Life after prison – new ventures for employment and business

The last weeks has been great for me doing something new and learning about new issues – by this I meant learning about the Criminal Justice system and meeting several organisations, legal professionals, charities, leaders, academics, and persons who are committed to helping returning citizens (preferred term now rather than ex-offenders) by supporting them to resume their lives with education, business opportunities, employment skills and support. We were invited to take part in the project known as Project ReMake, which was the starting point for getting involved in this area of work.  I will discuss some of the people, organisations, leaders and programmes I have met and how I understand a little bit more on the great work, policies and the tasks still in hand to help with a very complex and emotive criminal justice system. My disclaimer is that I don’t have much exposure to prisons neither the legal system, so I am unable to speak in detail about those areas.  However, who knows, perhaps one day I may visit a prison as part of my work in libraries and as an information professional, as have my ex-colleagues for presentations in the past, and many other prison librarians. 

When I first start in my current role at the British Library, I received a handwritten letter from a prisoner who was researching kenkey (cornmeal) in preparation for starting her business when she was released from prison.  At that time, I hadn’t received any enquiry from prison before, and although I was able to find information and post it back to the person – I never met the person nor was I able to follow up and find out how the person got on with her business venture when she was released.  I still secretly wish she is doing well and even if the business didn’t happen – I admired her well-written letter asking for information on the topic. 

 “No one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails.” – Nelson Mandela

Fast forward to earlier this year, it was a nice surprise to be asked to help students in the Project ReMake project by letting them know the wealth of free resources, access to expertise and support available for business ideas and creativity from the British Library.  I was very motivated from the start after meeting project leader Judge and fellow well-connected Trinidadian Judge Kameel Khan.  Kameel was able to introduce us to the graduates from the previous cohort, as well as the large number of support organisations (from universities to charities) who would assist in the project for this programme.  The introductory session was really heart-warming and inspiring on how important the learning opportunities and support are for someone trying to restart their life after their time away from society.  This initial event happened in late February, but since then I have learnt a lot more on the organisation, people and issues for assisting as well transforming or restarting lives and communities.

The one class I attended was also very useful for me as the trainer covered Competitor Intelligence, but due to time constraints I wasn’t able to attend other classes.  However, I have since hosted about four groups of persons who have visited me at the library since the project initiation and they are amazed with our access to resources and support available for starting their businesses.  One person dubious why I wanted to help and offered to help and support him without looking or asking for something in return – I had to point out that most librarians actually are kind and do support people and businesses all the time!

There are quite a few prison libraries, and CILIP has a Prison Libraries Group. These libraries are there to provide access to education, literacy, skills and leisure, and…perhaps escape in the books that they read.  The Prison Library Group are doing great work by their Twitter feed and seems to be popular with their programme of engagement with books, reading and education. Their mission is interesting for the provision of library services to prison communities as from their newsletter in 2021, I found the link to The Hardman Directory which offers a free online access as well as ‘contains information on grant schemes and start up loans, education, employers, housing, benefit changes, debt help and mentoring; all relevant to prisoners and/or ex-prisoners and/or to people serving their sentence in the community’.  Their work is very important within the prison system and for preparing return citizens.  I do recall going to an Italian food exhibition in the early 1993s where there was buffalo mozzarella made by female prisoners in the UK.  And recently, colleagues have mentioned that there is a fashion line pop-up in Westfield by ex-offenders called Blank Canvas

Some of the criminal justice organisations I met are doing great work for restoring lives on employability and training skills for people who want gain employment or start their own business.  Some of these organisations that I encountered recently are:

  • Working Change – this is a charity who is the UK’s only employment charity solely for women with convictions.  It was great to hear the support as well as the opportunities for training and learning new skills for women.  There should be more organisation who offer employment.  One example was Capita when I attended the Project Remake event. https://workingchance.org
  • The Corbett Network – has been going for over 40 years and Lady Val Corbett was very pleased to hear about the access to business resources and support we have our library. What was more impressive – is Lady Val’s networking lunch with amazing partners organisations and leaders who are stakeholders in the criminal justice system. It was one of the most memorable networking events I went to as we were discussing persons who were still in prison and how we can support them in and outside.  Some of these programmes included Sainsbury’s employment opportunities, Meganexus Digital Academy for prisoners, and Children’s charity for highlighting the issue with children left on their own to fend for themselves whilst their parent is in prison. https://www.thecorbettnetwork.com
  • Bounceback – I was able to also meet this charity who are helping people with employment skills and turning their lives around.  There is also great at driving lots of people back into work with partner organisations with high success with preventing re-offending.  https://www.bouncebackproject.com
  • Clink Charity – The Clink Charity works to train serving prisoners in catering skills within a real-life work environment whilst helping them gain academic qualifications. They offer great menu opens by students who are working to gain skills and qualifications in the food and drinks industry. https://theclinkcharity.org

One of the main highlights from the last few weeks is the Lady Val Networking Event at the appropriately ex-court dining room at Browns in Covent Garden.  Lady Val was amusing and deeply passionate about Prisoner Re-integration with her Corbett Network… “coalition of charities, social enterprises, and non-profit organisations and businesses with a social mission. These decision-makers are dedicated to reducing re-offending by helping people with convictions find and keep a job”. 

Prison – You may be confined by it, do not be defined by it.

– The Corbett Network

The Chairman of Timpson, James Timpson, was the guest speaker at the lunch and he was one of the best speakers I ever heard! He obviously was influenced by his parents who fostered children whose parents were in prison.  One of his first visits to prisons was when his mother took him and his siblings with her so the foster child could meet their parents in prison.  James spoke of his leadership ethos of kindness and techniques for getting everyone on board and in work with trust, family friendly policies, as well as a real commitment and strategic focus to help ex-offenders to gain training skills and meaningful employment.  He likes people who relish the trust bestowed on them, staff recognition and had some personality to work and service customers.  He was very funny and engaging in his stories, such as have a Rolls-Royce for an employee of the month at Timpson, staff fund for hardship and support on whatever they like (engagement ring, divorce etc), having a day off on your birthday and measuring the happiness index of employees to judge moral and motivation levels.  James also mentioned other great companies, such as Greggs supporting ex-offenders.  We discussed how entrepreneurial most offenders are due to issues prior to offending, or whilst in prison using very little to get what they need (within reason obviously in prison). I was also pleased to hear James mention his roles in prison reform boards, government policy and improvement for criminal justice advocacy. I found out that The Netherlands is also offering great rehabilitation for prisoners to the point that they are closing a third of their prisons.   We certainly have a Champion and angel in him.  Last but not least – it was heart-warming and blessed to heard James end his talk on the importance of kindness, as well as love.  One man talking to room full of women about this was truly impressive and resonates with my own motto.

On my closing note about the project, I only recently was referred to Lucy Vincent from the charity Food Behind Bars who teaches prisoners to cook their own foods and give them skills that they can use when they come out of prison.  Coincidently, the British Library was hosting a Food in Prison event which was interesting to hear the motivations of their business – such as there was no one focussing on the plight of prison food or even talking about it.  Lucy also feels like she is giving a voice to people in prison.  The other panellists had great thoughts on the state of the funding and support for prisoners – there seems to be no interest in making the food interesting or nutritional as the prisons are ‘not on a holiday’. Lucy is hoping to counter this with using the great bakeries, facilities and equipment available in Brixton for making food, as prisons used to in the past.  However, they discussed health, wellbeing and hope for prisoners in happy prisons – whereby we should make better people and societies and in the long run.  This makes sense for cost and benefits analysis with less financial strain on the prison system.

We can examine the capitalist side of prisons and hope for better in future! On a few of the events – the corruption and privatisation for profit of the prison system was mentioned.  Just as I recently read about prison system in Akala’s book ‘Race Class and the Ruins of Empire’.  However, these discussions, thought leaders, activism and businesses – including Judge Kameel Khan – are inspirational and really are doing great work in giving us solutions to a very complex criminal justice system. 

I look forward to hearing some successful business stories from these graduates from Project ReMake, and great examples of good citizenship for those who are motivated to make the best of their new start and ventures this time around.

What is Good Citizenship?

What is good global citizenship?

I have been thinking about good citizenship recently after I heard a few EU citizens mentioned taking a citizenship exam for British nationality due to Brexit, despite living in the UK for years.  I too had to get my British citizenship through a naturalisation process about 20 years ago to ensure that I would not have any immigration issues, as I encountered in 1995 before I married my Italian husband (a long story for another day).  It has made me focus on my thoughts on what it means to be a good citizen in my view, and as I am Indo-Trinidadian – I have a very broad view of what a good global citizen represents.  We live in a very interconnected world with access to news sources all across the global right at our fingertips.  We can focus on the issues and topics of interest very easily, and therefore we must make personal decisions and responsibility for our thoughts, ideals, participation and actions as good citizens.  I have also tried to do some research into good citizenship, and in a personal, professional and corporate capacity – it really comes down to our values and identity with private and public participation as citizens.  I will try to explore some of my personal views on here now, and how it is represented in the images I shared. Do feel free to let me know what good citizenship means to you too.

Here are some of my thoughts about good citizenship:

Freedom – The Greeks where one of the first people to formally discuss citizenship where scholar Geoffrey Hosking writes:

It can be argued that this growth of slavery was what made Greeks particularly conscious of the value of freedom. After all, any Greek farmer might fall into debt and therefore might become a slave, at almost any time … When the Greeks fought together, they fought in order to avoid being enslaved by warfare, to avoid being defeated by those who might take them into slavery. And they also arranged their political institutions so as to remain free men.

— Geoffrey Hosking, 2005. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Citizenship

It is interesting that the formal recognition of citizenship actually was birth out of the ancient survival clause to protect oneself and to ensure freedom.  I like this as it reinforces the feeling of belonging and loss of citizenship (such as with Brexit).  Yes, I gained some freedom and a greater sense of belonging (due to post-colonial history) to live and work here when I got married to an Italian but…I did lose my EU Citizen when the UK exited from the EU.  I know I could now apply for Italian citizenship but I am not looking forward to the bureaucracy, as it was apparently a lengthy process when I did try 25 years ago.  Perhaps it is easier now since Brexit. I dreamt of spending extended time in Europe as a teenager – and although I have been on the continent for holidays – I haven’t been for long relaxing periods of time (perhaps months when I retire, I hope).  I can only dream that this may happen in future.  Freedom of movement and the rights of a citizens are definitely reasons citizens feel proud to belong to their countries or nationality.  I have enough negative and positive immigration experiences on this issue to appreciate what makes a good citizen in the official sense. And I prefer to be a citizen rather than a subject in a feudal landscape.

Civic Engagement – As a child, my first encounter with the word civic was in the local Civic Centre in my village in Trinidad. This was a place where the community came together for learning, meetings, social and cultural activities.  It was also opposite a park, therefore very accessible for larger events and I do recall bazaars with stalls and music in the 1970s.  I remember my mother and other women took classes on string art and macrame in the local civic centre. These were great for building communities at that time and I am not sure if the same activities happen now there at that particular civic centre.  I do see that there are still quite a few civic centres in Trinidad and Tobago, and I hope this level of engagement carries on to build communities.

Fortunately for me, I live in a part of London which has a high level of civic engagement covering many areas in society such as – arts and craft, volunteering, activism and value-based activities for the good of the public and community. These have taken many forms, such as the local art trails, guerrilla gardening, environmental campaigning, public health and safety, etc.  Civic pride, engagement and commitment are apparent in many of these activities in local venues, and sometimes even on the street and public spaces.  Volunteering and micro-volunteering are some of the ways good citizenship manifests itself, and it really is the best way to ensure that you start being good citizens…from even within our neighbourhoods.

“Everyone can be great, because everybody can serve.”

Martin Luther King, Jr. 

Localism – Now if we take this same energy and widen it out a bit more we have…localism. This obviously in my context relates to being a Londoner for over 30 years – in fact, I have lived here longer than I have lived in my country of birth.  I used to care a lot about London but having worked in the heart of London – I have a bittersweet relationship on how it has turned out for me.  It really is personal.  I do get angry that there is no police station and support in my neighbourhood when we need it, the streets are dirty with litter and fly-tipping (I remember my Canadian Aunt telling me this in 1980s before I lived in London), frequent anti-social behaviour (ASBOS) and Londoners are still unfriendly.  I honestly have a friendly demeanour which was nurtured in the village and home I was brought up in.  Someone told me he thought I was on drugs when I was smiling all the time in a pub when I first arrived here.  I would like to see this as my natural happiness index

Although I have a love-hate relationship now with London, it is my home.  There are still issues we need to work through together, such as crime, environmental treats, climate change, expensive housing, travel issues, supporting local businesses, coming out of the pandemic etc – but it is great for access to international arts and cultural diversity, science and other educational institutions. I do know that I cannot live in a small town in the UK – perhaps for a little while but not for long.  I still take pride in the city where I live, and I will protect and contribute to my little corner of the world in whatever small way that I can. Yep, I am part of the metropolitan elite!

“There are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen” Vladimir Ilyich Lenin.

Globalisation – In a much wider perspective, I know globalisation has negative connotations due to the exploitation of companies, resources and humans.  However, there are still positive aspects of globalisation, especially as an international and multicultural society. The result is I am a Global Citizen! If like me, you grew up in a small island in the Caribbean, looking beyond the horizon to the rest of the world – being able to work, travel, lead and participate in global activities is a privilege. My heritage, place of birth, country that I live in and the friends and relatives I have abroad – I have a personal interest in all these regions and I am certainly outward looking.  As I write, Ukraine has been invaded by Russia and the news is distressing in the conflict, such as seeing death, damage and refugees making their way to safety to other countries.  It is also heart-warming to see other Ukrainian citizens stay behind and fight for their country.  I am not sure what I would do in the same situation.

As a Global Citizen, I want peace on Earth.  I don’t want humans to suffer. I want us to live in a World where we accommodate and respect each other values…peacefully.  It sounds a bit cliché but these are basic human rights and privileges.  What happens in one region affects us all – albeit climate issues, technology, health or even good old fashion joy! We should all take more pride as Global Citizens to help one another and to work on world issues, sustainability and challenges together.

According to UNESCO, global citizenship education (GCE or GCED) ‘develops the knowledge, skills, values and attitudes learners need to build a more just, peaceful, tolerant, inclusive, secure and sustainable world.’ 

Education – My deceased sister was a very academically brilliant and outgoing child in primary school.  One year in primary school, she received three prizes for her achievements – one of them included a prize for Good Citizenship. She received great encyclopedic books, I remember one of book was called ‘Tell me Why’.  I had the benefit of also using these books to gain lots of knowledge and trivia due to her brilliance.

‘I never found myself in a book’: Patricia Grace on the importance of Māori literature 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patricia_Grace

Education is one of the most important factors to make us good citizens and human beings throughout our lives. I remember doing ‘Ethics’ classes in secondary school where these principles were instilled. There seems to be different school of thoughts for history and cultural curriculum depending on what part of the world you are from, which impacts on our views. As adults we can learn to accept different arguments but encouraged to have a diversity of thoughts and perceptions on topics with access to information. We all need to remember from time to time to be kind and understanding to fellow humans to encourage engagement and exemplary citizenship. I recently saw a film ‘Cousins’ based on a book by Patricia Grace on Moari culture, where their culture was not appreciated or respected enough to encourage that relationship to be mutually respected and understood. I hope it is better today than the 1950’s when the book was based. I follow a South African activist and she inspires me with her advocacy for various causes as a global citizen. Education and great role models can teach us small and large acts of good global citizenship regardless of where we live. We do collaborate and learn from each other plus technology makes this a lot easier!

Once again I am looking at a big topic where there are several published research written for us to answer the questions and explore the concept of good citizenship. I hope working through my thoughts here on what it means broadly to me will resonate, reflect or rouse some of yours. Whatever way you look at it – we are all citizens of the world.

Still water runs deep – going beyond the surface

Smooth runs the water where the brook is deep,

And in his simple show he harbours treason…

No, no, my sovereign, Gloucester is a man

Unsounded yet and full of deep deceit.

– Henry VI by William Shakespeare, Playwriter.

From sunken open-air theatre in my neighbourhood to cruising river for a tour, I am still not venturing far and wide due to the pandemic so my activities are mainly focussed on being local but I have managed to do some more interesting outings than in recent months.

Unknowing to me, I found out that there is an open-air sunken theatre in my neighbour and it was great to see a production of William Shakespeare’s ‘Taming of the Shrew’ production by the Greek Theatre, whilst the evening was still light and warm.  I was impressed by the costumes, music and acting and will definitely try to go again next year hopefully. We certainly didn’t have to worry about the virus being outside and it was great to see theatre again in the pandemic with great appreciation for the effort that this three-hour production would have taken to perfect. 

Smooth runs the water where the brook is deep. – William Shakespeare, Playwriter.

We were taught Shakespeare in secondary school in Trinidad & Tobago and I love recognising his lines from his plays in everyday life.  Macbeth, Julius Ceasar, The Tempest are some of his plays seen in some great theatres by the Royal Shakespeare Company in the city over the years.  Believe it or not, not everyone likes Shakespeare.  I know some people who really like his works and some who do not.  I appreciate his work and even though I may not know all his works, you can’t help but love a good story, sonnet or play.  I hope to visit Shakespeare’s hometown of Stratford-upon-Avon, and to see a play in the globe theatre in London. Shakespeare’s Globe always looks amazing long the River Thames and I have been trying to make time to see a play there for ages and recently booked tickets to see ‘Romeo and Juliet’ in October.

“I am opposed to the laying down of rules or conditions to be observed in the construction of bridges lest the progress of improvement tomorrow might be embarrassed or shackled by recording or registering as law the prejudices or errors of today.” Isambard Kingdon Brunel – Civil Engineer.

The river itself has a long history going back to ancient times with various people living off off the banks. In the last tour of Soho we were told that the Vikings or order tribes used The Strand for storing their boats, with the cargo being brought up to the marketplace in or around the now Covent Garden.  It is fascinating how the river served the communities that lived in and around it over time. The British Museum had a great blog here which gives you a great idea of the types of civilised or uncivilised people who used the river way before our time.

The other excitement this month was a tour of the River Thames with SLA Europe with specific reference to the Brunel family, and their influence on engineering, construction, designs and building along the river’s rich history in the period.  On this occasion it was as if I was looking at the river with fresh eyes even though I have seen the river hundreds of times working on two riverside locations with PwC and City Hall.  Our guide was so knowledgable and engaging that I always try to jot down notes to check out the facts and references later.

Creative Commons Images. Source: National Portrait Gallery.

Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s engineering story and the impact on building bridges, tunnels, shipbuilding and landscape in London and elsewhere is renowned, with some structures are still standing today and in the future.  He was voted the Greatest Briton for the last millennium and that may have been for his renowned engineering, innovative inventions and ideas for the time…and being in the right place at the right time in the heart of the Industrial Revolution.  The bridges across the river tell a great story of his legacy and you still see evidence of this work as your cruise along the river.

The river itself has a long history going back to ancient times with various people living off off the banks. In my last tour of Soho, we were told that the Vikings or older tribes use of The Strand for storing their boats, with the cargo being brought up to the marketplace in or around the now Covent Garden.  It is fascinating how the river served the communities that lived in and around it over time. The British Museum had a great blog here which gives you a great idea of the types of civilised or uncivilised people who used the river way before our time.

What is interesting too in current times (pardon the pun) is mud-larkers, who scavenge the river bed to find objects that are washed up from the river beds.  There are some amusing evidences of past life and…soul of the river washing up again to remind us of those who may have gone long before us. As with rivers and sea, the underwater currents are strong and surprising, despite the exterior appearance seeming to be calm, still and controlled. The literally wash up stories for us.

I do not want art for a few any more than education for a few, or freedom for a few. – William Morris, designer, artist and social reformer.

As you may gather, water seems to be my theme this month, so I was please to see the new play area at the Town Hall in Waltham Forest where I live.  The borough council has created this space as a legacy for being the first Borough of Culture in 2019 and states on their website that it is a place for “family and neighbours to this vibrant new culture hub to experience the next chapter of our Borough of Culture legacy and reconnect with our community”. The new public square area is called Fellowship Square which is inspired by our local famous Arts and Craft designer William Morris. William Morris was adamant on accessibility and is known for the motto ‘Art for All’, so rightfully they are using the brand Waltham FORest for ALL.

The water fountain has been transformed into a new pedestrianised area for families to play with the water features choreographed to water and lights, with music being played from the built-in sound systems form the benches.  Little rant – I do think that this is a great new place for local residents but I do wish they can sort out there recycling and litter problem too!

You can’t really go too far without seeing Morris designs, his way of life and ethos are celebrated in everyday things in our local area close to the house he grew up in that is now the William Morris Gallery. There are great designs that are popping up even in a face mask or little free library to acknowledge his influence, inspiration and legacy on design and art in the UK but also across the globe.  It is amazing too that the William Morris Co is still running to this day with his classic designs and brand.

There are other waterways around where I roam, such as the Walthamstow Wetlands, Lea Valley and also the canals near King’s Cross.  These are some of the old ways of life for communities and business who used the waterways. These passage ways were obviously used before modern transportation, and it is lovely to see the riverboats that still line the routes along the Lea Valley river.  I love looking to see how people are living in these compact spaces especially in all types of weather.  I do know that the cost of them are far less than ‘bricks and mortar’ homes in London, and that you have to keep moving them after a certain time.  So ‘no fixed abode’ really does apply to these riverboat homes.

As we go into autumn, I am sure to find time to explore the city and local areas as I don’t have any plans to go far away.  It does seem that there are more people out and about in central London, and I can stay to see more in the pandemic apart from my place of work and neighbourhood. Hopefully the death rate does not increase in the colder months and no other coronavirus variants rage as we approach the two-year mark in a pandemic. I will try to still see some of the great historical sites and venues as the weather gets colder and make use of the indoor areas.  And as this recap shows, there is always a bit of freshness, wellness and invigoration being not far away from spaces with urban rivers and water.

A tribute and celebration of the life of my mother on her passing

OM bhūr bhuvaḥ svaḥtat savitur vareṇyaṃbhargo devasya dhīmahidhiyo yo naḥ pracodayāt

We meditate on that most adored Supreme Lord, the creator, whose effulgence (divine light) illumines all realms (physical, mental and spiritual). May this divine light illumine our intellect.

Word meaning: Om: The primeval sound; Bhur: the physical body/physical realm; Bhuvah: the life force/the mental realm Suvah: the soul/spiritual realm; Tat:  That (God); Savitur: the Sun, Creator (source of all life); Vareñyam: adore; Bhargo: effulgence (divine light); Devasya: supreme Lord; Dhīmahi: meditate; Dhiyo: the intellect; Yo: May this light; Nah: our; Prachodayāt: illumine/inspire. Source: https://www.sathyasai.org/devotional/gayatri

I would like to honour and celebrate the life of my mother, Kamala Rampersad, by paying tribute to her life with these few words.  My mother was born in 1940’s Trinidad in a large close-knit Indian family.  I can only imagine how it was from stories, photos and tales told of that period. I do know that this was a family who kept their Indian and Hindu traditions despite being in the heart of Port-of-Spain, but also integrated with Westernisation. 
 
It was a time of great changes after the World War II, and some young girls were given newer professional roles in Trinidad at the time.  My mother completed secretarial examinations in ‘Pitman Training’ for typing, shorthand in the 1950s (later bookkeeping), started driving and working as a personal assistant for her father at his custom broking, left luggage and other businesses.  It was a pioneering time when entrepreneurship and innovation were happening at a very quick pace in the twin islands.  Close friends and other families at this time in Port-of-Spain were running businesses, and newer careers that will go on to create our national identity and culture.  Her family was known and even close to other families, such as Joseph Charles (founder of Solo Beverages), Naipaul (such as in V.S. Naipaul), and some others I won’t mention for privacy. The stories told by her and our relatives are truly great and captures the essence of the class structures in families and society at that time in Port-of-Spain. My mother would have been an active player, as well as a living embodiment of this high calibre of post-war Port-of-Spain. 


 
In the early 1960s my parents got married and this is where, even on a small island, there were stark differences in town and country.  Life in the village was very much still linked to the sugar industry and the surrounding sugar plantations.  My mother had some adjusting to her new life but she also fitted in beautifully and friendly with the other lovely people who are still to this day in the village. There are amazing stories told of life then and the way things had developed over the years.  Religion, cultural traditions and social life were very much integral to the way of life.  There were the usual support systems of the extended family, neighbour and community that pulled together.  I do believe that it was a time when the term “takes a village to raise a child” really does make sense.  I personally witnessed this in the 1970s and 1980s.  It was reassuring in the last few days since her passing I am hearing how she supported other families and individuals in the high, lows, bad and good times in their lives, as well as how some of them have been there for us.  
 
In terms of her achievements, she was able to provide support to several villagers, family and friends for functions by providing some financial support, cooking, chatting, peace-making, helpfulness and good all-round cheerfulness. It is well-known that my mother can cook in bulk and was called ‘the best cook’ and baker in many ways by many people. I will miss her delicious cooking and baking and she was certainly unique in her hand at the various cuisines. She loved music and allowed us to indulge ourselves. She loved Trinidad Carnival and witness the splendour of it in Port-of-Spain from the 1940s. She still loved going to see the mas’ too until recently.


My mother was an active member of the Dow Village Hindu Mandir for decades and had an leading role in their planning, service and events committee – as well as a devotee on a regular basis.  She also volunteered for many community and social initiatives over the years.
 


 
It is the small or big acts of kindness that are the ones that we will treasure forever. I would like to mention that family life will obviously be where her kind-heartedness, gentle and loving nature would come through unconditionally, as with most parents.  As a couple, my parents were the ‘star boy and star girl’ of their generation. They were undoubtedly hard-working, committed parents and wanted the very best for us, especially with sacrificing their own wishes and time so that we can get the higher education in our younger years.  There was little educational support then for those who were average (like me) but wanted to pursue a different field than the one available at the time.  However, they still made it possible for me to ‘follow my dreams’ and to be the person I was hoping to become in London and Europe. The hardest part of all of this is that I left them in a loving family at a very young age.  This love never diminished with distance – it only made it stronger and more cherished to this day.  My parents were great to me, and through my own family I hope their memory and sacrifices will be told for years to come. My mother has been able to travel, as well as spend extended time with my brother in Canada, and most importantly, she was able to visit India twice and this was also one of her dreams growing up as an Indo-Caribbean in the 19th Century.
 
My mother had emotional intelligence and was practising mindfulness before I knew what these were labelled! She was sensitive, spiritual and careful of other people’s feelings – and this is something she took to heart in terms of the use of kind words, actions and deeds.  As she was spiritual and ‘in tune’ with her religion and spirituality, she also seemed to me to practice mindfulness in her mannerisms, thoughts and prayers.  She had a remarkable view of life in a very philosophical way, especially after losing family members, my father and sister (both between 1999-2000). I do think this gave her the ability to see the bigger picture and context of us as players in life and the need for genuine support from those around us – some have labelled her a role model, as well as the peacemaker.  These are not easy to do, and sometimes it is the harder role we take on as leaders in our own life’s way, missions, journey and story. I can tell you real anecdotes and true stories but the moral of her story is that my mother has been influential, and is truly my role model, remarkable and an inspiration. 

 
And so, this is a very brief outpouring of grief, appreciation and thanks after six months of intensive health issues with her wellbeing and health. One day I may be able to give her, her generation, family, neighbours, town and village the justice of a more in-depth piece of writing and research.
 
Today, my family and I wanted to thank all the persons who have helped and supported us recently. I want to thank everyone who has interacted, cared and loved my mother over the years.  She truly was special and she deserves a farewell that is honourable, admirable and appreciative for her way of life, actions and deeds.  I will always miss and love my mother.  I wish her peace, albeit in the after-life, heaven or paradise. It is all the same. May God bless her soul and may ever-lasting love and light shine on her forevermore. 


TVAMEVA MATA PRAYER

Twameva Mata, Chapita Twameva Twameva Bandhu, Cha Sakha Twameva Twameva Vidya, Dravinum Twameva Twameva sarvam mama deva-deva

O God, You are my mother, my father, my brother, and my friend. You are my knowledge. You are my only wealth. You are everything to me and the God of all Gods.

This mantra is usually recited at the conclusion of a prayer session, meditation, or religious function. Here the devotee surrenders his or her individuality to the Lord for his Grace.

 
Om Shanti Shanti Om

Euro 2020 – A festival of Football

I really was looking forward to Euros 2020 …last year.  As you know this is now happening in Summer 2021 as it was postponed due to the pandemic.  The football tournament really has light up social media and mainstream media channels!  It has some of us talking in real time again as we are obviously looking at the games live.  I also in typical ‘look away style’, I had one person say to me they don’t want to hear the scores as they can catch up on the game later on playback television.  Football has this magic to get fans and an occasional fan like me excited and interested tournaments, competitions and league games. It is exciting as well as reassuringly almost ‘normal’ in the pandemic to see all the national teams, players, managers, broadcasters and fans enjoying this festival of football.

In Trinidad, Cricket was the main part of our childhood sporting play regime for boys and girls in school and in our consciousness in small villages in the 1970s.  My interest in football started in the early 1980s as my brothers collected footballer profiles cards, and by my classmates too who chatted about the excitement of the World Cup 1982. Otherwise it was also seen on television as we had weekly round ups of the English Football League (shows like Big League Soccer with Brian Moore as presenter), and Italian Serie A at the weekend.  With only one television and two brothers meant that I had no choice but to sit and watch the sport shows with them.  However, it was interesting seeing the usually foggy games in cold England and the sunny glamourous games in Italy.  It is just the way it was presented. And just as the live Wimbledon tennis finals, we used to get the live coverage if the FA Cup final on Saturdays there too.  At this point, I had some understanding of the game and knew of some of the Talisman players like Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, Zico and Paolo Rossi. The festival like opening ceremony of the World Cup 1986 in Mexico followed by the game with Bulgaria vs Italy (the defending champions) was actually the game when I got most interested in watching football.  Hereafter I tried to follow all major Euro and World Cups, as well as the Champions League, except I did actually see many games for the Euros 1992 as I was too busy being a student.

The World Cup 1986 was ideal for getting me interesting as the games started at 4pm when we were at home after school, and they went on in the evening before a school night.  My classmates in my all-girl convent school were all very interesting in the games too and we also ‘fancied’ some of the players. One classmate used to write with chalk ‘A Player of the Day’ on the blackboard. I have had several crushes on footballers over the years and I guess it totally natural to admire some of these players or even managers.  Mexico was so exciting and the players that we saw on our screen exposed me to the world, their fans and all the various cultures at the time.  I obviously loved looking at the game of football too.  I remember the Brazilian fans with their samba drums specifically and after Italy were knocked out…. I actually wanted France to win when Michel Platini was their captain.  They too lost the semi-finals and I had my first feeling of football loss and hurt when they didn’t make it to the final.  However, we all know that legendary and super talented Diego Maradona and his Argentinian Team lit up the World Cup 1986.  I remember that my school had a summer fair the same time of the final in 1986 and they used an annexe room with a projector to show the final between Germany and Argentina.  It truly was a great vintage year to get hooked on these international tournaments. 

After the World Cup 1986, I used to then love looking at the Italian Serie A TV and newspaper news roundup with some of the star footballers I got to know from the tournament and it was great to follow the league for a few more years until I moved to England.  I also remember seeing the Heysel Stadium Disaster as it was shown live in the afternoon in Trinidad, and we also had the news on the Hillsborough Disaster the day it happened.  Both of these are still sad to think about and we forgot when England was punished for participating in European competitions due to the Heysel Disaster. It also took a long time for the Hillsborough Disaster to be resolved and it is still remembered on the sad anniversary.

Fast forward a few years and the World Cup 1990 in Italy was also great.  I was by now studying in England and it was one of the best campaigns in a major competition, with the Paul Gascoigne becoming a star for English fans.  I still had (and believe I still do) like to other countries too that I take too depending on the competition.  The theme song Nessun Dorma always reminds of that campaign and I do have lovely memories of looking at it during the heatwave of 1990. One of the best take-aways of 1990s is that Gascoigne moved to Lazio in Italy and eventually lead to Italian Football being shown on Channel Four.  My brother used to look at these games but eventually I met my Italian husband whose first love is football! He told me so and eventually I also witness the same with my son.  My husband remains a bit football fan with my son and I am sure he has lots of stories if going to football matches in the 1960s and onwards when they were affordable and he can catch a train to London and still have change to food and the tickets etc. I must get him to write those stories!

Again a lot of my time in 1990s with my husband was spent looking at Italian football and other games and competition.  I had no problem looking at these games and really got into the Italian football, and the amusing Football Italia that was brilliantly presented by James Richardson in some fabulous looking Italian venue with his cocktail, or espresso.  It was exciting to see the game and stadiums live in Italy and although I have seen some live football games in the UK…. I still dream of going to see a game in the San Siro in Milan.  These were the heady days of great Italian footballers with style, flair, glamour and talent. Personally, I am sure the games tactics and fitness regimes etc were adopted by the English game with Ruud Gullit, Gianluca Vialli, etc coming to the English clubs and influencing their game.  At the same time there were also other pop culture show such as Fantasy Football which were amusing to watch.

One of the things I wanted to highlight about those 1990s stars and players that I love is that they are now currently managers of the Euro 2020 with some of them having their children playing in some of the international teams.  I checked on social media and I am not the only one who is beginning to feel old.  It is great when football is universal and inter-generational like this. I have been thinking how difficult it must be to manage these teams and to win (as well as lose) these competitions.  In must be such a demanding job but also one that comes with a lot of responsibility and insight into the game and players.  It is always interesting to see how people respond and also how tense it be!

One of the best highlights of the 1990s is Italian making but losing the World Cup 1994 when I saw how passionate my Italian relatives get about football.  I also went to a great ‘Festival of Football’ organised by a journalist on the cusp of the World Cup 1998 at the National Theatre on the Southbank where the programme had football related cultural activities and talks.  I saw interviews with George Weah, George Best and the finale was a Football theme Ballet by a Scottish Production company. 

National pride and patriotism are also evident in international football competition and there is a whole sub-culture with club football.  I do believe some people live and breathe football and swear allegiance as well as rivalry based on clubs, locations, religion, politics etc.  It is just a game of football but there is so much more at stake with the business of football.  Being a business information professional, I used to obtain many copies of football reports and reviews by accountancy firms.  The club leagues and international competition is big business.  Nations are building their countries’ national identity – think if Nelson Mandela for South African 2010 and the introduction to the ‘vuvuzuela’.

Cities with infrastructure and investment aim to host competitions as it also brings in funds, on top of the broadcasting rights and merchandising etc.  The player market or transfer market is also so unbelievable.  I used to pay attention to these topics and know that there are apps and game information etc.  Play Station games and other goods are some of the everyday items I see in my own home.  The cost of tickets is atrocious but the last game I went to was to fundraise at local Leyton Orient (I am still serious about Milan though!).

As we are midway through the Euro 2020, this has been a great way to find entertainment in our own homes.  Stadiums in the pandemic are mostly not filled to capacity but it is interesting to see how some games have adapted.  Fans are still enjoying the experience and it different to normal years.  The bars, pubs and homes in neighbourhood are also getting into the festival of football fever.

The football has been great and some of the games really make you come alive with excitement or nail-biting tension – so our emotions can go from one extreme to another.  It is great too to see technology being developed for and around the game such as VAR.  Football will continue to a world gripping sport to play…as well as to watch.  It truly is a beautiful game.

#ChoosetoChallenge – Celebrating the 110th International Women’s Day

It is exactly 10 years since I first celebrated International Women’s Day (IWD) for the first time, and it feels right to write about the progress, changes and challenges that women are facing.  The theme for this year’s IWD on 8th March is #ChoosetoChallenge, which spans the whole month of March for Women’s History Month. I will look at some of the areas that affect women and my views on the topics as gender conversations have certainly moved on with more fluid and open discussions.  Non-binary gender identities, gender pay gaps, gender bias, feminist protests and leadership roles are some of the topics that are being pushed up the agenda and discussed in many (not all) countries to challenge the status quo and act as “agents of change”.  Like with many aspects of life, there are some countries that are performing better than others and new generations are demanding more equality and inclusivity – we can’t run away from this.  What we can do is learn from each other, support causes that we care about that affect women…and lift each other up in what is a difficult era in a pandemic.

Some of the main areas where I feel we have made progress over the last few years are in our openness to discuss in greater details inequalities in the workplace, health information, body positive images in the media (think Lizzo!), learning about key women heroines and achievements, finding places where we can network and most importantly, amplifying our voice on feminist issues. 

There are stories of the feminist movement of women rights who had led the way in the past, and they will always be great for inspiring new generations of girls and women.  I certainly didn’t know all feminist over time but some of characters that I have discovered on the last ten years – Ada Lovelace, Mary Wollstonecraft, Harriet Tubman, Frida Kahlo, Josephine Baker, Mary W. Jackson, Claudia Jones, Manuela Saenz and many many more!  The access to information on the internet and social media have made their struggles, achievements and stories celebrated with new energy and creativity. 

At university, I completed a module on women’s right from the industrial age to 1990s and therefore learnt about the suffragette movement with admiration for figures such as Emmeline Pankhurst, Millicent Fawcett and other women who fought for the vote. It was great to actually do a tour of Westminster a few years ago where the struggles and battles they won were highlight in the living recollection in the space where their hardships and successes were made collectively to give us the vote.  This was obviously an international achievement with New Zealand as the first self-governing country to give women the vote in 1893. We mustn’t take this hard-won right for granted. I still don’t know a lot of great women but it seems the topic is covered in education in schools now, and this generation of girls and young women are able to freely aspire for greater equality, and continue to push and challenge for changes that will affect them in their lives.

The struggles are real still in many parts of the work – education and access to work are some of the basic rights that women have to still fight for in the 21st century – the UN facts and figures women states: “women make up two thirds of the world’s illiterate people”.  There are other challenges such as poverty, work, health and getting into leadership roles which are specific to locations, but generally we still have a way to go. Low literacy and education levels really makes me sad when I hear that some women don’t get the basic right to education.  My parents allowed me to leave a happy home to come to study in a foreign land when I was 18 years – because they believed in me.  I will be forever grateful for their support and help they showed me by financing my studies here. I know that this was NOT a privilege.  I haven’t had free university education – a privilege that many of my university friends may have took for granted 30 years ago. It was difficult and I didn’t see my family for four years, but at least it gave me the ability to support myself and follow some of my teenage dreams.  There is this great graph below by Statista which shows the top 10 countries which have full equal rights for women.

Source: Statista

Not all girls or young women have this option to this day.  Adult learning is possible (plus you never really stop learning), but there are still countries where the cost of education is too high, accessibility and social structures are barriers too.  The cost of higher education in the UK is so high currently that I am deterred to further my studies until I am more financially secure.  One reason I pro-actively keep up my Continued Professional Development (CPD) is because I work in a professional field that never stops serving, changing and develops with technology.  I wish the governments and organisations would value this industry so that we are not at a disadvantaged professionally.  Generally, there are less negative gender equality issues in my professional field as there are more women who work in this area, but men in the sector are usually paid more, and get the top leadership roles. 

“Companies that overlook half of the world’s population overlook half of the world’s talent. To compete effectively, we need to reflect the diversity of the world in which we, and our clients, live and work.” Sheila Penrose Fotolia. Chair of the Board Jones Lang LaSalle

According to this review by Hampton Alexander on the FTSE 350 companies, 33% of women are on UK board leadership roles. In other sectors, the glass ceilings have been smashed but the percentage is still low. In the 2000s, I heard the term ‘old boys’ network’ for the first time but it seems change is slowly taking effect in the last few decades.  Businesses need women for diversity of thought, opportunities and for understanding their customers and stakeholders. Women offer insights and perspectives which open up new markets and ideas rather than having all-male boards.  Women also make up a large amount of the consumption and economic power of business services and products, and therefore you would be missing a new era of inclusive thought if talent and insights were not brought to your business. It is great to have diversity in business as it yields better results and cultivates innovation.  Having women in the decision-making roles also correlates to better business results according to Women on Boards

Over the years there are lots of research I have seen where it makes great sense to have structures, policies and initiatives in the workplace which foster greater support for women to progress beyond their roles and to “smash the glass ceilings”.  These may include improvement in attracting women to traditional male-dominated roles, offering better working patterns for working mothers and families, being flexible, and more defined supported routes and policy such as mentoring or training.  Giving opportunities can also one of ways that women in the workplace are not overlooked. Gender pay gaps, gender bias, greater pay transparency and inclusive policies are still work in progress. It would seem rather strange if organisations still have all-male boards in this 2020s decade, and let’s hope there are more deserving women in leadership roles and better equal representation.

It is important for leaders to communicate with their teams and understand that while the pandemic has affected everyone, it has not been the same for every employee. I think the last nine months have made certain qualities of leadership come to the fore. I think empathy is the strongest trait leaders have shown and understanding that everybody is dealing with professional stresses and strains.

Victoria Head – Legal at Football Association

One aspect where women are challenging the stereotypes and making their headway for themselves is by being entrepreneurial and starting their own businesses. Women have always been in great roles as entrepreneurs in the past, such as Madam C. J. Walker in the film ‘Self-Made’. I also recently attend a fabulous Sound Heritage workshop where I learnt of other remarkable women such as Mary Quaint, Audre Lorde and Rene Sawyer, who fought for greater rights and fairness.

As I work in the business information sector, I meet and admire women who are creating their own businesses. They are really passionate about starting up with their own ideas and visions, being their own bosses and having the freedom to follow their own paths to success. As reported by Hult International Business School, US women-owned businesses have increased by 74% over the past 20 years – 1.5 times the national average. They harness their own entrepreneurial talents and open up a world of opportunity, and in turn are in a position to hire other talented diverse persons for their teams.

Local Business Women

Sadly, I recently read that the pandemic will have a negative impact in gender pay and also entrench imbalances, as mentioned in Italy here in the FT’s Women in Business. Therefore, with high levels of inequalities and economic hardship brought on by one year in the pandemic, the next few years are going to be tough on all of us, especially women.  It has also been mentioned that the disparities for ethnic minorities are having the most negative economic and health impact with working in health and social care. Mckinsey have also reported in ‘Women in the workplace 2020’ that: ‘For every 100 men promoted to manager, only 85 women were promoted—and this gap was even larger for some women: only 58 Black women and 71 Latinas were promoted’.

This is a clear message that all of this research is telling us – there is still a lot of work to do for greater equality, representation and diverse policies for business cultures.

Not all men discriminate against women, and some women also do not support other women. However, there are more inclusive practices in the workplace.  Women are also challenging barriers in various fields but they are generally under-represented in some sectors such as STEM, Tech, construction, emergency services, sports, etc.  The UN has created this great datagraphic which demonstrates the under-representation in all fields, and it is still very striking in the ratio between men and women, for example – directors at the Oscars, Nobel Peace prizes, chefs with Michelin three stars, etc. Our challenge is to continue to create structures, policies and supportive environment where young girls and women can fulfil their ambitions and careers. This may seem overwhelming at times but women do tend to support each other and this is the best way in actually working towards more equity for us all.

Sadly, I wanted to mentioned that this month has been a very sad time in my homeland with the murder of a young woman, Andrea Bharatt, who was making her work home in a taxi (falsely licensed when she boarded it). She was brutally murdered at the prime of her young life and leaves behind a lone parent. It is a terribly devastating story, and unfortunately there has been a high level of gender-based violence and murder in recent times in such a small country, as featured in this article by Brown Girl Magazine.  This has forced a national protest on these crimes and a call for a better justice system as a result of the fear and lack of confidence in personal safety felt by the general population in recent year.  It really is horrific – my contacts were sharing an outpouring of grief on social media and to say ‘enough is enough’!  This ‘femicide’ and other gender-based violence is prevalent in other parts of the world, such as I saw reported in Mexico and India recently. It is great to see that public displays of peaceful protest by women are still challenging for better policies, demanding personal safety, well-being services, general equality and…respect.

I wish you a great International Women’s Day month of understanding and finding out more stories and facts on women’s role in society.  I have always felt that there should be harmony with all genders and do believe that we need boys, young men and gentlemen to be our allies in understanding our roles in the world.  It could be my upbringing and because I went to an all-girls convent school! This is only the tip of the iceberg on the issues women encounter. However, I will continue to keep an eye on ideas, little tips and stories to help other women along the way. I also look forward to discovering new great female figures from the past and our present times this month. With this in mind, do stand up for and against the barriers in our way to greater equality, and remember to #ChoosetoChallenge for women everywhere.

A Better 2021 – Looking on the Bright Side

As we look back at the year, there are a roller-coaster of emotions and moods that have engulfed us due to coronavirus COVID-19.  The year started off normal except for the dreaded Brexit plans for cutting ties, isolating, restricting, control our access, freedom and creating havoc in our everyday lives, work and ambitions with our closest and oldest continental neighbours.  Hearing the news on Brexit was one of the worst things you can listen to in the last four years in the United Kingdom – understandably unbearable, bored stiff or semi-engaged after 4-5 years.  January was intentionally decided as the month that we left the EU with Brexiteers gathered in a cold miserable winter night in Parliament Square – good luck to them I thought! It was cringeworthy and anger inducing in great measures. Let them get what they have coming to them. It took Covid-19 to change the mood and tone a little.

Little did we know that the next few months (year in fact!) will bring about more blight, chaos, devastation and thousands of deaths would ensue. For January was also the month that coronavirus news from Wuhan started getting on our major news network in the West.  There has since been disputed evidence when and where the virus actually started. But it has dominated and curtailed our lives and world since early 2020.

In February, there were signs that things were about to change gradually.  The most significant for me was an Economist Intelligence Unit Breakfast Briefing in 13th February with first class experts give a clear understanding and forecast for the disruption and devastation to the global economy in months to come.  I honestly thought that it would affect supply chains but not the enormous negative it would have on lives and the global economy with countries increasingly having cases of infections.  Around late February, there were signs for using sanitizers in public and the office areas began to have signs asking you to use hand sanitizers in buildings. Italy was reporting ‘draconian’ measures to prevent the spread of the virus. There were more persons on the London Underground starting to wear face mask – it was then such a rare and novel feature considering that mainly travellers from the Far East usually wear them prior to Covid-19.  Little did we know that it would be compulsory in public places indoors by the end of 2020.  Even today at the end of December, I am still seeing tweets pleading with people to abide by the rules as the infection rates are still very high.  

March is usually a happy month for me as I like the beginning of Spring and so it was a time for me to go out and about where I was able to go to the theatre and meal with relatives and friends.  However by the second week in March, there was talk and signs that we needed to change the way we were socialising as the number of deaths by Covid-19 started to rapidly increase daily.  We were observing Italy’s response to the pandemicbut didn’t realise that the UK death figures would eventually be worse! It was also the time of stockpiling and shortages with supermarkets struggling with normal online orders slot.  By the 16th March, my colleagues and family were working and studying from home.  I did go into the library on 18th March to tie up some loose ends as I was on leave a few days before then. I wouldn’t return to the building until September.  

My team and I were able to thankfully transfer to working-from-home but some needed technological equipment and support to set up with working completely as a virtual library.  We all remember getting very familiar with Zoom! I have used Skype and Go-To-Meeting but Zoom seemed to be the preferred options for most work related, professional and social meetings. Soon, I would be meeting my local book club on Zoom, lots of learning opportunities I took, and other work-related meetings and events.  Zoom has been one of the biggest winners in this pandemic and I have heard that it was an enabler in allowing those with access to the tech to communicate with each other.  I have held many meeting and webinars in this year and will try to tally it one day soon. 

It was really freaky being in the first lockdown with the streets and roads all quiet.  My biggest challenge to this day is the busy supermarkets and the social distancing queues.  I am still trying my hardest to keep at a distance and to avoid crowds.  It was nice, relaxing and admittedly a pleasure to spend time outside for daily exercise routines in local areas such as neighbourhoods, parks, local forest and wetlands. Nature has a magical way of reassuring and restoring.  Someone said recently that the only real songs were sirens and birdsong in Spring in a pandemic.  It is a little but like this again in December with the eventual ‘Second Wave’.

One aspect I remember is the availability of data and information on the pandemic.  I am sure when we get to the end of the virus, we will have archives and memorabilia of what it meant for us. I still try to think of what life was like in previous plagues and pandemics such as the Spanish Flu.  I was initially obsessed with the daily of cases and death and it was truly sad throughout the Spring.  The virus was under control with fewer deaths by the end of August but as I write, we are back in the second wave with a higher peak than that in April 2020!  It is truly sad and heart-breaking.  I do know of people who have lost loved ones and it is a very sad time to leave this earth with little human contact and celebration.  One of the best aspects of this Spring was the Clap for Carers where we saw our neighbours and clapped all the key workers for their hard work.  The rainbow and messages of support in Walthamstow was great to see and even now in the winter months there has been school and homes initiatives in windows to help cheer us up.

The heart of the Summer was also a time for organisations and allies to support the Black Lives Movement as well as anti-racism in organisations.  I had some of the most honest conversations with colleagues, professionals, family and friends. It is uncomfortable and requires courage to discuss these topics but it was an opportunity to finally make these deep feelings known and to work towards a more diverse, inclusive and equitable world.  The world is not perfect but reminding us that social justice, equality and fairness are the true balancers of good people is a win-win situation in my books. 

At the beginning of 2020, I was due to travel to the SLA Conference in Charlotte, USA and also to Trinidad and Tobago.  Obviously, I had to postpone both of these trips and look forward to the day when I can go to my first SLA Conference as well as visit family and friends again.  One think that was truly special about 2020 for me was being President of SLA Europe throughout this time and actually programming a different set of events and engagement than what we planned in the beginning. I have blogged about the challenges and achievements of this year here on SLA Europe’s blog. I also look forward to continuing our great work and supporting the new President Amy, our board and volunteers. 

In Autumn, we were ready for returning to the Library physical rooms with reduced hours and less staff in the office.  The most eerie was the journey there and back on the train as your try to maintain social distancing.  Remember these trains are usually packed like sardines so it is a relief that less people are using them for work journeys – however there are some annoying persons who still don’t wear masks on the underground and also in shops. I guess they are arrogant, ignorant and don’t feel they are spreaders. There is little policing going on in London anyway so you really have to think if you want to put yourself in trouble’s way. 

The Second Wave really started picking up in October with vast parts of North of England being affected and put into the new tier systems.  It was possibly due to schools and universities opening up again. I also needed to get two Covid-19 tests in September to ensure that I hadn’t contacted it.  There is the balancing of the economy with infection rates and so too pub, restaurants and hospitality were also closed again for the second wave in most of November. We were now back to working from home full time. I know I am fortunate as it is very testing for many people. I really do feel the anxiety, fear, sadness and uncertainties of those who are not working – it has been a very difficult year.  The winter months are certainly different with less daylight and therefore if I am busy, I tend to go out at dusk.  I miss plants and birdsong.  The beginning of Christmas with decorations, lights and positive messages have been God sent (pardon the pun!). 

December seasonal celebrations are certainly different, just as New Year’s Eve will be, but it really is a necessity for us all to be apart.  I usually do make the most of things and so still see this as a special year to have that quality time with family.  My neighbours are all here too as there is nowhere to go! It is strange and apocalyptic walking around in the dull coldness with closed shops, pubs, restaurants, cinemas and non-essential shops and venues.  There are so many woes that I see on Twitter, and rightly so, on lack of ‘Track and Trace’, schools reopening and testing, loss of jobs, dependency on food banks, propaganda, distrust of government policies, and the NHS being overwhelmed with the virus rampant in the community. We are really deep into a difficult year. 

As we end the year, both Brexit and Covid-19 are in the news headlines with one of the darkest and saddest day with 941 deaths. I am not taking any responsibility for the fallouts of Brexit! But I will certainly try to do my part and think of how we can continue to prevent loss of life and control the virus to a point to some normality. There are still problems and challenges we need to sort out…collectively.  Vaccines do offer some hope, and so does every new year. Keep well, safe and healthy. Things are not going to be normal for a while but hopefully it will be better in 2021.

Decolonisation – the Quiet Revolution continues

Divide et Impera – Divide and Rule.

In a professional capacity, my recent activities seem to want a more equitable world and they have similar themes around topics such as structural inequalities, patriarchy, white supremacy, anti-racism and decolonisation.  It is this reason that I feel compelled to work through some of these topics on this blog post.  The pandemic has affected many communities and more so in those that are disadvantaged, plus the anti-racism work brought about by the reaction to the death of George Floyd, the Black Lives Movement protest this summer, as well as and the move to a more inclusive and equitable profession and society in general.  All these topics have definitely, and rightly so, been pushed up the agenda, discussion themes, organisational and personal missions of events and content I have consumed this month.  Collectively, we still don’t have all the equitable answers but there certainly are lots of questions, and new marginalised stories being unearthed from some communities.

A more diverse and inclusive current generation of academics and professionals are researching, working and creating new stories to make sure that imperial, colonial structures, white supremacy and racism which underpinned power and control of places and peoples, societies and communities are now being rattled, dismantled and abolished.  The most poignant discussions are not to overwhelm or dominate another culture, race, religion, place, people et cetera – it is simply to reclaim lost identities, re-balance and acknowledge that change is necessary…and happening now.  It is a quiet revolution without guns, ammunition and brutality, but one of thoughts and actions based on evidence, research, compassion, empathy, discussion, understanding and respect.

Coinciding with Black History Month, essential television viewing this month was ‘Enslaved’ which looked at the 2000000 slaves that were killed on the ocean crossing alone in the Transatlantic Slave Trade over 400 years.  Although I studied Caribbean history in secondary school in the Caribbean, I still learnt new facts about this horrible crime against humanity.  We didn’t have a documentary like this when we studied the subject in the 1980s. Therefore, it was gripping and sad seeing the visual landscape and underwater shipwrecks as evidence that these atrocities happen in human slavery, and you despair at the brutality and conditions of enslaved people in these crossings.  It was good to learn about some of the ‘trading’ stations on the African coast, slave rebellions such as the Maroons on Suriname, slave escapes from the USA to Canada, European-wide slave trade (I wasn’t aware that Danes also traded in slaves), and the African slave shipwrecks close by on the English coast around Devon

African history didn’t start with slavery. African history was interrupted by slavery.

– Enslaved TV Series 2020.

The United Kingdom played a huge part in the Transatlantic Slave Trade but is most keen to forget it.  As the recent departed US Politician John Lewis said in episode two of ‘Enslaved’ – “it is brushed under the carpet”. There is also a great article this week in The New Yorker entitled ‘Misremembering the British Empire’ which mentions brilliantly the amnesia, denial and pretentiousness that has whitewashed history.  There needs to be a re-balance with remembering the slave trade and also the rich histories of African culture before slavery.  You can ask most Black British who agree that this is not taught in detail in UK schools.  British slave trade and slavery are skimmed over, not explored for greater understanding or empathy, with most suffering from amnesia and ignorance.  There is no two ways on this – it was a horrible fact and African slavery used for capital, which built and propped up Britain with the riches and imperialistic power from slave labour from the colonies.  The rulers, leaders and elite in Britain supported and knew all along that this inhumanity was happening…but did nothing to stop it until the abolition movement in the late 18th and 19th century. 

Even in the 21st Century, the current tone of imperial might and successes are still reiterated today without balance and scrutiny which is harmful and causes devastation to communities and peoples. The nationalistic tone of Brexit has highlighted this blinkered way the UK thinks of Empire. …”Through the lens of pivotal moments in the post World War II world, this essay examines the breakup of the British Empire and how the vision of empire lives on, particularly in the context of global populism and a rapidly globalizing world. Brexit, the 2016 vote by popular referendum in the United Kingdom to withdraw from the European Union, is closely tied to the identity forged a century ago, at the height of the British Empire”. Source: Populism and British Stories of Decline by Joe Murphy in The American Journal of Economics and Socialogy.

The distasteful word Empire is still used in national awards with the word for honouring persons in the UK, which really is backwards if these persons have to engage with persons from outside the UK.  It is ignorance at the highest level. There is a great article I read which mentioned that if your heritage is from a post-colonial culture of anti-colonialism, rebellion and independence – the rejection of imperialism is natural as part of a contemporary psyche and freedom.  This is explained for Americans, who have seen centuries of imperialism and colonialism. …”The United States was formed through rebellion against the British empire, but well after the Revolutionary War ended in 1783, resistance to that empire continued to shape America’s history. The civil rights movement, for instance, was not only deeply influenced by the thought and practices of the Indian anti-colonial movement, but it was also part of a wider anti-racist struggle in the era of decolonization that connected activists across Asia, Africa and beyond, mobilizing the global diasporas of Asians and Africans that colonialism had created”. Source: Prita Satia at Stanford Department of History entitled ‘We can’t tell Kamala Harris’s story without British Empire we can’t tell Americas without it either.

With this context in mind, you would be delusional to want to go back to that dark part of genocide, slavery and pillage that made people fight for their independence and freedom. The UK also seems to believe they were the ‘civilising force’, the best and only empire compared to their European counterparts, who started empires before the British. Posturing in true dominating style, empire is built on twisted power, influence, domination, destruction, looting and capital on the back and blood of other people and communities. The apex of this system also encourages and perpetuates white supremacy, which was used to control the new world order at the time.  It really has no place in modern and equitable societies.  There is no level playing field, structural equality or unity due to the divide and ruling structures that was used centuries ago to control the colonies. This is why we are experiencing so much racial and human discord at present – a true quiet revolution.

This month also saw an interest in stories of resistance, rebellion against slavery, and the fight for independence. I remember studying the Haitian Revolution 1791 in 1986-1987, whereby I had to write a eulogy for Toussaint L’Ouverture. Believe it or not – my eulogy was so good, the Caribbean Examination Council Board kept my eulogy possibly for preservation.  In those days, I didn’t think about keeping a copy, so I can’t remember the words I had written.  I remember my inspiration for writing the eulogy and making the actual hard copy headstone eulogy out of coloured paper, markers and a crinkle scissor. 

Back to the present, it will always be great to see that the story of the revolution is brought up today to discuss rebellion by self-liberated Black slaves.  The use of ancient voodoo and other African culture was also used to empower and fight for freedom.  I also attended a virtual event today on the new book ‘Black Spartacus’ by Sudhir Hazareesingh, which discussed Toussaint being a devoted Roman Catholic but also there was the use of voodoo. A Black British friend recently described the Haitian Revolution as ‘our first revolution’ and I am grateful for studying Caribbean history in Trinidad, pedagogy starting with the ancient and first nations people who inhabited the lands there.  It puts history with evidence, details and facts on the correct footing (pardon the pun) and in context. No wonder we are able to move away from an imperialistic perspective and create our own national pride. The same can’t be said for Britain’s imperial and colonial past in their UK history lessons. Is it too traumatic to teach about the Transatlantic Slave Trade and Slavery in detail to young British children? Or to intentionally not covered the topic to keep the imperial status quo? Or to keep the military and capitalistic might?

It’s embarrassing that I’ve learnt more about colonial history from Instagram.

Elle Magazine October 2020

In the academic and research world, there is pedagogy and student intervention work on decolonising education, universities, museums, places and research. In an open and fair world, especially digitally, there is no place for ego, imperialistic behaviour and power.  I attended two virtual events which covered decolonisation – one at ‘Open and Engaged 2020’ by the British Library, and the ‘Festival of Ideas – Decolonising Knowledge’ for SOAS.

It was interesting seeing examples of decolonising research such as in language and context. Also the most horrifying was the use and study of Eugenics and the UCL Bricks and Mortal project on slavers, white supremists and persons with shady colonial pasts. …”Eugenics – the science of improving human populations through selective breeding – is generally associated with the Nazis, but in fact has its roots in Britain. It had its roots at UCL. The story of these origins is seldom told”.

Looking back at the slides now, this was such an eye-opening as well as mind-blowing event. From looking at the recurring themes of lack of diversity in books, professional research communities, the North-South global hemisphere divide, research content, acknowledgement and the recognition of indigenous original stories and representation.  Some of the presentations showcased the Palestine open maps projects, indigenous tribes of the Americas and stories from varied voices, such as the herb that was consider a weed by Western professionals until corrected by a South African researcher. With the lack of variety, scrutiny and diversity in scholarly research and structures – there is an imbalance, incorrect and false truths of the world.

At the SOAS virtual event ‘Decolonisation – not just a buzzword’, it was an art verbatim video with the sentiments, anecdotes and thoughts that were similar ones to those that are resonating in anti-racism discussions I have participated in recently.  Due to the remit of SOAS, they are working aptly and proactively to address decolonisation. …”It begins with the assumption that global histories of Western colonial domination have had the effect of limiting what counts as authoritative knowledge, whose knowledge is recognised, what universities teach and how they teach it”. Source: SOAS https://blogs.soas.ac.uk/decolonisingsoas/about/

It was interesting to hear one French speaking Belgium student said that when he was in India, there is distrust for him (possibly as a white European ex-coloniser coming to steal knowledge) when he wanted to view ancient manuscripts in Indian.  This student sounded in awe of the rich Indian items still to be discovered and explored. Though distrust by Indians perhaps is a culmination of years of abuse, destruction and removal of Indian manuscripts during colonialism.  The knowledge kept in ancient manuscripts is vast and comprehensive, as my ancestors have ensured we were told in Asian, and African, oral traditions and ceremonies. It was great to hear harsh and truthful global perspectives of imperialism, colonialism, racism, biases and international views from current academia at SOAS.

I have written about my Indian heritage on my blog before and therefore there are myriad ways of looking at the world, as well as hanging on to the intersectional of indigenous traditions, religion, culture, race and identity as a British-Indo-Caribbean married to an European.  This week it was a real privilege for me to visit the British Museum to see the ‘Tantra: Enlightenment to Revolution Exhibition’, and I am able to understand my Indian heritage a bit more. Not everyone from the diaspora can do this though as mentioned too by one of the students at the SOAS event, and as mentioned by me on social media a few weeks ago.  In this exhibition, it is great to learn about Goddess Kali and her role in anti-colonialism. To be honest, we were told in Trinidad that her puja is dangerous, savage and powerful, which may have been tainted by imperialism, and intended to control the religious practices in the Caribbean as well as India. However, Kali puja was totally acceptable in Kolkata (previously known as Kalikota and Calcutta), and they used her imagery in revolutionary ways by indigenous Indians against British rule to instil fear and to empower. Goddess Kali is certainly Badass! 

We should be proud to have such ancient and powerful feminine images and forms in various Goddesses, and Navratri is a great as an auspicious time to remember the feminine form and cosmic energy. We held prayers at this time in my home in the Caribbean. I liked understanding the belief in feminine power and that women have Shakti all the time. Also the Tantra counter-culture of the 1960s was great to see – from John and Alice Coltrane, The Rolling Stones to artwork. John and Alice Coltrane were fans of the higher consciousness of these traditions and knowledge obviously. These arts forms have accepted and moved with the mutually respective times to fused cultures in new innovative art.

It is great to learn about provenance and to see decolonisation in context to items held in museums that were once part of imperialistic acquisitions, treasure hunts and domination.

Another common thread recently was land acknowledgement of indigenous and first nation peoples, which I witnessed at professional events and discussions including both by the British Library and SLA. This really shows up pretentiousness, falsehoods and insensitive rhetoric from colonisers that still insist on dominating with their imperial ‘brand’ to this day.  It has been decades whereby ex-colonies have achieved self-determination, independence and freedom. The post-colonial shift are by nations and citizens who have matured with new self-identities. I am not that naive – I also know that there is reverse racism and bias in all people. We really need complete balance, truthful and fair understanding of history and colonisation now.  We need to peacefully revolutionise and abolish the white-centric power struggle and structural inequalities that still exist in western societies, institutions, organisation, countries and the media.  Or at least know how to best deal with it. Perhaps to even ridicule inequalities and colonisation as a message, as reiterated by a student at UCL, and by other freedom revolutionaries in the past.

I conclude with a statement: I was born on Caribbean indigenous land, which belonged to ancient tribes, and now live on Briton land (once colonisers if my homeland) – which makes an odd but balance view of the world.  Going forward by the events this month, it is time for some post-colonial truth and equality.  Prejudice, structural racism, inequality and dominance are prevented on our watch.

Hold Tight! Autumnal Tenacity for the perilous Second Wave

Often it is Tenacity, Not Talent that Rules the Day. – Julia Cameron

As we move into the winter months in the pandemic, there is a personal concern that we have left the bright sunny and warmer months in what will be a very tough year for all of us.  Autumn is not my favourite time of year but I do usually cope and settle in by the end of October for Diwali, Halloween cheer and November Bonfire night.  I do remember arriving in the UK in late September 1980s and not minding my first autumn, which was a huge change from a tropical climate I knew. One thing is for sure – the temperature is going to get colder, the physical landscape, flora and fauna will change with autumnal colours, with the nights getting longer.  If like me, you have been working from home and actually making the most of the outdoors in the Spring and Summer… things are going to be different with the possible double whammy facts of a second wave in the pandemic and Brexit unpreparedness.

Real courage is when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what.”
― Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

September has already brought new changes with schools reopening fully.  The last week has been dominated with university students who are having to self-isolate in their student halls to protect themselves, and stop the spread of the Coronavirus Covid-19. The news does not stop there – there is also the economic fallout in all spheres of life.  Businesses are facing further necessary restrictions with some of my friends not planning to return to the office until January 2021.  The redundancy and insolvency levels are also increasing daily with people having to bear all the hardship that comes with losing their jobs.  There are many reasons to be pessimistic.  The optimistic vibes are scarce but if you know me – I am a trouper. I do have the unbelievable capacity to be tenacious despite the negative aspects I have faced in my life (mainly professional). I do tend to focus on the important issues and despite my happy-go-lucky demeanour with a smile, I can be determined, knuckle down and get on with it! Call it what you like but it might just be tenacity.

The most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity. – Amelia Earhart

I haven’t been into the Central of London since March 14th but have returned to the office and library for one day a week since 3rd September.  It is an odd feeling getting the Tube again knowing that you have to be very careful and conscious of other passengers, the public surfaces, social distancing etc. It is quite natural to look around the carriages to see who is wearing a mask  – and who is wearing it like a dodgy condom! I haven’t had to move away or tell anyone off as yet but there are a few cases of annoying mask non-conformity on the Tube, but generally it is good to go (pardon the pun) and people are being great. 

The impact on London’s economy is obvious.  I think that TfL are going to be struggling financially this year because as an example, I have only spent £30.00 this month to travel when I would usually spend about £149.00 a month.  Of course I do not want staff to lose their jobs but it just a reminder to government that they should be more kind about raising their fares in future.  But who knows…we might still get some nasty price increases too compensate for us not using the tube in the pandemic.  You can never really win here with inflation! The fat cats executives at TfL must be a bit worried too – I know this from when I paid attention at City Hall. One positive is that the Poems on the Underground are out to entertain us, and also Dettol has partnered to remind us to maintain good hygiene. The saddest feeling is seeing how quiet the commute and shops are around St Pancras.

I have now also returned to the British Library one day a week and it has been good going so far.  There are lots of social-distancing measures in place, and the British Library has opened to a certified standard, which is great reassurance for our readers and staff.  There is a difference in the building as there are so few people in the office, public, networking and workshop areas. We are still serving people in the ‘Reading Room’ who have pre-booked, and we are very much providing digital services remotely. 

We are being cautious and it is good to be back but we also know that we are still in a pandemic and therefore most of my time is still spent working and volunteering from our little box room study at home.  It is a little more challenging as there is a family trying to study and work from home too.  I am finding this okay but I know I am fortunate to have the space and technical equipment to do this.  It is certainly not the case for many, and the digital and socio-economic divide has been discussed a lot in the last few months for most people everywhere.  This is another reason I have thinking of self-motivation and keeping up personal standards in this very challenging time.  Some things are going to lapse but demonstrating and being tenacious helps to get it done. I do look forward to return back to normal circumstances, but we just don’t know when that will be and it certainly ain’t looking like this year!

This month has been filled with several professional activities with my role as President of SLA Europe – I would be a liar if I said it has been easy.  It has been difficult especially this year as my day job is very busy and even more so in lockdown as it very intense with my digital activities and video conferencing, as well as one full day in the office.  I will have to tally the number of webinars and meetings I have had.  I do know it has been worth it still working and applying myself to helping customers and other professionals as much as can.  I do like having the flexibility to go for a walk and then catching up later, otherwise I just won’t be able to cope.  I usually catch up with volunteering later in the evening into the early morning.  I am really pleased that I am able to contribute to my professional network and take part in some really interesting events such as Reopening Specialized Libraries Roundtable Two, presented on Economic Data and Entrepreneurship, attended talks on Feminist Walk in Harlem and Veganism, Knowledge Management presentation by SLA Europe, as well as participate in a Gurteen KM Café as I had the time. The great aspect of working during this pandemic, is that it has made this year more global than I initially intended.  I will be presenting at two events at the virtual SLA Conference 2020 with the theme Driving Forward.

So what else is there to do that can demonstrate tenacity? 

My neighbourhood is still pulling together with the use of social media especially with a higher increase in Anti-social Behaviour (ASBOs) in the recent weeks.  There is no support on the street from local police and we have to rely on community activists. There is also pressure on community policing still due to non-existence presence in my area of a heavily populated borough plus they are under pressure which the current Covid-19 restrictions.

I haven’t been far away except for work this month but it is great to see signs of positivity in my neighbourhood.  These include businesses that are operating old and some new ones.  I also went out for tapas with my friends a few weeks ago for a socially distant dinner.  However the most comforting and strengthening is the London Mural Festival, which took place the last two weeks.  Some of these are exceptional as they pay tribute to local heroes, as well as the artists themselves.  The best one is the one dedicated to NHS staff, which was put up a few weeks ago (and perhaps not up specifically for the festival). It is the exemplary public display of positive roles models that anyone can see on their local walks.

TENACITY, n. A certain quality of the human hand in its relation to the coin of the realm. It attains its highest development in the hand of authority and is considered a serviceable equipment for a career in politics. – Ambrose Bierce

As I end on one of the dullest days of September, the level of deaths are rising rapidly again in the pandemic.  There are politicians trying to get a grip and scientists telling us that the data is predicting threats to our well-being with some more terrible news for public health and society…still.  My dearest wish to you is to keep well, safe, upbeat and obviously, tenacious. Hold tight.

It is health that is real wealth and not pieces of gold and silver.” ~ Mahatma Gandhi

We are all in this together – a crucial time for information professionals in the next normal

The last few months has been very intense in our personal lives but also in our professional lives. For most libraries and information services, it has been a time for us to close our physical spaces and switch completely to digital services. We have not been closed behind the scenes – we are diligently working to re-open libraries like many other sectors with physical spaces.   For example, I have seen NHS libraries still operating in providing critical information and evidence in this very challenging and critical time in essential services. We certainly owe them for the great work they are doing as medical practitioners. I have noticed most other libraries I have seen also emphasize that they have always remained open since Coronavirus COVID-19 disrupted our global lives. I have decided to dedicate this month to looking how this has affected me in a professional capacity as it has been unavoidable for me not to think of work, libraries and the whole process of initially shutting down very quickly to… gradually opening up libraries and information services again. It really is an extraordinary experience.

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It has been four months since our official full time working from home, and initially, it was difficult to switch to all virtual and digital services. However, in the last couple of months, I actually got into a pattern of my working from home during the day, with fitting in some exercise, errands as well as family time. I was able to do some of the digital things I have been hoping for a long time, in terms of using more digital platforms and working from home tools – it has also made me super…super…busy. I am very much ‘living and breathing’ video conferencing for everything! This includes my local book club, social events and even family catch up. I haven’t been keep track of the many Zoom meetings I have attended but they have been intense for adjusting our current services, plans on reopening the physical and special resources, giving business information and advice as well as providing the face to face sharing of ideas, information and knowledge.

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We have also had to focus on Black Lives Matter as a very urgent issue. I will remember this time too for the Black Lives Matter and how it is being discussed with a new hope for genuine change within the library and library profession.

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I was also able to join a great chat up on a SLA’s Virtual Mocktails, Cocktails hangout – which was great for talking about visiting other countries, the social and cultural impact of drinks such as beer, bourbon and gin! Obviously an alcoholic drink was not compulsory for attending and it was nice to see persons I have met on my trip to New Orleans in 2019, and who I hope to meet in the future! It also made me realise – just like in my professional capacity – I will see and meet people virtually but may never meet them in real life. I still correspond with a contact in Singapore for over 25 years although I have never met her in real life.

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This really has given us the opportunity to create the digital transformation that we all wanted but never had the time or the resources to do. It has made me remember the time when I work for a global accountancy firm but even now I am learning new systems and providing different services by current technology. Since the lockdown in March, I am impressed that our wider department has implemented a new library enquiry system by Springshare called LibAnswers. I am also using Lib Chat to answer, “real live queries in the clouds”. Springshare’s slogan in their website says they are making librarians into rock stars!

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The Springshare system has lots of customer interaction and relationship features that are also used for retailers on the high street and is beneficial for global teams who are working virtually and remotely. It reminds me of chatting online with someone from the retailers Monsoon who was based in Scotland, and also when I use the ‘automated’ chat on Go-to-Webinar when I need to clarify my queries or my curiosity! These are some of the new skills that we are all learning or refining in a truly digital space. Just like retailers, gyms, cinemas, restaurants and all physical spaces – we are communicating with our customers virtually but it is likely that we are going to reopen more of our physical spaces with new safety measures, social distancing, clear signage and new ways in the ‘next normal’.

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I have only seen my local library reopen but have not been inside although we have a project with local libraries virtually in Covid-19. They are also offering a reduced service in my local branch but their current campaign is hashtag #ALLTogetherNowWF. It is ironic that I am seeing more little free libraries than local libraries in my walks. In the last few months, I have interacted and met 1000s of customers and library patrons without leaving my home! That is phenomenal.

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This a time to really learn from each other and I am really developing at a very accelerated speed in the last few months. I was asked to moderate the fabulous inaugural ‘Info Trends’ for SLA with Eugene Guidice – who is great at chatting, sharing his knowledge and making you feel at ease. We haven’t met in person but we already seem to get on great! I learnt so much from the presenters, the new virtual conference format was on the Remo platform, and it really was mind-blowing hearing of the new technological trends in the sector being used such as virtual reality, chatbots, AI, Fab Labs, search developments, social media for research etc. In hindsight, it was a great honour to participate on this global and high level at a virtual conference, and to represent SLA Europe, my current employers and the libraries and information profession here in the UK. It really was a highlight of the last few weeks and I am very pleased I was asked to take part. I will try to attend the Info Trends event next time too! I wanted to also say a special thanks to Tara Murray, Diana Shapiro, Eugene Guidice and all the SLA headquarters for the opportunity.

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And again, I was pleased to be asked by Tara, co-present with Eugene, for the Madhya Pradesh Library Association in India. I knew some of our hosts from SLA Connect virtually, and it was really nice to make new contact with professionals in South Asia. I also had to present on the very topical and important topic of ‘Libraries and Librarianship in times of Crisis: Covid-19 and Beyond’, and this was some initial finding on the bigger project I am working on as the Chair of the Task Force on Reopening Specialised Libraries. I found the session exhilarating and personally good for my development on a very pertinent topic to a very large and diverse audience. Apparently, there were about 1000 professionals registered, and they were really pleased and appreciative of our work. It was the first time I used Webex by Cisco, and made lots of notes from Eugene and Tara as we spoke for 1.5hours. My team do a lot of public speaking in our roles at the British Library but this event is really special as it took me back to my roots in India as a descendant of Indian indentured labourers to the Caribbean. My family was really happy for me, especially my mother. I hope these links made will be used again in the future for sharing insights and collaborating on professionals issues.

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Due to COVID-19, I was unable to give a Presidential talk and presentations in-person at both the SLA Conference in Charlotte USA, neither the flagship SLA Europe summer soiree and networking event. We have still put on great new and topical virtual events, which have been reactive to the current situation ranging from Mindfulness, Business Research, Mind-mapping to using Data and Insights for recovery in Covid-19.

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This year SLA has moved conferences for 2020 and 2021 to virtual events, so I am not likely to go to my first SLA Conference until 2022. I know virtual conferences are better for the environment and stretched finances, but I hope I do make it one day to meet some of the fabulous people I got to know over 15plus years. I am usually very active in SLA Europe and love going to their events, so hopefully sometime in the future we can go back to hosting events that are safe and socially appropriate. These are some of the reasons why networking in real life and person-to-person contact are still essential and part of what makes us human. I do advocate for us working together virtually but also for conferring in person to make human connections with shared missions by being in a physical space together.

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I thank my fellow volunteers at SLA Europe who give up time freely to do this in their own time and go out of their way to support the organisation, come up with great events and ideas on how we can support each other and the wider profession. We inspire and learn from each other – I would be lost without being part of this great professional community over the years!

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One of the biggest honour and tasks I have been given by Tara and the SLA Board is to chair the Task Force on Reopening Specialized Libraries. This topic is HUGE! Working as a library and information professional during Covid-19 really is hopefully a once in a lifetime experience in crisis management. It should also be a great opportunity to learn from little and large organisation, local and global libraries on how we can take the next steps in providing services to our stakeholders and customers in a global pandemic. I have since been in touch virtually with other task force members (two members I met the New Orleans Leadership Symposium 2019) and others only recently virtually. It is very interesting, developing as we speak, creating some brilliant collaborative learning, exchange of insights and knowledgeable ideas on reopening as best practices and guidance.

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Remember this is a global pandemic and has affected everyone we know, everywhere! It is very interesting learning, seeing and reading how libraries have responded everywhere. I have seen and learnt about libraries and information services, systems, processes, challenges opportunities and staff and customers safety and well-being issues that we are facing at this time. Yes, we are making full use of digital and virtual technology, but it is interesting to see how much people also want and need physical collections, spaces and our human in-person services.   You might understand and see the re-opening synergies with the way we react to retailers and hospitality in the pandemic.   The Living Knowledge Network has also hosted great webinars from public libraries in Denmark, who are a little ahead of us and Christian Lauersen is a superstar! Their talks have been great at inspiring as well as motivating me to keep on track of these necessary, and heart-warming services we provide to citizens near and far.

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So this is definitely a challenging, busy…as well as an exciting time. It is certainly right up there with unexpected changes, crisis and preparedness such as the launch of the World Wide Web in the early 1990s, the Millennium Bug crashing our Library Management System, working from home due to terrorism or riots, social media introduction in our lives, and other unique watershed moments in the library and information world. I said this in my presentation to Madhya Pradesh Library Association but I have since seen it repeat by others…and we truly are in this together.