In the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd in the summer of 2020 and amid the gathering momentum of the Black Lives Matter movement, the Sister System charity was troubled by the conversations it was having with its service users – care-affected girls and young women, the majority of whom are Black and Brown. Sister System supports between 120 and 200 young people each year on its peer mentoring educational empowerment programmes.
The leadership team witnessed first-hand the personal and deep trauma their beneficiaries experienced as a result of the shooting, and the profound effect on their emotional and mental wellbeing of racism and discrimination, which was further compounded by the impact of being in care. More than half of gang-affiliated girls come through the care system; two-thirds of women in the criminal justice system come from the care system, and 45% of those in the care system have a mental health condition by the age of 17.
The charity identified a devastating lack of pride, place and purpose, and a stark disconnect between the Black British heritage, the Black American experience and how that linked the diaspora.
To tackle this, Sister System co-developed with its service users a programme called Honour Thyself to help beneficiaries identify, understand and challenge the stereotypes, inequities and systematic racism inherent in society. The aims of the project included learning about African-Caribbean heritage, fostering pride and place as Black British women, and inspiring care-affected Black and Brown girls to embrace and be proud of who they are.
The programme features workshops on ‘why be proud’, showcasing male and female Black British role models, leadership training, and mentoring by volunteer “big sisters”. The initiative worked with 24 girls over six months, with each girl receiving 24 hours of mentoring and 132 hours of workshops, and working towards a recognised qualification in leadership.
Feedback forms and data collection from participants reported that 100% improved their mental well-being; 85% raised their sense of pride, place and purpose; and 90% had become part of a larger community of peers. In total, 50% achieved the qualification in leadership and 22 of the girls are continuing their development by joining other programmes or becoming peer mentors.
The total cost of the programme per person was £1,000 and funding has already been secured for a second cohort in 2023-24 and a third the following year.
Awards judge Martin Edwards described the project as “small-scale but brilliant” and said it “deserves to be put on the national stage”.
“At the moment it’s only 24 people, but they are clearly targeting an at-risk group which exists all over the country, that of Black girls and women in the care system. I think it’s eminently replicable.”
Chris Sherwood commended the charity’s co-design approach: “They’ve worked closely with their audience, the young people, to really understand their needs.”
CC Reg no. 1177669