their own home. My mother eventually became a nurse in the NHS and my father a mechanic for British Telecom and they settled in Wolverhampton.

A shared experience builds a stronger community. As a result of migration, Wolverhampton became one of the cities in Britain with a large Caribbean community.

Many of the people in the community I was raised in were people that my parents grew up with in Jamaica. This meant that although I grew up in a multicultural society, my childhood was filled with stories of my parents memories of life “back home!”, (as my mother would say). So it is no surprise that as a child I had a vision of Jamaica being a place that had a story or a parable for every situation in life.

I’ll leave you with a quote from Yomi Adegoke, a celebrated journalist:

“Many of us have never quite felt fully British, nor fully identified with wherever our parents may be from. We’ve straddled two worlds, and sat uncomfortably at a junction of “either” and “or”. But for the first time – in my memory at least – we’re comfortably embracing both. Black Brits aren’t simply welcoming bits of our identity, but all of it at once, creating and strengthening an identity within itself: a Black British one.”

The recent events surrounding Windrush have been unsettling for the Caribbean community. In a time when our present is turbulent and our future is unclear, we should look to the past more than ever.

Black History Month is important and it raises awareness of the contribution Black people from many different countries cultures have made to Britain.

Ian Valentine
Service Analyst