A “stale, pale and male” charity which provides millions of pounds in Greenwich Council services is promising it will change after a searing report found evidence of racism throughout the organisation.
In one instance, the charity’s communications team is said to have accidentally publicised that a client was HIV positive after ignoring guidance on the use of language.
“We are being used as a tick-box exercise to show diversity,” one respondent told the report’s authors.
Metro’s boss admitted that staff had been “silenced and minimised” and pledged to carry out reforms.
The Woolwich-based charity received £5.1 million in council funding between 2017 and 2022 and continues to provide a range of services, including working within the council’s youth service.
Metro has long had close links with Greenwich Council after being founded with a town hall grant 40 years ago as a group for lesbians and gay men.
During the 1990s and 2000s it expanded into sexual health services for the wider community, and began working in neighbouring areas such as Lewisham and Bromley.
Metro has grown more significantly in recent years, absorbing a number of smaller charities and taking over the longstanding Greenwich Action for Voluntary Service, which provides help for local voluntary groups, and Greenwich Association of Disabled People. The groups are now known as Metro-Gavs and Metro-Gad.
Respondents to the report paint a picture of an organisation dominated by white gay men who were not interested in the concerns of staff from different ethnic groups who had come from organisations taken over by Metro.
“BME staff experience a higher workload for less pay together with close monitoring,” one said. Another said they had seen “white people touching back people’s hair multiple times” while there were “assertions from a colleague that another colleague is ‘on the game’ ie, a sex-worker (not overtly racism, but felt to be racially coded)”.
One staff member said they heard a colleague saying: “I think gay people have it worse than black people.”
The charity was “stale, pale and male”, one said, while another comment claimed that the senior leadership team was “only good at looking after themselves and their own concerns”.
While some white staff members recognised there was a problem, the report’s authors at Jedi Consulting said they found the “ambivalence of some white respondents towards the experiences of their colleagues disturbing”. One claimed that “most [staff of colour] have less workloads than white colleagues”, the report says.
The charity had a particularly high profile when Danny Thorpe led the council, with the leader a regular guest on its float during the annual central London Pride parade. In 2019, the charity’s chief executive at the time, Greg Ussher, was given a council civic award for his contribution to the community.
The following year, Thorpe featured on a Metro montage in Piccadilly Circus when Pride was unable to take place because of the pandemic.
Metro said the report – published three weeks ago but unreported anywhere until now – made for “difficult reading and highlights some serious internal issues that we need to urgently address. We are disappointed that we have clearly let down our colleagues and we are very sorry that we have enabled a culture where our racialised team members have had these unacceptable experiences.”
Andrew Evans, the charity’s chief executive, said when the report was published that he was “shaken” by the report’s findings and apologised to staff.
“There is no place for racism or discrimination within our charity,” he said. “It is unacceptable, it will change, and I am deeply sorry.”
Metro said it would be reporting the findings to the Charity Commission.
Greenwich Council said this morning in a statement to this website: “We are aware that the charity Metro recently commissioned an independent report which identified a number of serious concerns around racial disparity and discrimination within its own organisation.
“The council funds a range of services provided by Metro. The council will be working closely with Metro to ensure recommendations and actions arising from the audit are implemented and that real improvement is made.
“Greenwich is a vibrant, dynamic borough and home to many diverse communities. This is one of our greatest strengths. We have zero tolerance for discrimination of any kind and ensuring that no one in Greenwich faces discrimination is one of the 20 priorities outlined in our corporate plan.”
Metro has not responded to a request for further comment.
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