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Black History all year round

West Suffolk College is the first college in the country to facilitate the teaching of black history all year round. 

This decision was made by West Suffolk College in Bury St Edmunds when staff and students wanted were moved to bring about positive change, in the wake of the death of George Floyd in America last year.

After this tragedy, equality and diversity innovation lead coach and lecturer in health and social care, Ellisha Soanes, started a discussion with her students.

She encouraged them to have open and honest conversations about how they could change the narrative and help spread the positive message of equality, diversity and inclusion within college and the wider world.

As a result of these discussions, her students created a tribute to George Floyd, made a video to talk about their experiences and created staff sessions (led by learners) to discuss issues affecting the BAME community.

Because of her student’s efforts, Elisha created an awards ceremony to recognise their work with Rebekah Russel, Grace Tydeman and Esther Ruse picking up certificates during an awards ceremony at the college.

This work caught the eye of people associated with The European Social Fund (ESF) and PLACE 21 who have set up some funding to support this work.

Therefore, the college is currently in the process of employing a new group of equality diversity digital inclusion ambassadors from students and staff at the college, whose role will be to embed black history into the curriculum at the college all year round.

In addition to embedding black history within the curriculum, the ambassador’s role will be to facilitate projects that incorporate the LGBTQ+ community and the work of Women’s Rights, amongst others.

31 year old Ellisha from Ipswich, said, “As far as we are aware, we are the first college in the UK to teach black history all year round. We spoke to the Association of Colleges and they were not aware of any other colleges who were doing this. The director of diversity (Jeff Greenidge) has been very encouraging.

“Our mission is to encourage other colleges across the UK to do the same. I’m incredibly passionate about this project. Quite why this hasn’t happened before is a bigger question.”

Looking ahead, Ellisha has hinted at some upcoming projects. These projects include a big collaboration between the ambassadors and Ipswich Museum.

The museums ‘Power of Stories’ exhibition is set for this summer and will feature costumes from the iconic Black Panther Marvel film.

Ellisha continued: “I’m working with the curators of the museum to enable our students to take part. We can’t give any spoilers away, however the exhibition and our involvement within it is going to be epic. We can’t wait to be a part of it.”

In terms of the project as a whole, she said, “We’ve had backing from the Association of Colleges and our students received support from Swiss from the So Solid Crew and the creator of Black Pound Day in the UK.”

“I’d like to acknowledge what our students have done so far and I’m delighted that the college has given them this platform to discuss these important issues that we are all so incredibly passionate about.

“Ultimately we want to bring about positive change across the college, the county and the country and create a sustainable model that others can adopt.”

“We’d like to thank the ESF and PLACE 21 for helping to fund this work. I’d also like to thank the innovation team - Katie Wilden and Sophia Carn-Pryor – for helping to ensure the funding could be put into place to support diversity projects and the new ambassadors. Thanks also to all the staff and friends family who’s championed me along the way.”