Practice Spotlight: Interview with Communities Inc.

13 March is National Bystander Awareness Day. To mark the occasion, the Strong Cities Network’s has profiled the “Stand by Me”, a project established to tackle hate crime in response to increasing community polarisation following the EU Referendum.

Established in 2011 in Nottingham, UK, by Shamsher Chohan and Michael Henry, Communities Inc. was initially set up with the broad aim of working with marginalised and deprived communities to tackle inequalities, to give a voice to those not often heard, and to build capacity for people to improve their own lives and that of their communities in a positive way.

With the outcome of the 2016 European Union Referendum and the rise of community polarisation, Communities Inc. focused more heavily on hate crime. Following the referendum result, the UK experienced a spike in religiously and racially-motivated hate crimes, with Nottinghamshire reporting the second biggest national increase with 75% more hate crimes recorded in the three months following the EU referendum compared with the three months prior.

To address this, Communities Inc. started the Stand by Me project, designed to address the ‘bystander effect’, a well-known social phenomenon in which the presence of other people discourages an individual from offering help to a victim; the greater the number of bystanders, the less likely that any one of them will intervene. However, as Shamsher Chohan Creative Director told us, “if a bystander intervenes within 10 seconds of a hate incident, 50% of the time the incident stops or de-escalates.” 

As part of its ongoing CVE Spotlight series, the Strong Cities Network interviewed Shamsher of Communities Inc. to find out more about “Stand by Me”, a project funded by ISD’s Google Innovation Fund.

In the months following the referendum result, Shamsher and her team began conducting a series of brief interviews with people in Nottingham to try and gauge whether there had been any notable changes in the community, asking people how safe they were feeling now compared with before the referendum.

Shamsher Chohan: ‘Generally what we picked up was that people were more cautious, people were more reluctant to let their children out if they didn’t need to go out. Women were telling us if they didn’t need to go shopping they weren’t going shopping – they were trying to coordinate it so they weren’t on their own. What we picked up was that there was that additional anxiety about what could happen as opposed to a whole load of things that did happen.’

More broadly, the referendum result enabled people to air prejudices and intolerant views more openly and confidently, exposing tensions within and between communities that had hitherto remained unspoken.

In light of the increased number of hate crimes and hate incidents which so often occur in public places, Shamsher and her team began to explore ways to tackle these issues and looked to try and mobilise bystanders to intervene.

So often during these incidents, people want to intervene and help the victim but are afraid of getting hurt, of standing out from the crowd, or are unsure of how to act or intervene safely. This became the core of the Stand by Me project, which “champions safe, easy, and indirect bystander interventions that can be put into action by anyone when a hate incident takes place.”

These interventions are designed to be practical, quick and safe ways of disrupting and countering hate incidents, as well as a means of offering support to the victims and challenging such behaviour publically.

However, it is important to note that there are a number of ways in which people can people can offer help during or following a hate incident that don’t necessarily involve exposing oneself to the risk of harm or intervening directly. As part of the project, the team came up with the message ‘See, Report, Support’, which outlines safe actions to take when witnessing a hate incident:

  • See

Watch, be a witness. Don’t turn away as it gives the message to the offender that their behaviour is normal and acceptable. Observe and pay attention to what is happening, the description of the offender, where you are, what time it is, so that you have the best information when you report it.

  • Report

Inform security, staff or other people that might be able to help. You can also ask other people nearby for help to intervene. Once you are in a safe space you can then report the incident as a witness directly to the Police.

  • Support

Check in with the victim if possible, even if it’s after the incident.

More information and different forms of intervention can be found in their excellent Bystander Intervention Guide.

Communities Inc. also provide specific bystander intervention training to individuals who interact with their local communities as part of their role, including public sector workers, neighbourhood development workers, youth workers and police community support officers. This training has been received incredibly well.

‘People were amazed, and saying ‘how can you spend only 15 minutes with a person and receive one of the highest rates of change in understanding?’ And it was really part of the simplicity of those messages – there’s very little that can be lost in translation.’ 

It is this simplicity which has contributed so strongly to the Stand by Me project’s success, but which also has a universal resonance.

‘Every city around the world will have those groups of people who are vulnerable.’

Due to the simplicity, potency and success of the message, the team are now exploring how the Stand by Me project can be applied to different contexts across the Strong Cities Network, including with our partners Individualland in Pakistan.

‘We’ve recently secured funding to pilot ‘Stand by Her’, which is using bystander interventions to tackle sexual harassment. We’ve also been in contact with Individualland in Pakistan to see how bystander interventions can be used to tackle forced marriage issues… we’re realising that we can apply it in a number of different areas, whether it’s domestic violence, sexual harassment, forced marriages, a whole range of issues.’

In an age where city populations are continuing to expand and dense urban environments have become the norm, the nature of ‘community’ is also being redefined. It is becoming harder to make connections with those around us, making divisive and intolerant narratives easier to accept.

‘People are quite willing and in some sense quite desperate to engage with people around them. Those opportunities don’t exist and that’s because we’ve become quite insular. But I think people are crying out for that connection, and that’s why the support element of ‘See, Support, Report’ is so important.’

More than this, Communities Inc. through the Stand by Me project is restoring a sense of community responsibility.

‘This is about empowering communities to be able to support each other even if no one else is. It’s about taking some of that control or responsibility or power back and saying ‘We have a role to play in creating the sort of society and community we want to live in.’

You can find out more about Communities Inc. and the Stand by Me project by visiting their website here, as well as reading more about why bystander interventions are so vital here.

Useful links:

Bystander Intervention Guide

See, Report, Support Infographic

See, Report, Support A3 Poster












Bystander Intervention Guide

See, Report, Support A3 Poster

See, Report, Support Infographic

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