Minority Ethnic Enterprise Centre of Expertise 

Funded by Advantage West Midlands, MEECOE is an exciting two-year project (Dec 2008 – Nov 2010) that promotes a strategic and innovative approach to supporting ethnic minority businesses in the West Midlands. A consortium led by De Montfort University’s Centre for Research in Ethnic Minority Entrepreneurship (CRÈME) together with the University of Lancaster and CSK Strategies, MEECOE works with public and private sector stakeholders to enhance policy and practice for ethnic minority enterprise in the region. MEECOE’s publications are availbale here under three headings: Reports, Briefings and Events. Click on the title to open the document.


Ethnic Minority Businesses in the West Midlands.
Female Ethnic Minority Self-employment in the West Midlands.


Issue 1 – July 2009 – Working With New Migrant Businesses: Challenges & Opportunities.
Issue 2 – October 2009 – A Profile of Ethnic Minority Businesses in the West Midlands and the Implications for Policy and Practice.
Issue 3 – November 2009 – MEECOE’s Response to National Developments.
Issue 4 – February 2010 – Local Economic Assessments and Ethnic Minority Businesses.
Issue 5 – March 2010 – Banking on ‘Break Out’: Ethnic Minority Businesses and their Access to Finance.
Issue 6 – April 2010 – How Indian Business in the West Midlands is Changing. 
Issue 7 – July 2010 – Entrepreneurship and Diversity in the New Environment: The MEECOE Perspective.

Issue 8 – August 2010 – Mentoring and the Big Society: How Peer-to-Peer Business Networking Can Promote Growth.
Issue 9 – August 2010 – African-Caribbean Business in the West Midlands
Issue 10 – August 2010 – Addressing Diversity to Promote Business Growth
Issue 11 – November 2010 – The Distribution of Ethnic Minority Businesses in the West Midlands and the Implications for Local Enterprise Partnerships


Event 1 – Commercial Property: Making it Work for You. February 24, 2010.
Event 2 – International Trade: Building on Success. March 22, 2010.

Event 3 – Developing Entrepreneurial Networks in Diverse Communities: The 12/8 Experience. May 20, 2010.

BURA Articles

British Urban Regeneration Association
June 2010

Regeneration, Diversity, Equality and Community Cohesion

by Chris Khamis, Director, CSK Strategies

As regeneration continues to suffer from the credit crunch and now sits as an easy target for public spending cuts, it is important to highlight the negative implications for equalities and community cohesion of failing to regenerate deprived areas. At the same time, and more positively, policy makers and investors need to recognise the huge contribution that diversity can bring to economic growth and regeneration.

A contemporary, real life example provides a powerful illustration: Urban Living, the Birmingham and Sandwell Housing Market Renewal Partnership which covers North West Birmingham and East Sandwell (perhaps better known as Smethwick and West Bromwich ). This area of 60,000 dwellings, 150,000 residents and 11,000 businesses faces some of the highest levels of deprivation in the country.

It is also one of the nation’s most ethnically diverse areas with two thirds of the population coming from a variety of Black and Minority Ethnic communities. This diversity has been added to in recent years with many new arrivals – asylum seekers, refugees, Eastern Europeans and others – reflecting the area’s traditional reception function for the region. People from more than 170 of the world’s 193 countries registered with local GPs over the past few years. This ethnic diversity partly explains the area’s very young age profile; and this in Birmingham, Europe’s youngest city.

Unfortunately, the area also lays claim to national notoriety with the violent, 2005 inter-ethnic disturbances in Lozells and Handsworth, fatal shootings as a result of gang violence, and the Handsworth riots in 1981 and 1985, which, while having similar roots in social and economic deprivation, were characterised more by anger with the failures of authorities than the internalised anger of 2005. Yet, although tensions still exist, the work of Urban Living and its partners in the public, private and community sectors has been building resilience and social capital, creating a sense of hope and belonging and of working together to change things for the better.

Why Community Cohesion is important for regeneration

Urban Living recognised the central importance of community cohesion for its regeneration programme three years back, introducing a £1.3m grants programme focused on cohesion and community development together with dedicated staff charged with delivering a Community Cohesion Strategy and Action Plan (CC SAP).

The CC SAP explained the fundamental importance of community cohesion to Urban Living’s housing market renewal and sustainable communities’ objectives. From a negative point of view, weak cohesion exhibited in an area through anti-social behaviour, violent crime and social unrest is hardly conducive to encouraging people to choose to move into or remain living in an area. Without addressing these issues, mixed communities remains an unachievable aspiration.

More positively, a cohesive community with high levels of engagement is likely to encourage people to invest in an area financially and in terms of community support, whether through volunteering, participating in a formal community organisation or through those simple but crucially important day-to-day small acts of civility, empathy and support to neighbours.

The importance of community cohesion is even greater for an area subject to a major regeneration programme. Regeneration means big changes in the social and economic fabric of an area which creates uncertainty that can undermine community cohesion particularly when mixed with severe multiple deprivation. Those involved in Housing Market Renewal and other major regeneration initiatives will be familiar with local communities’ fears of gentrification and exclusion and the tensions caused by intense competition for very scarce resources. Urban Living faces additional uncertainties as a result of population churn combined with some of the highest levels of deprivation in the country. Note, however, that evidence suggests that it is the rapidity of population change not diversity in itself that creates tensions. Indeed, greater diversity appears to be a positive indicator of cohesion.

On the other hand, engaging and empowering local communities in the regeneration process builds community cohesion through developing a sense of belonging and shared civic pride and through strengthening community leadership and building social capital.


Urban Living has worked with partners through a very flexible commissioning process, helping to conceive, develop and implement a wide range of mainly third sector projects (circa 40 per year). The initiatives have included extensive work with young people in a large number of schools, including the nationally recognised Housing Education Initiative in Ladywood and Lozells; innovative work with Mothers in Pain to strengthen community capacity and deal with issues around guns, gangs and violent crime; using arts and sports to bring people together and improve access to opportunities amongst the most excluded; supporting those who want to establish new enterprises but have tended not to be able to access quality business support; and forging new relationships with organisations run by and serving new communities such as the Birmingham Somali Council and CoCoA which works with a range of new arrivals from Africa.

This work has been deepened with the introduction of Neighbourhood Management and support of specific programmes such as the ground-breaking CommUNITY programme. The capacity of an already vibrant third sector has been strengthened with a growing sense of self-help and ability to influence local decision-making, and rising resident satisfaction. Above all, strong personal and institutional relationships have been forged over time with growing trust. The results are being shown in improvements to many quality of life indicators. For example, recorded crime rates in Lozells have fallen from 838 in 2006 (the year before Neighbourhood Management was introduced) to 650 in 2009.

These achievements were recognised in the Audit Commission’s latest Performance Review (March 2010) which found that Urban Living was ‘ performing strongly ‘ in the area of community cohesion, consultation and support.

Economic development and “diversity advantage’

Urban Living recognised that successful regeneration required action on housing and economic development, publishing an Economic Development Strategy at the end of 2009. This pointed to a level of worklessness which is among the highest in the country, having remained persistently high over the last decade. Worklessness rates of above one in 4 rise to close to one in 3 in some wards such as Lozells and Aston, well above average rates in Birmingham , Sandwell and the region. Long-term and youth unemployment (at around 30%) are particular problems.

The Strategy also highlighted the low skills base within the local population and which accounts for the fact that a far higher proportion of higher-skilled local jobs than expected are undertaken by in-commuters rather than local residents. Local residents are also poorly connected into the rest of the City Region’s economy.

On the other hand, the Strategy stresses the importance of what might be termed “diversity advantage”. This manifests itself in the tradition of local firms developing niche markets, in the potential for visitor attractions and in an ability to be culturally wired into the centres of global economic growth such as India and China . The area boasts a number of local minority ethnic enterprises, East End Foods, Wing Yip and Cleone Food for example, which have broken out of their hitherto size-limited inner city markets and developed national and international customer bases.

The high numbers and proportion of young people also presents the potential of a huge ‘demographic dividend’ for the Urban Living area and the wider conurbation. The recent forecast by the Office for Budget Responsibility argues that the UK ‘s trend economic growth rate will slow because the population profile of the country is aging. Not so for the Urban Living area and the wider City Region.

Trouble ahead

So far, so good. But the area continues to remain socially and economically fragile, regeneration projects are in progress but not completed, and there are no signs that the private sector can complete the job. The area is on the cusp of either reaping its demographic dividend or of young people becoming a major source of social tension if public support for regeneration is abandoned and they continue to be denied economic and social opportunities. Such social unrest would turn diversity advantage into a disadvantage.

A high proportion of residents are employed in both manufacturing and the public sector. These are employment sectors which are likely to continue to shed jobs in coming years, suggesting that downward pressures on employment are likely to be worse in the area than elsewhere over the next few years. This will also make it harder to tackle worklessness and long term unemployment in the future.

These risks are there for many multiply-deprived areas across the country, not just the Urban Living area. Yes, new models of regeneration need to be examined and new ways of working developed, producing “more for less”. But this must not mean that processes that are working should be abandoned and that the private sector will fill the gap left by over-zealous cuts in public expenditure. Such abandonment would stymie opportunities to grasp diversity advantage and the demographic dividend. The consequences of deepening deprivation, poorer community cohesion and increased social tensions will be dire and more costly in the long run.

See the 2005 Citizenship Survey (Predictors of Community Cohesion).

Social capital is hard to define precisely but it is crucially important for successful regeneration. It is the networks, norms and trust that exist within communities and their capacity to support each other. Three types are usefully distinguished: within relatively homogeneous groups (bonding social capital); across different groups (bridging social capital); and the capacity to use these bridges to lever resources, ideas and information from others within the public, private and third sectors (linking or braiding social capital).

From: BURA e-news & views

British Urban Regeneration Association
March 2008

Community Engagement and Celebrating Diversity

Chris Khamis , Director, CSK Strategies Ltd.

Community engagement, diversity, equality and community cohesion have been moving up the agenda of government policy over the last couple of years. More recently, this is also true of BURA. However, too often in the regeneration world, these issues are seen as a nuisance, to be dealt with as an after-thought and with a tick-box approach.

Worse, diversity is sometimes seen as a threat to social cohesion, to be dealt with by a top-down enforcement of uniform identity. Communities facing discrimination and unequal outcomes are blamed for the difficulties they face in integrating with the rest of society rather than asking whether it is this society that is raising barriers to their integration, sometimes actively promoting their exclusion. Deprived communities are often fobbed off with tokenistic consultation events, but remain excluded from opportunities to shape regeneration in their neighbourhoods, towns and cities and, as a result, are also excluded from the benefits of regeneration.

BURA has declared that it wants to change this sorry state of affairs, an aspiration that CSK Strategies fully supports. We believe that celebrating diversity, working for equality and long term community engagement are essential pillars of successful regeneration, and of sustainable and cohesive communities. Diversity underpins resilient local economies, makes for much more interesting localities and stimulates creativity and innovation. Commitment to equality underpins social cohesion. And genuine community engagement helps avoid silly mistakes in regeneration initiatives, generates new ideas and harnesses resources that are often ignored or squandered.

Furthermore, we believe that effective community engagement is a two-way, interactive process with professionals making suggestions and providing technical assessments but also listening and helping to develop ideas and comments from local residents and businesses. It involves a dialogue through all the stages of designing, delivering and reviewing regeneration projects.

These beliefs inform all our work. A current example: we are working with Ancer Spa for Birmingham City Council to develop a strategic regeneration framework and individual proposals to bring jobs and investment to the Stratford and Warwick Road corridors which pass through three deprived, multi-ethnic Wards. Technical assessments and economic appraisals are integrated with a transparent community engagement process through which local residents and businesses can suggest ideas to professionals and also question their judgements. Accountability and securing ownership are the names of the game.

The process also recognises minorities within minorities, with specific activities to engage women and new arrivals. We are optimistic that out of this will emerge a series of deliverable projects that will begin to transform the area, supported by and benefiting local people and businesses.

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