Community Business Development is one of our main priorities! Bedford African Caribbean Forum (BACF). Interview with Alex Audain and Joanne Thomas, May 2014.

The objective of the group is to look after the general wellbeing of the community’s development. The group have recently undergone reorganisation after the death of Carl Bernard, Chair of BACF since its inception in 1998. The new Chair is Alex Audain .

The BACF’s number one priority in 2014 has been to support business development in the community. Although the country is emerging from recession, there is general recognition that the traditional job hunting opportunities for the Afro Caribbean job seeker are not coming back.  Since January BACF has supported the development of five new businesses by providing help to develop business ideas with the support of  the recent government start up loan initiative. 

One of the most prominent of these was the "barrel man”. He does everything for anyone who wants to send things back to the Caribbean. The business will eventually become a franchise. There was also a 73 year old man who wanted to become a handy man and was interested in passing his skills on and developing a business.

The team see themselves as pointing their community members in the right direction for advice and providing basic business ‘know how’ to help get small businesses off the ground.  BACF has long been seen as the umbrella organisation for all black organisations in the Bedford area. They help by participating in consultations that may affect policy change for the local black community, working with religious groups and supporting the community when needed. There is also a clear recognition that as a charity it needs to make sure that it stays within the boundaries of the charity commission and its constitution in the work carried out.

There is a particular recognition that there is a real desire to set up businesses but often the capital and know how has just not been there.

In October 2013, Black History month, BACF highlighted the business achievements in the community through an award; they see business development as essential and part of the underpinning of the community’s future success. In the past they have honoured youth, and academic achievement but last year it was business as there is a residual unemployment level that is higher than the general population.

To quote Alex; "Usually, when someone goes to the bank manager for a loan they don't often succeed. If they are successful they often do not have the resilience to see their ideas through because of the complexity and the amount of administration involved in managing the business. What is important is that they also have a way of looking at and evaluating the" risks" involved as there is no point taking money if you can't pay it back".

Joanne Thomas, the Marketing and Business Development Manager of BACF, has been spearheading this initiative. Alex said, “Joanne has been amazing in developing the tools and reaching out to people effectively who want to make a difference".  The approach was dynamic and she displayed a tenacity and grit that has helped many beneficiaries see their dream of owning their own business come to fruition. In order to explore the BACF'S business approach in Bedford we spoke to Joanne in January and sadly it coincided with the death of Isaac Stone on the 25th January. 

We now seem immune to these deaths; a young musically talented, beautiful, young black man killed by a knife attack does not seem to shock or invite the traditional inquiry it may have done 20 years ago. 
Isaac was a popular rapper - aka Dynamikk, who struggled with many of the hurdles highlighted in the article: Alfia unleashes a perfect storm.  Music has historically been a route for the Afro Caribbean community to develop independent businesses; however, as discussed in the above, this has been increasingly difficult and uneconomic.

BACF’s approach is to get young and old into the traditional business route away from the hustle and grind. Isaac's tragic death should not be in vain - there are many lessons we must learn to avoid more tragic losses of life in the future.

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