The conference was opened by Chief Fire Officer Phil Garrigan, Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service, and Dalvinder Rai, AFSA Chair. Both encouraged the delegates to use the conference to review existing practices and to spread key messages from what they learned from the conference and to network, share ideas and make friends.

Day One’s Enlightening Speakers

The first speaker was Levi Tafari who, through poetry, enlightened the audience with rhythm and rhyme to remind the conference of the history of Liverpool, the slave trade and the fight for racial justice.

Top left: Delegates at last year’s AFSA conference held in Liverpool

Top right: John Barnes, former Liverpool footballer

Bottom left: Nicky Thurston, Mike Pitney, Debbie Gore, Andrew Bigginton representing Kent Fire and Rescue Service

Bottom middle: Pav Singh, retired Firefighter, London Fire brigade, and Dennis Moss, retired Paramedic, Welsh Ambulance Service, representing Team India

Bottom right: Suresh Sukumaran, Simon Constable and Saagar Patel representing Warrington and Halton Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

The second speaker was Roy Wilsher, Her Majesty’s Inspector of Fire and Rescue Services. He provided an insightful view of the continuing challenges of implementing good equality, diversity and inclusion practices across the Fire and Rescue Service. He stressed the need to understand the context, focus on the ‘why’ as well as the ‘what’ and to act proportionately and make the most of staff voices.

The third speaker was Professor Wankhade of Edge Hill University. He stressed the importance of equality, diversity and inclusion and people and processes, together with the need to address the changing role of frontline services and to focus on wellbeing.

The fourth speaker of day one was the Fire Minister, Lord Greenhalgh. He emphasised the contribution of South Asian staff operating within the UK fire and rescue services. He highlighted how staff had stepped up to support the vaccination programme and worked closely with diverse communities.

The next speaker was Amanda Oates, HR Director, Mersey Care NHS Trust. She shared the highlights of the successful change management programme, ‘Just Culture’. Mersey Care’s work to embrace a just and learning culture has centred on the desire to create an environment in which staff feel supported and empowered to learn from situations that do not go as expected, rather than feel blamed for them.

The final session of the morning of day one involved CFO Phil Garrigan and Mohamed Jogi (AFSA) discussing the value of reciprocal mentoring. Both shared insights into how they have worked together to gain the benefits of this approach. This included viewing the world through another’s eyes and how this can change perspectives to make the most of lived experiences and how to apply them to policy and practice.

After lunch, delegates were given the choice of attending a series of workshops that included a look at staff networks, neurodiversity and workplace resilience.

Mark Thomas, Group Manager; Kelly Patterson, Senior Occupational Health Officer and Psychological Therapist; and John Maddock, Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service, shared insights from their organisations’ work on supporting staff and mental health. This included the introduction of mental health first aiders and critical incident stress management (CISM) to support staff.

The next speaker was the former Liverpool footballer, John Barnes, who engaged the audience with a critical overview of racism in the UK. Barnes gave an insight into racism in football and discussed slavery, colonialism and how race remains such a problematic issue at the heart of contemporary society.

Professor Geoff Beattie of Edge Hill University then shared with the audience his research on racism. Geoff suggested that implicit biases based around race are not just found in small sections of our society, but also exist in the psyches of even the most liberal, educated and fair-minded of us. Crucially, he argued, these ‘hidden’ attitudes and prejudices can be revealed and measured, and he described how they can then help predict behaviours in important social situations.

The final speaker of day one was Pat Carberry of the FBU and Chair of the LGBT+ Network. Pat provided a comprehensive overview of the role of LGBT rights and how the FBU had provided the resources to bring staff from LGBT+ backgrounds together to celebrate diversity. He shared his own experiences and how LGBT+ staff are generally more accepted in the service. He stressed that the FBU LGBT Committee will continue to push for improvements to ensure that LGBT+ issues are addressed and are at the heart of all equality activities.

AFSA Awards Roll of Honour

At the end of day one more than 240 people attended the awards ceremony. The Fire and Rescue Service and partners celebrated the achievement of staff during the past 18 months. The table below highlights the winners.

The awards ceremony also provided an opportunity to fundraise for the charities both AFSA and Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service agreed to support during the two-day event. The awards night and the conference raised £3,672 and further funds have been pledged. Fund raised will be shared with the following charities:

  • The Fire Fighter Charity
  • Anthony Walker Foundation
  • Michael Causer Foundation
  • Chrysalis Centre for Change
  • Various charities to support children and first aid training in India.

Day Two Brings the ‘Fire Family’ Together

The first speaker of day two was Steve Rotheram, Metro Mayor of Liverpool City Council. He spoke about his plans to build a vibrant city connected by improved transport and to address inequalities in health and the workforce. He expressed how proud he was to represent a place as diverse and passionate as the Liverpool City Region. That diversity is what helps make the region so special; it is something to be celebrated and encouraged. He cited how, in 2020, he launched a Race Equality Programme to address structural racism and inequalities and level the playing field for under-represented groups in the region. He stressed his commitment towards working with people from Black, Asian and ethnic minority backgrounds to identify the major barriers and inequalities they face and develop lasting solutions to tackle them. Finally, he mentioned the ‘Generations for Change’ project which is an important part of empowering young people in all parts of the region to help build a fairer and more socially just city region.

The second speaker of day two was Mark Hardingham, Chair of the National Fire Chiefs Council, who provided an overview of how the NFCC’s equality, diversity and inclusion programme. He stressed the importance of diversity of thought as well as visible diversity and how more work needs to be undertaken to ensure the Fire and Rescue Service is an employer of choice and remains receptive to diverse communities.

The next speaker on day two was Professor Ron Geaves who spoke about the Abdullah Quilliam story and its impact on Liverpool and the wider UK. He described how the Liverpool lawyer, William Henry Abdullah Quilliam, publicly propagated his new faith and established the first community of Muslim converts in Victorian Britain. In 1889 he set up the first functioning mosque in Britain, the Liverpool Muslim Institute, and became the centre of a small but flourishing Muslim community. He also founded a school and an orphanage and carried out a lot of good charity work focussing on the poor and needy in the city. Despite decades of obscurity following his death, with the resurgence of interest in Muslim heritage, Quilliam has achieved iconic status in Britain and beyond as a pivotal figure in the history of Western Islam and Muslim-Christian relations.

Joanne Anderson, Mayor of Liverpool, then provided a memorable insight into her life and career trajectory to become Mayor of her city. She described growing up in Liverpool through the 1980s as a young black woman and feeling bottom of the pile. She then became a business consultant and spent ten years working for the Crown Prosecution Service. After this she worked as a community architect in Liverpool and became a shop steward in the Transport and General Workers Union before becoming active nationally on the TUC Race Relations Committee. After setting up the first black social enterprise in Liverpool, she went on to work for the Crown Prosecution Service’s Community Engagement Team, among a host of other roles. She emphasised determination and having the interests of those who are struggling as key facets of her role as Mayor. She concluded by sharing her commitment to fighting inequality.

The final speaker before lunch was Sir Michael Marmott of the UCL’s Institute of Health Inequalities. He stressed that as the UK emerges from the Covid-19 pandemic it would be a tragic mistake to attempt to re-establish the status quo that existed before – a status quo marked in England, over the past decade, by a stagnation of health improvements that were the second worst in Europe, and by widening health inequalities. He stressed that stagnation, social and regional health inequalities and the deterioration in health for the most deprived people are markers of a society that is not functioning to meet the needs of its members.

Finally, he argued for the urgent need to do things differently, to build a society based on the principles of social justice; to reduce inequalities of income and wealth; to build a wellbeing economy that puts achievement of health and wellbeing, rather than narrow economic goals, at the heart of government strategy; to build a society that responds to the climate crisis at the same time as achieving greater health equity.

Afterwards, delegates took part in workshops that included a look at community engagement and faith, anti-racism, inclusive leadership and suicide prevention.

The next speaker was Dr Gee Walker, who spoke movingly about her 18-year-old son, Anthony, who was murdered on July 29, 2005 in an unprovoked racial attack at a park in Huyton, Merseyside. Out of her grief the Anthony Walker Foundation was born, a charity working to promote racial harmony through education, sport and the arts. She shared the work of the Foundation which works with the victims and perpetrators of hate crimes, celebrating diversity, challenging prejudice and promoting forgiveness in line with Gee’s deeply held values.

Chief Fire Officer Sabrina Cohen-Hatton, West Sussex Fire and Rescue Service, shared her thoughts on the existence of gender stereotypes that still persist in the Fire and Rescue Service. She encouraged all women in the Fire Service or in male-dominated industries to embrace being different. She identified the ongoing need to break down the unhelpful stereotypes that limit aspirations because “we think we don’t fit”.

The final speaker of the conference was Jon Roy, Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service. His presentation focused on the need to link with communities and to win the hearts and minds of the community. He shared the many initiatives designed to lure members of the public away from crime and to live productive lives.

The conference was closed by CFO Phil Garrigan and Dalvinder Rai. Both encouraged delegates to take the learning from the conference and to see those in the room as the Fire Family and to work together to make progress on equality, diversity and inclusion.

AWARD CATEGORY

WINNERS

ORGANISATION

Outstanding Charity Contribution

Jayne Dando and Steve Parker

UTILLITA

Charity Challenge Endeavour

Dan Lorenzo

Merseyside FRS

Charity Challenge Innovation

Mike Pitney

Kent FRS

Charity Challenge Team

Apna Nhs

APNA NHS

Joint Champion Of Equality, Diversity And Inclusion

Nicky Thurston

Kent FRS

Joint Champion Of Equality, Diversity And Inclusion

Ellie Williams

Merseyside FRS

Partnership Of The Year

Red Neighbours

LFC Foundation

Positive Action

Liz Inman

Merseyside FRS

Positive Action

Rhiannon Wraith

West Yorkshire FRS

Equality Role Model Of The Year

Uche Ihiekwe

Merseyside FRS

Addressing Health Inequalities

Helen Morbin

Royal Berkshire FRS

Covid-19 Going The Extra Mile

Melanie Quinn and Debbie Gore

Kent FRS

Covid-19 Going The Extra Mile

Adam Higginbottom

Lancashire FRS

Shining Light National

Paul Fuller

Bedfordshire FRS

Service To Afsa

Steve Apter

Hampshire & Isle of Wight FRS

Service To Afsa

Steve Foye

Royal Berkshire FRS

Service To Afsa

Rebecca Bryant

Staffordshire FRS

Service To Afsa

Dalton Powell

Nottingham FRS

Service To Afsa

Geoff Howsego

Hampshire & Isle of Wight FRS

Service To Afsa

Ricky Lawrence

NHS Ambulance Service

Service To Afsa

Andy Peckham

Bedfordshire FRS

Service To Afsa

Darryl Keen

Hertfordshire FRS

Distinguished Service Award – Asian Fire Services Association (Afsa)

Jagtar Singh

AFSA