Black History Month - An interview with Sihle from 2 Way Tenancy Solutions CIC

Screenshot of Zoom conversation between Sihle and Amy

October is Black History Month so we thought it would be a great opportunity to showcase some of the amazing work of one of our Black-led member organisations and hear about what support they’ve received from the Connected Voice teams. I caught up with Sihle Mapanda, Managing Director of 2 Way Tenancy Solutions CIC, for an informal and eye-opening chat in which we covered everything from identity, culture and language to EDI (Equity, Diversity and Inclusion) and the challenges brought about by the pandemic.

You may have read about the 2 Way Tenancy Solutions CIC in a recent Meet the Haref Network spotlight. A Gateshead-based social enterprise, they support people with multiple and complex needs across Gateshead, Newcastle and South Tyneside through a number of projects that aim to prevent homelessness, boost employment and help people reconnect with the community. The spotlight article gives a good overview of their work but talking to Sihle unveils important things about 2 Way Tenancy Solutions CIC that may not be initially apparent from the website:

‘Our organisation was set up by Black people with lived experience. This gives us an understanding about our client’s needs. We are an ambitious organisation and we try to be as flexible as possible. Most of our clients are referred to us by the local authorities and other statutory services. We see a 90% engagement rate from clients with our services and I think this is down to being understanding and avoiding the one-size-fits-all approach.’

Sihle is warm and friendly in our conversation so I can easily see how 2 Way Tenancy Solutions CIC achieves such an impact in our local community. I was also interested to learn that Sihle had worked with a number of my colleagues on different aspects of running the organisation.

‘As a small organisation I wear many hats. Having support from Connected Voice has been brilliant.’

I asked Sihle about what training and networking events from Connected Voice she had found most useful and she was eager to kick off discussion around the Haref Network:

‘I thought the recent consultation with the Haref Network about how to identify ethnic minorities was really good. It’s not something we’d usually get chance to have a say on. I don’t think we’ll ever find the perfect words that suit everyone, as everyone has different views on their identity. For example, I identify as Black but some African people wouldn’t identify as Black. I attended the consultation event but even after the event there was opportunity for people to add their views and vote on their preferred terms.’

I asked Sihle about how much she has been involved in the Haref Network:

‘I only recently became involved with Haref after I was approached by Carrie. It’s brilliant and has been hugely beneficial to us as a BME-led (Black and Minority Ethnic) organisation. The regular COVID-19 information has been helpful and thanks to Haref, we recently received First Aid training from the North East Ambulance Service. Being part of the Haref Network gives us opportunity to find new partnerships and funding opportunities. A lot of the BME families we work with have health issues so it’s very useful in helping us to support them’

Like most organisations, 2 Way Tenancy Solutions CIC has faced a number of challenges in supporting people over the last year and half. Our conversation turned to adapting during COVID-19 and how the organisation’s policies played an important role:

‘Siobhan’s support around our Safeguarding Policy was amazing. We previously had just one policy which included both adults and children. Siobhan helped us to create two separate policies which we hadn’t realised was necessary. Giovanni created a Health and Safety Policy for us. Having these policies in place has been particularly important for us during the pandemic when we need to make sure we are compliant with the regulations and keeping people safe. We’ve paid extra attention to safeguarding because the pandemic has brought new and increased risks to people.’

‘Many of the people we support struggled in lockdown. We saw an increase in loneliness, isolation and existing problems were often exacerbated. Lots of people lacked digital skills and access to digital resources so it was difficult for us to support them remotely. We took the decision to open up again when we were allowed but this came with additional costs for hiring an extra room, cleaning and putting in new safety measures. Having the policies meant we had all the systems in place.’

I was particularly interested to hear about Sihle’s experience in developing an Equity Diversity and Inclusion Policy with our Support and Development team:

‘Jack provided us with a robust EDI Policy. I liked that the approach was focused on educating people rather than penalising them for holding certain views. For example, in certain African cultures LGBT people are not accepted and sometimes imprisoned. When people seeking our support come with these views we help to educate them about the importance of diversity and inclusion. We deliver EDI training to everyone we work with. We’ve achieved the Equality North East Gold standard and I’ve learned so much myself. It’s been a real eye-opener.’

As our piece relates to Black History Month, I wanted to ask Sihle about the challenges and opportunities of being a Black-led organisation:

‘There’s really two elements to this – being a Black-led organisation but also the individual aspect. Racism is not something I usually focus on but in this context and what’s happened over the past year with the ‘Black Lives Matter movement’, it’s something we should talk about. Traditional services are predominantly white and there’s often a feeling of superiority. And so out of something negative, we actually find an advantage because being Black-led means the people we support relate to us in a way that they can’t with the traditional services. When people come to us through a referral they feel like they have a fresh start because we are strangers to them.’

‘We also have a deeper understanding of some of the cultural differences and challenges faced by people in our community. For example, talking about and looking at poor mental health, in my language, we don’t even have a word for depression but most of the clients we work with have mental health issues.’

‘Funding is a big challenge for us but working with Chris from the Support and Development team helped us to secure £40,000 that we probably wouldn’t have otherwise had. Chris pointed out that being a BME-led organisation is a unique selling point, something I hadn’t even considered before.’

‘I have always been proud of being Black – looking around at the impact and outcomes that we are achieving at 2 Way Tenancy Solutions CIC, as a Black-Led organisation, it gives us an overwhelming appreciation of how far we have come over the past 7 years and can’t wait to see what the next 7 years will bring. Thank you for your time and giving us this opportunity to talk to you.’

You can connect with 2 Way Tenancy Solutions on Twitter at: @2waytenancy

Phone: 01914909407        Email: advice@2waytenancy.co.uk           Website:  www.2waytenancy.co.uk