Black lives matter. Our response as a charity must involve deep, sustained change.

Richard Piper | June 2020 | 8 minutes

We stand with the Black Lives Matter movement, but spoken solidarity is not enough: our response as a charity must involve deep, sustained change.

Black lives matter.

Alcohol Change UK stands in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. We stand against the very real, systemic racism in the UK – including and especially that found in the charity and alcohol harm reduction sectors.

But spoken solidarity is not enough. Over the past week, we at Alcohol Change UK – and I personally – have been reflecting on what our response to the profound issues highlighted by the recent protests in the USA and UK should be. We are clear that this response must involve deep, sustained change.

We are still at an early stage in this thinking – a shamefully early stage. Our charity’s strategy commits us to tackling the white-centric approach to reducing alcohol harm and our values include compassion for everyone affected by alcohol harm – but we need to make these commitments much stronger, and do much more to put them into action.

Looking at our work to end alcohol harm there is much of which I am proud – but also much that we can, must and will do better. There are uncomfortable, vital questions we must ask ourselves about who we listen to, the emphasis we place on different areas of work, and how we use and share the power and privilege that comes from being an organisation grounded in a white British establishment.

Here, I would like to make several commitments.

  • To listen. We must do more to centre the voices of Black people and other people of colour in the alcohol sector, listening to what people and communities need, and how we can do better. At the same time we will not expect that people of colour take on the burden of work, and will pay appropriately for consultancy and input.
  • To make immediate changes where we can. As an entirely insufficient first step, I commit to not appearing on entirely white panels, nor to us as a charity hosting them. I will say again: this is insufficient, but it is a step.
  • To review how we use our assets and resources, including how we fund research. We are currently urgently reviewing changes that we could make to our New Horizons grants programme, applications for which are currently open on the theme of ‘Groups, communities and alcohol harm’ and which already has a focus on under-represented groups. How can we strengthen that?
  • To improve our systems, cultures and behaviours, including our recruitment practices for staff, trustees and volunteers. We must ensure that the changes we make lead to a permanent dismantling of conscious and subconscious racism.
  • To review our strategy, with a view to building anti-racism into the heart of Alcohol Change UK, and putting that into action in all we do. This is consistent with our vision: a society free from the serious harm caused by alcohol. We cannot achieve that vision without recognising and addressing that alcohol harm is experienced unequally, and that challenges and solutions are not universal. It is essential that we address the inequalities which worsen alcohol harm.

We can and I hope will be held accountable. By 31 August, we will publish here an update on what we have done so far. At that point there will still be much more to do, but we will do our best to balance the urgency of change with the need to implement deep, long-term reform. We deserve no congratulation for this: we should have taken these steps a long time ago.

Thank you for the time you have taken to read this.

August 2020 update

To date, we have taken four key steps towards being actively anti-racist in all we do. We have:

  • Enacted our policy of not appearing on all-white panels.
  • Sought professional external input to help us develop an effective, sustainable approach.
  • Run an initial session with all staff in the organisation and launched a shared board online through which any staff member can share thoughts, experiences and feedback anonymously.
  • Established a staff working group, which will act on ideas shared via the board, in addition to planning other proactive work and holding the organisation to account.

We will continue to update this blog with the steps we are taking. If you would like to offer feedback please get in touch.