In January 2023, we launched our first grants programme, welcoming applications from groups led by and for Black and People of Colour with lived experience of mental ill health, distress and/or trauma (which you can learn more about here).  I worked on this as a Synergi Grants Officer.

This is the second blog in our series on Synergi grantees, in which they reflect on their work and experience of our 2023 grants programme. I spoke with Amy from York Anti Racist Collective to reflect on their collective’s journey and experience of being a grant recipient. You can read the first of this series with Ad’iyah Reproductive Justice Collective here.

The York Anti-Racist Collective’s journey so far

The York Anti-Racist Collective (YARC) was formed organically in response to the Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests of 2020 and the murder of George Floyd. Rather than being ‘official’, Amy described YARC’s formation as a group of friends who knew each other in different capacities coming together. She explained that in York everything is so dispersed that there is no real infrastructure that exists where Global Majority people can come together.

‘We needed each other, and we needed to be able to find each other.’ 

YARC’s members initially felt that they didn’t fit into York’s anti-racist movement, which became apparent after the murder of George Floyd where protests were being arranged by White people and no one was asking Black people what they actually wanted to see happen in the city. ‘We felt like we needed a protected space because Black and Global Majority People were not being centered in York’s anti-racist movement.’

Initially, YARC tried to enact change from within the system: doing the ‘typical’ anti-racist work such as trying to work with the council and the police. ‘At the time we thought that this is what we needed to do. Our imagination was blocked. We didn’t have any space to imagine because of all the trauma that had happened, especially for the Black community, and everyone being isolated.’ However, Amy explained that doing this work ended up causing them further harm and trauma.

‘We realized that we need to look after ourselves. We’re all burnt out; we all feel rubbish. What are we doing? We are allowing ourselves to get sucked into this institution and it’s wearing us out and then we can’t do anything anyway so what is the point?’  

Their perspective on what ‘doing the work’ meant shifted, and so YARC withdrew from the institutions they had been working with and started to create spaces of community and friendship. At first, this involved having hangouts together in someone’s back garden or in the park, drinking squash and eating biscuits. From this, they made deep and meaningful friendships, which Amy said had a significant impact on her mental health. ‘I don’t want to speak for others, but I was definitely mentally unwell, so this was a huge healing thing for me.’

Amy spoke about the significance of this healing community, where it wasn’t necessary to code-switch or censor yourself.

‘We started to think, maybe this is the work. This is what we’re meant to do. This is us.’  

They started to realise that YARC was more than a group of friends hanging out with each other. They were bringing Global Majority People together who were feeling excluded, not just from ‘anti-racism’ work happening in York but from other social justice movements too, as most of the collective had other intersectional identities and experiences, namely queerness and disability. YARC also discovered that everyone was really creative, bringing a variety of skills and knowledge to the group, so they decided to apply for some funding for their Art Liberation programme and were successful. YARC also started a Mums of Colour Group, which is now named as Mamakula. Mamakula was formed and is led by Global Majority mums in York. Amy described Mamakula as a ‘thriving, beautiful community.’   

YARC’s journey is one that illustrates many of our experiences as People of Colour (POC) doing anti-racism work. They moved away from the White-led institutions and movements that harmed and excluded them, and instead put their energy into community building in a way that is trauma informed and centers the wellbeing and healing of POC.

On the othering that often happens in the third sector Amy said ‘I’ve worked in spaces where everyone talks about everything being led by the needs of the people you’re supporting, and I just feel like in the third sector it’s so disconnected. It’s like ‘they’ [POC communities] are separated from ‘us’ [third sector workers]. For YARC, the community says what they need and then we do it. There’s no separation and I love that.’

The Synergi Grant  

From the Synergi grant, YARC was able to continue to fund their Art Liberation programme, where they paid Global Majority artists and creatives to run events and workshops for Global Majority People in York. ‘Being able to provide paid opportunities for artists of Colour who don’t get as many opportunities was just wonderful.’

They hired a freelance coordinator to organize and run eight workshops. This included a full recruitment process, which was a new and exciting learning experience for YARC. Amy said the coordinator has been amazing, and they were really excited about the Manicures and Migration Manicures and Migration workshop that was about to take place when we spoke. This happened in October and was led by a local nail artist, exploring how nail art has influenced the lives of Global Majority women.

As part of the Synergi grants process, Grants Officers had phone calls with applicants to learn more about their groups. Amy remembered being anxious about the call, as she has had previous experiences of intense phone calls with other funders. However, for the Synergi call, she said she felt really comfortable, and her anxiety eased quickly.

As one of the Synergi Grants Officers, I had this phone call with Amy. I remember feeling really connected to YARC’s story when we spoke. As someone who also grew up in a White rural area in Yorkshire, I strongly related to the isolation she spoke of and this need for community. There was an unspoken mutual understanding between myself and YARC that you don’t always find with funders who don’t have shared lived experiences. When I asked Amy about her experience of the Synergi grants process she responded:

‘Do you know what, funnily enough, when thinking about it, I can’t actually remember that much, but I think that’s a good thing. You only remember processes when they’re bad. From what I can remember. It went smoothly, you supported us through it.’

‘It was very clear to me that Synergi is a funder that would like to support us. The description for the fund – the words you used, the invitation, why this fund is needed – all of that immediately made me think ‘this is a fund for us’.

YARC’s reflections  

The representative spoke about YARC’s struggle with accessing unrestricted funding where they can pay themselves to do the day-to-day work.  

‘We are learning as we go along that we do so much work for free. There is so much administration involved in carrying out and funding this work that we don’t get paid for.

It’s great that we’re sourcing funding for other people to get paid, but we also need to prioritise ourselves and it’s really hard to do that when a lot of funders want project-based work.

That’s the thing with smaller grants, it doesn’t usually cover all the admin and time to get things up and running. Which is fine for a little bit, but I can feel it not being sustainable over the long-term.’

The unstable nature and instability of project-to-project funding and lack of core funding is felt across grassroots spaces, which is something that Synergi aims to highlight to larger funders across the sector.

YARC is an unincorporated group, meaning as an organisation they are not a registered legal entity such as a charity or community interest company (C.I.C). Many grassroots organisations are unincorporated. For some this is an intentional choice due to the restrictions and requirements that come with being a registered organisation that can often pull organisations away from their communities and politics that prompted them to start in the first place. For others, this is because registering can be a long and complicated process that most people do not have the capacity or expertise to do, especially unpaid.

YARC are unincorporated by choice, and so are really focusing on building a strong organisational foundation, developing their policies and procedures: decolonising governance. Amy explained that, as an unincorporated organisation, this takes a lot of time, energy and imagination. She told me of their recent decision to invite a White ally to help them with policies.

‘It took a while for us to make this decision, but we need the support to build our foundation so that we can keep doing this wonderful work without risks.’

Although not being liable to a governing body such as the Charity Commission or Companies House can give grassroots groups more freedom and ownership over what they do, this can create potential legal risks for members.

As we continue to develop the Synergi Project, we are looking to provide support for grassroots groups that are navigating these decisions around setting up and running organisations. This is something we are building into our programme for 2024. If you haven’t already, you can sign up to our newsletter to stay posted.