MPs urge government action on ‘serious funding crisis’ at Brixton’s Black Cultural Archives

BCA and Lambeth council representatives and supporters were at the debate: (l-r) Patrick Vernon, Lambeth council cabinet member for equalities and culture Sonia Winifred, BCA director Paul Reid, Helen Hayes MP, BCA chair Dawn Hill, BCA Trustee Conrad Peters Lambeth councillor Donatus Anyanwu, and BCA volunteer Jessica Peters
BCA and Lambeth council representatives and supporters were at a Windrush debate organised in the House of Commons earlier this year by Helen Hayes (l-r) Patrick Vernon, Lambeth council cabinet member for equalities and culture Sonia Winifred, BCA director Paul Reid, Helen Hayes MP, BCA chair Dawn Hill, BCA Trustee Conrad Peters, Lambeth councillor Donatus Anyanwu, and BCA volunteer Jessica Peters

More than 100 MPs today (31 October) called on the government to act over a “serious funding crisis” facing Brixton’s Black Cultural Archives.

In 2017 Lambeth council said the BCA had an annual funding shortfall of more than £400,000.

Local MP Helen Hayes said today that a junior government minister, Michael Ellis, had visited the BCA in June this year and agreed that officials from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) would work with it “as a matter of urgency”.

But, she said, “there has been no meaningful follow up with BCA, even following repeated attempt to contact DCMS”.

The MPs’ letter to DCMS secretary of state Jeremy Wright points out that, despite being the only national heritage centre dedicated to preserving the histories of African and Caribbean people in Britain, the BCA has no core funding from government.

“It has seen its funding drop by two-thirds in recent months to an unsustainable level,” the MPs say. It has undergone a “comprehensive internal restructure” to response to the drop in income.

Lambeth council agreed a grant of £250,000 this summer to help the BCA generate more income. The funding was to be conditional and would be released on the achievement of key agreed milestones proposed by the BCA.

At the end of last year the BCA launched a £30 million crowd fund appeal to secure its future but, so far, it has received pledges of a little over £50,000.

As well as its role as a repository of Black culture and history, the BCA also acts as a centre for the community in Brixton – as in the gathering to honour activist Darcus Howe after he died in 2017
As well as its role as a repository of Black culture and history, the BCA also acts as a centre for the community in Brixton – as in the gathering to honour activist Darcus Howe after he died in 2017

In June 2017 a Lambeth council report recommended a grant award of £540,000 for the BCA for three years from 1 April 2017 to 31 March 2020.

This funding was “to enable the organisation to put measures in place to ensure their long-term sustainability and to reassess its business model”.

The council report said that the package of revenue funding for the BCA from the council and Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) ended on 31 March 2017, “leaving the organisation with an immediate annual public funding gap of £426,076”.

The end of HLF funding has left Lambeth council, as BCA’s major funder. It remains committed to continuing to support BCA, “but cannot be expected to plug the current funding gap,” said Helen Hayes.

Chuka Umunna, MP for Streatham and a patron of BCA, said it was “a vitally important institution for the community, and part of keeping our heritage and history alive for the next generation.

“In this Windrush anniversary year, the BCA is facing a serious funding crisis. Repeated attempts to reach out to the government have so far been met with inaction. The Government must act now, before it is too late and this vital pillar of the African-Caribbean community is lost.”

Paul Reid, director of the BCA said: “We call on the broadest spectrum of society from local community, private sector, high net worth individuals, trusts and foundations, through to central government to join our #BackBCA campaign.”

Dawn Hill, chair of the BCA was made a CBE – Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire – in the most recent New Years Honours List for her “pivotal contribution to recording and celebrating Black history and heritage in the UK”.

 

 

Dawn Hill, left, with (l-r) BCA patron Miranda Brawn, London mayor Sadiq Khan and BCA director Paul Reid at the archives

The MPs’ letter says that the BCA played a key role in the national Windrush 70 celebrations as well as supporting Windrush citizens affected by government policies. The BCA organised seminars and legal help for people affected by the “hostile environment” policy.

The MPs called on Jeremy Wright, as a matter of urgency, to commit short-term funding to sustain the BCA and work with the organisation on a sustainable funding plan for the future, including the establishment of an endowment.

Most of the 100-plus MPs signing the letter are Labour members, but two Conservatives, Jeremy Lefroy and Charles Walker are signatories, as is Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable and four others from his party, Green MP Caroline Lucas, and Scottish Nationalist Alison Thewlis. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and deputy Tom Watson have also signed.

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