Equality, Diversity and Inclusion | Arvon

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion

Our continuing commitment to equality

Arvon was founded on a belief in the power of the imagination and the benefits of creative writing, and it continues to be driven by a conviction that these benefits should be available to everyone, regardless of their background or circumstances. As our founder John Moat said, an Arvon writing house should be a ‘Freehouse of the Imagination’, which is not owned by anyone, but belongs to everyone who passes through it. It is central to our mission that we work towards equality of access, opportunity and participation in all our programmes.

For so many people in our society, equality has not yet been realised. Disabled people, LGBTQ+ people, Black people and other people of colour, people from working class backgrounds or who live on low incomes: all face numerous and interconnected barriers to participation including (perhaps especially) in the arts. As a charity we seek to place diversity and inclusion at the heart of our strategy, our evaluation and our programming, underpinned by a determination that no barrier, whatsoever, shall exist to the inclusion of all: that our houses, both physical and virtual, will be accessible and welcoming to everyone, spaces in which there will be no actual or perceived impediment to participation.

In the past we have pursued a range of actions, with the aim of making our activities more accessible and of diversifying our audience. These have included:

  • Course grants and bursaries to prevent cost being a barrier to participation, and funded partnerships with young people and adults from disadvantaged communities across the country
  • Strategic grants to offer writers of colour and other marginalised groups such as disabled writers free places on our public residential courses
  • Partnership courses aimed at specific marginalised groups such as writers of colour or disabled writers either in ‘closed’ groups or open for public bookings
  • A consistent focus on diversity in our programming across all our activities, whether with schools and groups or public courses for adults
  • Renovating our facilities to be more accessible to disabled people, with accessibility a key aspect of the Hurst redevelopment in 2013, as well as our plans to redevelop Lumb Bank in 2024
  • Regular training from external organisations to help our staff embed accessibility, diversity and inclusion in our practice
  • Action plans for equality and audience development, underpinned by robust external evaluation and equal opportunities monitoring with ambitious KPIs for participation
  • Commissioning additional evaluation by consultants such as Words of Colour, who researched in depth the impressions writers of colour held of Arvon and its programmes

Our responsibility to writers of colour

Events of the last few years, and the searching conversations and institutional self-reflections they have provoked in this country and around the world, have moved us to more deeply interrogate our own actions and responsibilities. A more intensive focus on the enduring impact of racism, on challenging the structural conditions that sustain it, and on centring the voices and experiences of Black people in particular, has prompted us to ask if we, individually and collectively, are doing enough, and how we can deepen our commitment to tackling racism in our sector.

It is crucially important that the arts sector acknowledges, and continues to acknowledge, the barriers Black people and other persons of colour face in gaining access to opportunities in our field (as participants, practitioners and administrators). These barriers are inseparable from a system that devalues the lives of persons of colour, and of Black people in particular, by, not least, persistently silencing and delegitimising their voices, stories and experience. We know that the UK publishing sector continues to struggle to offer writers of colour and profesional persons of colour equality of opportunity or appropriate recognition; as a writer development charity we are part of that ecosystem and we share a responsibility for working to ensure marginalised writers are given the support they need.

We pay tribute to the talent, skill, professionalism and tenacity of all writers of colour who in spite of these barriers have achieved success in their art and elevated the practice of writing in this country, particularly those among our outstanding network of tutors. Writers of colour are artistically essential to Arvon’s programme; it could not exist without them and it would not be where it is now without them. They are central to all aspects of our work, not least our most challenging and sensitive partnership courses with young people and vulnerable groups, which we see as the core of our mission.

In 2020, in order to better engage with these issues, we decided to accelerate the work of our Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Working Group. Our own process of reflection has highlighted a number of areas where we know we can do more. We have resolved to interrogate our language, and we aim to avoid using aggregate terms like ‘BAME’ where possible, instead being more specific when discussing issues that affect persons of colour and Black people in particular. We know that certain preconceptions about Arvon can prevent people from taking part: perceptions of Arvon as an elitist or exclusive organisation. We can do more to challenge these assumptions and give the clear message to writers of colour that Arvon is a place for them, where they can feel safe and welcome.

We will keep working to create an inclusive and supportive atmosphere on every course, and we know we can become more assertive and confident in calling out stereotypes, prejudice or any form of racism when we see it, even if supposedly ‘minor’ or ‘well-meaning’. We know we have work to do in diversifying our staff team and our Board, and in making Arvon an organisation that more talented persons of colour want to be a part of. Above all, as so many have recently observed, we know that it is no longer enough to be non-racist; we must be antiracist, both as individuals and as an organisation.

Ongoing reflection and change

The work of advancing diversity and inclusion in the arts is a long-term struggle against the racism and prejudice that exist in every corner of our society. Our response is inevitably imperfect, and the work of refining and improving that response will never be complete. But we are in this for the long term, and we hope to take the urgency and the reflective spirit of these times as an impetus to push ourselves further and accelerate processes of internal change that may previously have been in danger of stalling.

The points below outline the steps we have taken:

  • Governance and staffing: We have appointed a new Equalities Lead from our Board of Trustees and resolved to ensure issues of diversity and inclusion remain regularly on the Board’s agenda. We are working with our HR consultants to find proactive ways to diversify our workforce.
  • Changing our language: We want to avoid using aggregate terms like ‘BAME’ where possible, being more specific in our discussions around diversity and inclusion and identifying the issues and barriers that affect Black people in particular. We will also continue to interrogate our use of language in relation to disablity.
  • Changing our policy: We have rewritten and updated our Equality, Diversity and Inclusion policy to be more specific, more comprehensive and more practically useful to our staff.
  • Offering new bursaries: A number of supporters have committed to sponsoring course places for Black writers and other writers of colour, as well as for disabled writers and working class writers, and we will continue to seek and/or ringfence funding aimed at engaging all these groups.
  • More diverse programming: We will continue to seek out talented Black writers and other writers of colour, LGBTQ+ writers and writers from the most diverse possible range of backgrounds, and explore how barriers either in our procedures or in publishing and the media may distort or obstruct pathways to achieving this.
  • Deepening our learning: We have engaged in training more of our staff in how to recognise unconscious bias, and how to build inclusive programmes and embed antiracism in our organisation. The Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Working Group will continue sharing insights from our reading and research with the wider team, helping each of us to deepen our understanding of issues related to racism and inclusion.
  • Fostering inclusive practices: We have prepared advice for our staff on how to challenge racist behaviour, stereotypes or microaggressions, and resolved to communicate clearly to our tutors the importance of referring to a diverse range of example texts in their workshops. We are working with publishers to seek donations in order to diversify the range of books in our on-site libraries, to better reflect the diversity of modern British society and to showcase new and diverse voices.
  • Partnerships and collaboration: We will develop or renew partnerships with writer development agencies, community organisations, publishers and partners across the arts and beyond – in particular organisations supporting Black writers and other writers of colour – to see how by supporting them or by combining our efforts, we can reach new audiences and help marginalised voices find the support they need to succeed and grow.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we want to make clear that if there’s something you’d like to tell us about but didn’t want to mention during your course or include in an evaluation form or a tutor report, or you have thoughts on how we can improve, where we may have gone wrong, or how we’ve not lived up to our own values, we want to hear from you and we will do our best to address your concerns, whether you’ve taken part in our programme or not. We don’t want to ask people to do our work for us, but our doors and our minds are open to any criticism or feedback that can help us improve and be a better and more inclusive champion for writers. You can contact the following people in confidence:

Andrew Kidd, Chief Executive: andrew.kidd@arvon.org
Natasha Carlish, Deputy Chief Executive: natasha.carlish@arvon.org

To Black people and other people of colour, Disabled people, LGBTQ+ people; people from working class backgrounds or people who live on low incomes we say: Arvon, the home of creative writing, is a home for your writing, and for you. Our writing houses – Freehouses of the Imagination – belong to you as writers, and in each one you will find allyship and solidarity and be heard.