The Ibis Hotel, Birmingham played host to the participants from Moving For Change’s mentors and mentees scheme as they met (mostly) in person for the first time.
Community Engagement Officer Philomena Mongan and Policy and Campaigns Co-ordinator Ilinca Diaconescu, both of London Gypsies and Travellers, made the move to the Midlands, as did Sami McLaren, Communications and Campaigns Lead of Friends, Families and Travellers.
Meanwhile, Abigail Darton, Community Development Lead from York Travellers’ Trust attended via Zoom, as well as her mentee, Eleanor Tunny.
The mentors and mentees had the opportunity to discuss with Josie O’Driscoll and Dr Lynne Tammi their reasons for getting involved, personal expectations, welfare needs and what they thought the future of the scheme might hold.
(For reasons of confidence the individual opinions and achievements of those present will have to remain beneath a veil, but they know who – and what – they are.)
All three mentees saw the scheme not just as an opportunity to gain more skills, but also as a chance to act as mentors for future applicants, and to help increase Gypsy, Roma and Traveller representation and participation within their own areas.
Through having an official position, courtesy of the scheme, all three mentees felt empowered to make their voices heard and to state their cases in places or institutions where it may not have previously been possible.
The mentees took pride in the flexibility of the scheme – with work plans being co-produced rather than imposed – and about their close working relationships with their mentors and their professional environments.
Learning over the last year has taken on many forms, from first aid to Excel to Open University. The mentee’s own opinions and expertise is sought within each office, and the next twelve months offer the prospect of doing more community and wider public engagement, or even working towards university degrees.
For the mentors, it turns out that the last twelve months have been as much an education for them as it had been for the mentees.
The marriage of minds between mentor and mentee was crucial to the scheme’s success or failure. Mentors needed to juggle the scheme with the needs of their existing jobs, while mentees had to be able to fit it with the other demands of their lives. Both sides needed confidence in each other and in themselves – and all agreed that imbuing confidence was a key outcome of the mentorship programme.
No matter what is achieved across the two years of the scheme, if its mentees come away with the confidence to take on new challenges, then it will have all been worthwhile.
Whether a new mentorship scheme can be rolled out by MfC after this will depend on many factors. But MfC seems have to have developed a fresh model of training, with possibly wider-than-our-sector applications.
And in ten years’ time, we’re expecting future mentees to be running things, and we’re not alone in that.
“Who better to help our people than us ourselves?”
–MfC Mentee (anon)