It was a beautiful morning, the sun was shining and I could hear a robin singing in the trees outside my window. My first thoughts on waking were: “Have I got everything? Speakers, check; Food, check; Posters, check”. It was the Black History Month network coffee morning launch in our Gloucester office. The launch had been organised by the BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) Network, of which I’m an active member. I felt a little bit like a party organiser who’d dreamt the night before that nobody would turn up for the party!
The BAME network use coffee mornings, usually held in different offices, as a way of raising the BAME profile within Land Registry. However, we decided to use this coffee morning to launch 2016’s Black History Month. Every coffee morning has a theme, and the theme for this event was raising BAME Network Members profiles in Land Registry. We also wanted to highlight how successful BAME staff had sought out opportunities as a way of developing themselves.
We invited 3 speakers; Errol Green who’d recently retired from Land Registry, Sewedo Toyon currently working in our Hull office and Carol Gurajena from our Head Office.
I kicked the event off with an introduction before handing over to Paul Dowse, Land Registry’s BAME Board Champion who made the formal welcome and introductions. We were then joined by our Chief Executive, Graham Farrant, via Skype where he was able to add his words of welcome and support for the event.
The first speaker, Errol Green, recounted how he joined Land Registry in 1971 as an 18 year old clerical assistant. He told us how he worked hard and rose through the ranks; first becoming the manager of the Local Personnel Office, then manager of a small team of clerical and executive staff before finally becoming a senior caseworker within a technical team. He used terms that many of us had long forgotten like Blue Card Registers (the old card registers which were typed and held in rows of filing cabinets, now replaced by electronic versions held in the Cloud). I particularly liked his reference to working at Land Registry in his early days and how he wasn’t sure if his wages would extend to his tailor-made moleskin suits. He always dressed to impress!
The second speaker, Sewedo Toyon talked about his rise to senior caseworker via the Local and Central accelerated management models of the Future Leaders programme, (schemes intended to develop management potential). Sewedo shared how his willingness to take different opportunities that came his way helped him to develop his career in the Registry. His journey so far had taken him from Hull to Stevenage to Durham before ending up back home in Hull.
Carol Gurajena was the last speaker. She spoke about how she got the librarian job at Land Registry before realising that her knowledge of land law was not quite what was expected, it was very entertaining. It was great to hear how, with the help of her colleagues, she was able to complete her law degree. She also spent time on a secondment outside the organisation in Government Legal Department, whilst finding time to study and bring up her children. Very inspiring!
In between the speeches, there was a break for refreshments (my favourite part of any party!) which included tea, coffee, onion bhajis, samosas, jerked beef patties, chicken satays and to finish superb Caribbean fruit cakes.
Julie Dennis, Head of Diversity talked about the work she’s been involved in and a bit about Land Registry’s other diversity networks:
- Disabled Employee Network
- Women’s Network
She explained how we all needed each other to make things work for the better of us all.
Finally, Derrick Christie and Zaffreen Akhtar, co-chairs of the BAME network, held a short question and answer session to pick up on any of the topics raised throughout the morning. One particular theme did stand out; how none of the speakers had known what Land Registry did before they entered the organisation!
It was left to me to wrap up proceedings by thanking everyone for attending and special thanks to Zaffreen who is standing down as co-chair in January and to Derrick for being instrumental in raising the BAME network membership from 16 to 144 this year.
What did we all gain from the day? Well, I hope that my colleagues in the BAME network left the morning entertained and inspired by the speakers; eager to take opportunities to raise their profile, to develop themselves and achieve recognition for their hard work. I also hope that my colleagues in the wider community left with an appreciation of life in Land Registry from the BAME perspective stretching from 1970s to the present. Most of all I hope that we all left with the impression that life is what you make it. Taking opportunities to develop yourself is important but seeking help from your colleagues who recognise your worth is also important if you want to succeed. Working together anything can be achieved.