By Cedric Boston, Chief Executive of Unity Homes & Enterprise

Last month I was honoured to be appointed Chief Executive of Unity Homes and Enterprise. Guided by our BME status and social purpose, it’s an organisation with an extraordinary history.

Unity began life in the Chapeltown area of Leeds, working largely with the black Caribbean community – 34 years later, it manages more than 1,300 properties for tenants from all communities and ethnic backgrounds. But it’s never forgotten its origins.

As we enter Black History Month, I’m reminded of why BME housing associations such as Unity still exist. Access to decent housing is crucial to wellbeing and without it people struggle to realise their potential.

However, today BME people need more than housing to bridge the inequality gap. They also require a pathway to economic opportunities and associated support.  There’s an important role for BME associations here too.

That’s why Unity is developing its expertise in helping people to become ‘ready’ for employment, training, and commercial enterprise.

The pandemic has graphically highlighted ongoing racial disparities in society.

A Public Health England report published in August 2020 concluded: “People from black ethnic groups were most likely to be diagnosed. Death rates from Covid-19 were highest among people of black and Asian ethnic groups.”

Later, there was considerable scepticism about the vaccine and we used our trusted status in the community to provide people with the best information available so they could make an informed choice.

Personally, I believe the vaccine is part of the solution and have no compunction about using Unity’s platform to express this view. Looking ahead, our board has decided we cannot ignore the health disparities that Covid highlighted so we’re looking for a health partner to develop a local initiative to improve an aspect of BME health and wellbeing.

When the pandemic does reach its conclusion, it’s a disturbing truth that racial disparity will not end with it.

Discrimination has such a debilitating effect that its impact can adversely affect later generations for decades. That’s why its removal does not ensure the affected person will go on to thrive.

One of my proudest moments as Unity’s Interim Chief Executive was securing support for our exhibition showcasing the pioneering contribution of the Windrush Generation to business success and social reform in Leeds.

Christina Cambridge and Sheila Howarth feature in that exhibition and spoke movingly at our AGM last week.

They’re strong and successful black women with Unity roots going back decades. Both are also role models in the local community.

I pay warm tribute to them for embodying everything that’s good about the organisation I lead. They inspire us to develop even greater bonds with the people we serve, earn their respect, and improve their lives.