Emerging stronger from crisis in Camden

By Hanad Mohamed | 17 February 2021

In Camden we don’t accept the status quo. We speak up and take action to challenge the inequalities that exist in our borough. Camden is an incredibly forward-thinking place and, working with our strong active communities, we have already achieved a lot. However, we know that Black, Asian and other ethnic communities in our borough have poorer life expectancy and fewer opportunities. To add insult to injury, these communities sit next to some of the wealthiest companies in the UK. We want a borough where everyone benefits from that economic success, and also one where our communities have a stake in that thriving economy.

Camden has a proud history of protest, radicalism and ambition. It’s a place I call home, where I’ve been educated, raised a family, and where I’ve celebrated and grieved with my community. Camden looked very different in the 1980s, particularly for a first generation immigrant who had to learn quickly to navigate the system to survive. My father would always say that I’d face many obstacles and challenges in life because I didn’t look or sound like my peers. I remember him telling me that shouldn’t hold me back from wanting to achieve my goals in life but to appreciate that it would take me longer to get there, that there will be times you’ll want to give up but to know that breaking that glass ceiling will pave the way for those who come after you. I hadn’t fully appreciated those words before taking this role.

I work for a local authority that has allowed me to grow, develop, and move up the ranks. I hold myself to account by being led by what is right and by being authentic, driven by my lived experience and prioritising a human centred approach over attempting to mimic the formal etiquette you might associate with a director.

Camden has mixed neighbourhoods that we work to protect. Our citizens volunteer, they agitate and step up when asked. I’ve always been a part of this as a Camden resident and my own lived experience helps me shape and inform my own professional decision making. Being in a position to make a difference to a community that I not only serve, but that I’m part of is a true privilege for me.

In August 2020, I led and published Camden’s Building Equal Foundations report on behalf of the council. The report set out 140 calls to action focused on tackling persistent inequalities in the borough. The calls to action will form part of the council’s wider strategic approach to equalities and cohesion. We’ve mobilised senior leaders across the organisation to set up the race and equality task and finish group – this brings a disruptive voice, challenges that examine how we do things and ways we can do things differently as a leadership team.

COVID-19 has starkly exposed Britain’s social inequality, but the past few months have also galvanised a renewed commitment to take the urgent and radical action needed to bring about real systemic change. I’m excited to be in this role, and 100 days in I’ve seen the potential for change, and a commitment to ensure we don’t return to the way things used to be, and to make Camden a place which truly works for everyone.

These are not always easy conditions to create. The issues that undermine us can be deep-rooted, and councils do not control all the levers that can help address them. There is a clear role for partners, so my role is to make sure these relationships thrive and that we can bring together collective will to succeed, and the ambitions needed to match it.

As we look ahead and start planning for an easing of lockdown, the talk turns to a ‘new normal’. But we must not emerge from COVID with lower levels of social mobility as this will only hold us back. My role is to ensure that equalities remains front and centre and to create the conditions that allow our communities to build their stake in our borough. Our communities will help us emerge from this crisis and we must bring them into the heart of our work.

Hanad Mohamed is director of equalities and disproportionality at Camden LBC


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