At the beginning of 2014 many of the government’s ongoing austerity measures had started to impact disproportionately on women, some ethnic minority communities, disabled people, and on people on benefits and low incomes. In areas like Shropshire, with pockets of economic and social exclusion, poor social and economic infrastructure and few community advice and development resources, this has especially serious impacts for people from those communities. We need a strong, independent voice supporting good equality and diversity practice, challenging poor or weak practice, and providing a coherent and effective equality champion.
Hence the FRESh Equality Forum…. its purpose is to develop and support a network of statutory and voluntary agencies, local community groups, commercial organisations and individual activists to discuss and take action on equality, diversity and anti-discrimination issues across the county. The Forum supports the elimination of all forms of unfair treatment and discrimination, and supports making Shropshire a welcoming place for all.
The Forum is open to any individual, group or organisation in Shropshire who subscribes to the Equality Forum Terms of Reference. The Forum meets four times a year, with any sub-groups meeting as required. Meetings are ‘open’ – you don’t have to be a members of FRESh to attend – and widely networked and advertised. Meetings usually include presentations and workshops on topical equality issues, informal group discussion and networking, and developing ideas for the work of FRESh itself – thus making sure FRESh remains in touch with the priorities of local groups and communities. Forum workshops and discussions have included:
- The importance of effective equality and diversity work in Shropshire in difficult times
- Warwickshire and West Mercia Police Draft Joint Hate Crime Strategy
- ‘For the Birds’ video (http://tinyurl.com/olpfm6r) (a funny and thought-provoking cartoon that can be used to raise group discussion about prejudice, discrimination, collusion in oppression, group cultures, difference and challenging)
- The Equality Act three years on – changes, impacts and implications
- Lessons from the Prayer Room (the controversial 2013 campaign against using the old Shrewsbury Register Office as a community centre and Muslim Prayer Room)
The Equality Forum has made clear they want FRESh to:
- Stand by its statements of value and principle – and to hold individuals, agencies and organisations to account and challenge them constructively when appropriate
- Trigger equality debates; drawing out issues and encouraging dialogue
Look at all groups and communities; monitor and – when necessary – challenge how minorities are treated within them
- Provide positive responses when equality issues are raised
- Support colleagues in their own organisations to ensure that they can discuss, think and plan responses to equality issues and debates
- Ensure the Forum is a safe environment for open discussion;
- Make sure issues are dealt with collectively
- Build on links with existing groups and organisations, and allocate time in Forum agenda for presentations and awareness-raising of their work and how they can be supported by FRESh.
The FRESh Equality Forum usually meets at 2.00 pm on the first Thursday in March, June, September and December. If you’d like to be put on our notification email list, please email us (FRESh.Shropshire@gmail.com)