Jay Blades and the Case for Racism as Contextual Safeguarding

Jay Blades and the Case for Racism as Contextual Safeguarding

Meeting Jay Blades

The realisation that Jay Blades from BBC’s The Repair Shop was the same person I had met on Slough High Street in the early noughties came to me gradually. During that time he was collaborating on a project called Street Dreams with his partner at the time, Jade. Though I can’t recall the exact reason for our initial meeting, I remember it being an energetic conversation – we had a lot of common ground, both being involved in the running of similar organisations. I believe our meeting occurred because various community safety departments and Thames Valley Police shared the view that both Together As One (formerly Aik Saath) in Berkshire and Street Dreams in Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire were engaged in innovative work at ‘the grassroots.’

Making It

Reflecting on how Jay and I, both youth workers then, had divergent career paths over the following decade, I stumbled upon Jay’s biography by chance in a bookstore recently. As I leafed through its pages, memories of our meeting flooded back, highlighting the closeness of our worlds at one point. Intriguingly, while learning about Jay’s evolution from a youth worker to a TV personality was captivating, it was his account of enduring racism and violence that truly astonished me. His book vividly portrays how racism significantly altered the trajectory of his life.

In “Making It: How Love, Kindness and Community Helped Me Repair My Life,” Jay recounts how his primary school provided a nurturing environment amidst challenges, while his secondary school was marred by relentless racial violence. Jay’s response to this aggression, juxtaposed with his dyslexia and the education system’s lack of support, paints a poignant picture of his struggles. While Jay met force with force, his friend Iqbal was victimised again and again. Jay turned away from formal learning and towards fighting – “you love what you’re good at,” he observes. His secondary education, fraught with racism, not only altered his life but also exposed him to long-term physical and mental risks.

With over 25 years of experience in confronting racism as an organisation, we recognise that Jay’s experiences are sadly not unique. Rather, they serve as a compelling case study of how hatred can derail the lives of young people.

A Fresh Perspective on Contextual Safeguarding

My immersion in Jay’s biography coincided with the release of “Protecting Young Black Lives, Celebrating Black Professionals,” a research report from Cumberland Lodge, Power the Fight, and the Contextual Safeguarding Research Programme at Durham University. This report sheds light on issues compromising the safety of young Black individuals and acknowledges the contributions of Black professionals dedicated to their protection. Crucially, it emphasises the necessity of recognising racism as a safeguarding issue and its impact on the welfare of Black youth and professionals supporting them.

Contextual safeguarding acknowledges the influence of various environments on young people outside their family, including school, community, peer groups, and online platforms. While training typically focuses on identifying challenges like criminal exploitation and knife crime, racism is often overlooked as a factor. The report underscores the importance of considering racism within the framework of contextual safeguarding, particularly given its pervasive impact on young Black lives.

The report reveals the myriad ways in which the safety of young Black individuals is compromised, directly and indirectly, by societal institutions meant to protect them. Reflecting on Jay’s biography and the obstacles he overcame, it is evident that racism must be central to discussions surrounding contextual safeguarding. Jay’s harrowing experiences during his secondary education underscore the urgency of addressing racism as a critical safeguarding issue in our efforts to protect young lives.