A response to comments from members that were posted on our Facebook page and emailed to us after our recent statement about our failings in dealing with a complaint about a coop member.
Wharf Chambers, like many DIY and cooperative spaces in the UK, is predominantly run and organised by white people. Wharf Chambers Workers’ Co-op and Club Collective do not want, and have never wanted, that. As organisational bodies we reproduce aspects of systematic racism often in our day to day practice. We are committed to trying to identify and lessen that and to try to be a supportive, caring, empowering and listening environment for Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) people. We recognise that this will always be a process of improvement, but we hope eventually to have a space and set of resources that is partly for, led and steered by BAME people with white members supporting and enabling that work.
In December 2015 Wharf Chambers requested an external facilitator to lead a meeting about racism and white privilege within the Club as well as the wider DIY scene in Leeds. We intended for the meeting to be a space within which people could share ideas and experiences, and for this to help steer our own internal anti-racism strategy. We learnt a lot about our failings in that meeting and we learnt them because BAME people had to point them out to us. It isn’t fair that BAME people have to teach us these things and remind us of things before changes take place. This has taken place since our recent statement too and while we are grateful for the generosity of posters/ contributors we do not want to rely on this going forward and are committed to proactive anti-racist work.
From this meeting Wharf Chambers developed an action plan which reflected the thoughts and feelings of some of our BAME members with short-term, medium-term and long-term actions. However, we were not communicative nor proactive enough about the findings of the meeting, and in the end some BAME people who contributed to the meeting ended up emotionally exhausted. We realise that our communication on this and the recent disclosure of abuse by a staff member have been inadequate. We are committed to continuing anti-racist work and communicating more clearly about what we intend to do and what we are able to do. We have updated the table created after the 2015 meeting with a point-by-point, honest breakdown of what we have and haven’t done, and what we intend to do moving forward (see attached). This, like our safer spaces agreement, is meant to be a live document that evolves over time in response to member input. If you want to suggest anything please email members[at]wharfchambers.org.
We have been a reactive space, without foreseeing potential issues or how we might address members’ needs effectively. Our lack of defined boundaries has meant that we are not able to clearly state what we are able and not able to do. We have a responsibility to respond to any disclosure of abuse with both professionalism and compassion and we are working towards ensuring that we achieve that by developing a robust set of policies and processes that reflect our values. We want to reassure members that despite not always honouring this responsibility in the past, we will listen when issues are brought to us, even when they are about us, and we will take a proactive role in seeking resolution.
We are committed to making disclosures and complaints safer and easier for everyone, recognising that power structures make these harder for some people. Wharf Chambers is committed to responding appropriately to disclosures of abuse in relation to our staff and volunteers. We will also work to ensure that abuse which occurs between members or their guests on our premises is dealt with in line with our safer spaces agreement. Wharf Chambers cannot get involved responding to abuse that occurs between members outside of the premises, however we are committed to listening to our members when they express concerns around their safety, and we will always work proactively to help our members to feel safe when accessing our premises.
We are committed to working hard on our own responsibilities and failings, however we are also conscious that we do not exist in a vacuum. We’re aware that other spaces in Leeds have done their own work and we invite them to participate in a broader conversation to bring about change.
We would also like to draw attention to this document about accountability, produced by DIY Space for London. Although not all points are applicable exactly to us, we think this is an excellent document; one which reflects the need for compassionate, nuanced thinking around disclosures of abuse from survivors.
We have a lot to learn and are committed to educating ourselves. At our next members meeting all of this is up for discussion. We are also planning a members’ survey to inform our work. We will update members on this work at members’ meetings, on the website and on social media.
Thanks for reading,