I am not 'hard to reach'

9 April 2020

"Hard-to-reach" is a phrase used commonly to describe certain communities who are perceived to be disengaged. To me it implies blame on the communities themselves, rather than questioning why the organisation isn't easily accessible. It disregards the many barriers faced by individuals, such as socio-economic factors. I have personally worked across many sectors, including education, charity, environmental and the arts and have found this problem to be across the board. In this piece, I have gathered feedback from friends and colleagues on the use of such language, to find alternative ways organisations can look at this issue. Let’s reframe and rephrase to truly be inclusive instead of divisive.

I questioned some youth workers, who believed we should put a spin on it and put the onus on the organisations themselves. Sana Ikram says it should simply be “the local community,” whilst calling the organisation “inaccessible.” Lovill Henry states that due to a “lack of opportunities,” they are “under-reached.” Others used terms such as ‘under-served’ - if organisations start to question why they are under-serving people, rather than assuming they don’t want to engage, we may see some change. Colleagues in other industries use phrases they believe are more fitting. Examples include: ‘marginalized’, ‘under-represented’ and ‘disadvantaged’.

David Michael MBE expressed an emphasis on highlighting that these communities are an “integral part of our community.” He elaborated, “They are not ‘hard to reach’, as they are ever present in our communities and neighbourhoods. 

Their ideas, views, wishes and feelings are simply ‘not listened to’ by the very people who caricature them as being ’hard to reach.’ They enrich and bring added value”. This concept that certain individuals or groups are not listened to was reiterated by many people I spoke to. Common phrases included ‘seldom heard’ and ‘ignored’. It is interesting to see this viewpoint, because for far too long there has been an impression that groups do not want to speak - it seems that they are simply not listened to when they try.

NGYT, a performing arts CIC, touched on the idea that we may be missing untapped talent, by using the alternatives of “not yet found” or “undiscovered to us.” In the arts sector this works well, as it reframes the idea of ‘hard-to-reach’ into something far more positive. If other industries adopted this mindset, we could see a shift in not only language, but the way programmes are run and the outcomes achieved by organisations who do outreach work. Outreach is key - to find or discover people, you must communicate with them and go to them. In Luton, I have seen many, in particular young people, come from deprived parts of the town, who lack opportunities and unfortunately fall into a life of crime after finding their ‘family’ on the streets. To have programmes designed for them, which they need to pay for, when they cannot even afford to buy a pair of trainers which aren’t torn, or be asked to travel to other parts of the town which are not accessible, is unrealistic.

As a South-Asian, female Muslim, I fit the narrative for someone who is portrayed in the media as needing liberation.

People like me are portrayed as the voiceless, with saviour-like organisations wanting to provide me that ‘voice’. Thank you, but I already have a voice, just like everyone else in the so-called ‘hard-to-reach’ communities.

It’s up to organisations to provide a platform for that voice, rather than silencing us.

I hope in these troubling times where Covid19 has isolated the masses, rather than the minorities, some light has been shed to what it feels like to not have access to essential services. We have seen communities pull together to help those in need, in unprecedented circumstances. Viruses do not discriminate against the rich or poor and nor should we. Let us build on the community spirit we are currently experiencing and strive to do better, so that no community is ever hard to reach.

Written by and with art by Haleema Ali

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