BAME leaders across Bedford have reacted strongly to comments made by Bedfordshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner, Kathryn Holloway, who appeared to accuse the Bedford Independent of racism after she was questioned about her handling of a community project.
The Bedford Independent asked the PCC about a recent project to inspire young people in the area, after we were told funding to lead the project had been given to a business outside of Bedfordshire.
Our subsequent investigation also found the project had reached only three per cent of the people it was aimed at.
In her response to questions about the project, the PCC said: “I’m somewhat mystified that your questions have been so apparently hostile towards a 20-year-old mixed race man who I see as a superb role model in relation to young people, especially in the current climate but, frankly, at any time.
“I think we all need to ask ourselves whether we are entirely certain that the approach being taken to this project would have been identical if his cultural background was different…”
At no point in our questions did the Bedford Independent mention the cultural background of the person fronting the campaign, or even challenge his ability to do a good job.
Instead, the PCC was asked if she felt the campaign really was run as successfully as it could have been, and if using a Bedfordshire based presenter would have been a better choice.
The PCC defended her decision, as you can see by the email chain we are sharing below.
We have taken the unusual step of publishing these emails so you can see our interaction with the PCC on this matter in full.
But she added the accusation of racism despite no mention of anyone’s cultural background in the questions.
The Bedford Independent continued a dialogue with the PCC and even asked her if she would like to review her responses, including the accusation of racism.
She replied that she did not need to change her response as she had “nothing to hide”.
Several BAME community leaders have now defended the Bedford Independent and reacted angrily to the PCC’s “disgraceful” use of race in her response.
Local campaigner Pauline Stepney said: “The comments made by Beds PCC show a disgraceful degree of total ignorance and shameful gas-lighting. If I had made enquiries of this nature would I have been branded a racist?
“I feel by highlighting the cultural heritage of this young man and making it an issue is an avoidance tactic. Shameful.”
CEO of Spectacularts, Sharon Deleonardis, added: “As an organisation we at Spectacularts have always found the editorials written by the Bedford Independent to be fair and never discriminative.
“In fact, they have always gone above and beyond to aid us as an organisation, covering our events within the community.
“Furthermore, they have supported not only us, but the work of the multiple organisations throughout the ongoing BLM movement and surrounding BAME groups in their aims to promote positive imagery and education of Black history.
“We feel the Bedford Independent highlight and hold an anti-racist position and continue to work alongside the community. We have always felt supported by you.”
Dorian Alexis, COO of Samsons Academy Charity and Vice-Chair of the Bedford Afro Caribbean Network also gave his support.
“The Bedford Independent has always been highly supportive of both my organisations and those of others who come from the BAME and Afro Caribbean community.
“They have approached us on many occasions offering support and ideas where we can either get advice and information or just to find out what we are doing in relation to the growing pandemic of youth violence and knife crime in Bedfordshire.”
“You [The Bedford Independent] covered the recent protests in Bedford so fairly without bias or prejudice which we knew you would as you have never exhibited any form of white privilege in your reporting in the past,” he said.
Project reaches less than three per cent of young people
The PCC’s project was designed to inspire young people aged 10-25 to remain active and learn new things during lockdown and the school summer holidays, with a series of videos available on YouTube.
According to the 2011 census, there are 117,851 10 to 24-year-olds in Bedfordshire and Luton.
The 256 videos have an average of 14 views each, 3,568 in total.
Even if these views were from single individuals, that would mean the project has only reached just over three per cent of the people it was aimed at.
As these are not unique views, and the 10 to 24-year-old population will have increased in the past nine years, the campaign has reached a much smaller percentage.
The PCC also did not set aside any funding for promoting the project directly to local people on social media to attract a far greater number of children and young adults to the videos.
However, she maintains that anyone would “be proud of results like this”.
“Getting an online project off the ground from a standing start during a pandemic and achieving this level of engagement is absolutely a mark of success,” she said.
But others disagree. “The JC Collective in our opinion has been a total waste of public money and time,” said Dorian Alexis.
“I can only suspect that the PCC’s Office is experiencing high levels of Transference and Projection so as to cast the eyes of scrutiny onto others,” he said.
Whereas Pauline Stepney added: “The main thing here is that the PCC displayed that they have very limited knowledge of the community they serve… Why has there been so little up take regarding this project?”
“The most well qualified by far”
The PCC received 30 applications from people seeking to provide content for the project.
Just five were chosen, each receiving £400 to buy film making equipment and £25 per hour to make their videos.
The range of activities includes fitness sessions, football training sessions, boxing, cookery, chess and mindfulness courses.
The PCC chose a personal trainer and bodybuilder from London to front the campaign stating that he “was the most well qualified by far of those who applied to her”.
The Bedford Independent’s original investigation was sparked by world record-holding speed skipper and educational behaviourist, Pete Thompson.
Pete, whose Skip Beatz brand is well-recognised among Bedfordshire children thanks to his outreach work with local schools, approached the PCC for some of the coronavirus funding to provide online fitness content.
He was told that to qualify, he would not be able to use his own branding, and all content would be promoted under the James Campbell Collective.
As a sportsperson, who has spent years building up his own brand and who has recently been part of a nationwide Lucozade ‘lockdown’, Peter was reticent to provide un-branded content to promote another fitness professional’s name.
“I have absolutely nothing against James Campbell,” said Peter. “My issue is with the way the PCC has managed and promoted this project.
“The PCC is not above criticism, and to accuse me of ‘sour grapes’ and the Bedford Independent of racism, simply for questioning the effective use of public money is quite unbelievable and frankly unprofessional.”
However, the PCC maintains that using someone outside of Bedfordshire is irrelevant.
A spokesperson for the PCC’s office said: “James applied to provide one of the online sessions; in his case, fitness classes in which he is well qualified as an established personal trainer, also leading online sessions for a national gym chain.
“The PCC considered that if his teaching was considered of national quality, it would certainly be appropriate to choose him to lead sessions in her county.
“The feedback we have received has been positive in relation to both James’ input and that of other contributors. This has been a huge success,” they said.