Funmi Akinriboya is the Founder of BME Suffolk Support Group, a non-profit community organisation based in Ipswich and West Suffolk, providing support to marginalised Black and Minority Ethnic families and individuals. Five years on, Funmi explains how the community projects are gathering pace
BME Suffolk was founded in November 2018. It started as a pilot project and the aim at that point was to find out why the Black community was not integrating into the community where they live and to find out what was preventing them from doing that. We started as a group of volunteers and used to meet once a month. After that we tried to find out the needs within the community.
In 2021 we became registered as a Community Interest Company and now everything we do is community based. I found likeminded people who believed in the organisation and brought them together to build a group we have now. For the first year all we did was monthly projects. We celebrated Black History Month, and International Women’s Day, and had a community Christmas Dinner. During those monthly meetings, people wanted to discuss confidential stuff, and also told us that African food was too expensive to buy and so we launched a food bank and drop-in sessions. We have an office team who help people with housing issues, benefit issues, employment issues. We have a lot of Portuguese clients and some of our staff are Portuguese, so they can help a lot. We also support asylum seekers. And we have continued our monthly gatherings, where people can come together and socialise, to address isolation and loneliness.
We’ve established a youth club, a library with diverse books and a community café. In the café, people can come and use free Wi-Fi, drinks are £1 the snacks are 50p and they can stay for as long as they want. There are volunteers they can talk to, nice comfy sofas, and games. It’s open to the whole community, not just the BME community.
We have six projects now, thanks to National Lottery funding. It has enabled us to have staff (and for me to be employed as a Project Manager), and to rent bigger premises, which is open to all the community. We got the funding in 2021 and by May 2022 we had opened and launched our community building.
We opened a branch in West Suffolk because the people there had reached out to us during Covid, through our online projects. They asked us if they could create a community there in West Suffolk. We run three projects in both of our West Suffolk branches, in Mildenhall and Bury St Edmunds: the food bank, the monthly gathering and the drop in.
BME Suffolk is beyond work: it is family. You can call on us and rely on us, no matter what. We have a WhatsApp community group so if anyone says ‘I’m sick’, everyone rallies round to say, ‘don’t worry, I’ll pick the kids up from school/I’ll cook soup/I’ll take you to the hospital or I’ll come to your house and do the laundry.’
We won a BBC Suffolk ‘Making a Difference’ award in the ‘Together’ category. One of our mottos is we are ‘stronger together’ and that shows in everything we do. We try to make sure we support people with empathy. Even if we’re not able to help, sometimes just listening makes things easier for people.
It was really nice to celebrate our anniversary. It was open to the community, and we invited all the organisations that we work with. The hall was full with young people, the elderly, men and women – everyone came together to celebrate, and we showed the history of our journey from 2018 to 2023.
There is always something happening with BME Suffolk – our work is never ever finished. We want to be able to continue to provide support people as the need arises. In January, we are starting a baby and toddler group, because we have a lot of parents who have had a lot of babies – we’ve got triplets within the group! Also, we are going to be having Friendship Fridays for elders. We support lots of Afro Caribbean, British and Portuguese elderly people so we want them to come in and we will give them free refreshments and snacks – we will also be doing activities with them. The third project, which we launched at the anniversary, is Friends of BME, so we would like to promote that from January once we’ve finished all our Christmas celebrations. It’s for people to support us so we’re not just relying on funding all the time. People can pay £12 annually to support us or they can pay £1 a month. They will be invited quarterly to come and see the good work we’re doing. That’s another initiative we have put together.
It’s a massive project we are running, but when you have people who believe in the vision and the mission, they take it beyond work. We have a fantastic team who are always ready to make sure that what we are doing works well. We want to make sure we continue to support people. It’s not just a tick box for us. When people come to us their life doesn’t remain the same financially, physically, mentally, or emotionally. We will make a positive impact on their lives and their children’s lives. That’s what we stand for.
Visit bmesuffolk.org and BME Support Group on Facebook, and Instagram. The headquarters is located at 5 Coachman’s Court, Old Cattle Market, Ipswich, IP4 1DX. Call 01473 210176 or 07492 691190 and email email@example.com. West Suffolk Branch Services: St John’s Close, Mildenhall, IP28 7NX. Linden House Branch Services: Access Community Trust, 147 Kings Road, Bury St Edmunds IP33 3DJ.
Featured image of BME Suffolk Support Group celebrating its 5th anniversary. All images supplied