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Regional Partnership to Capacity Build the BME Voluntary Sector in the East of England Region

Recognising the Contribution of BME Individuals to the Voluntary Sector

One of the two main aims of this project is to recognise, value and acknowledge the contribution BME individuals make to the VCS.

Our partners across the Region have hand-picked a number of key individuals in their area who have made an invaluable contribution to community cohesion in their County, read the following profiles to find out more about our 'BME Community Champions'...

Norfolk Community Champions


John Vinookumar

I was born in India and, after arriving in the UK in 1967, I became a naturalised British citizen in the late 1970s. I was pursuing a career in nursing in psychiatry and following my qualification in 1970 worked in the mental health field until I took early retirement in 1996. During this period I represented many members of staff including Black and Minority Ethnic staff as a trade union branch secretary health and safety coordinator. I was a founder member of the Eastern Region black members within Unison. I have had a long term involvement with Norwich and Norfolk Racial Equality Council since 1996, initially as an Executive Committee member and was elected Chair between 1997 and 2000.

I also held the position of a non-executive director of Norwich Primary Care Trust and within this role was elected as an ‘older people’s champion’ in a voluntary capacity. I was a board member of Norfolk Probation Service for six years up until March 2006. I currently sit on employment tribunals and disability rights tribunal. One of my main interests has been to develop and promote equality and mutual understanding between diverse communities in Norfolk.

I strongly believe we are all different but all equal. My dream and hope for the future is to see a more equitable society, I believe in assimilation rather than isolation.

John Vinookumar

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Brian Lynch

I was born in Ireland and after a career of twelve years as a registered nurse I moved to England to take up a post as a Trade Union Official working for UNISON where I specialise in industrial relations in the NHS. In my spare time I have done voluntary work for the Irish community in Norfolk particularly in the area of Irish music and cultural events.

I volunteered to work for NNREC in 2000 after seeing first hand the work they do promoting community cohesion and combating racism. I am currently the NNREC lead on personnel issues, employment law and industrial relations- the three key strands on the role of Chairperson PSC. I was attracted to NNREC following my involvement in the ERINN Report – Erradicating Racism in Norfolk NHS.

I have also assisted neighbouring REC’s with industrial relations issues and contributed to the movements broader campaigning issues at regional and national events.


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Julia Dyson

Born on July 22nd 1964, in Esmeraldas, Ecuador, I am the daughter of Colombian’s migrants. I spent the early years of my childhood in Colombia where I lived with my parents. Aged thirteen I returned to Guayaquil, Ecuador, where I lived and study with the dream of became a solicitor. I successfully finished my secondary education with an equivalence of ‘A’ level standard. I came to live in this country 12 years ago, after marrying an English sea captain, who I met when he was working in Ecuador for a liquid gas company. I have two children, a 21 year old son and a 10 year old daughter, who attends St Mary’s School, Gorleston.

Currently I am employed by the Norfolk County Council as a Peripatetic Registrar. While living in Great Yarmouth I returned to study to learn the language and to upgrade my education I enrolled on various adult courses at Great Yarmouth College. These included English language, Law, and Travel & Tourism and became qualified as a travel consultant.

Three years ago I became a volunteer with NNREC. I was so overwhelmed by the work NNREC do in Norfolk that I decided to become a member of the executive team and work more closely with the staff. Subsequently I became more involved with organizations of with whom NNREC form partnerships with, this also attracted me to MENTER, and so I become a board member in 2003. In 2003 I instigated the setting up of the Great Yarmouth International Association.

I am passionately committed to the cause of racial and ethnic harmony and I continue to fight in the struggle to achieve it.

Julia Dyson


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Dr. Chris Michel

Chris Michel was born in St Lucia in the Caribbean and graduated from the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland in 1975. After brief spells working in Salisbury and Great Yarmouth she settled in Norwich where she married a local man and had a son.

Chris has worked as a practising psychiatrist for the last twenty years and one of her disturbing observations during that time is the high incidence of young Black males in institutionalised care. Chris and a group of professional friends of African and Caribbean background were aware that these young people and others like them needed to be guided in a more positive direction of self-appreciation and fulfilment than the wider society seemed to offer.

In 2003 she was a founder member of an association that was later launched as the Caribbean and African Network (CAN) in March 2004. Chris is currently the Chair of CAN, which promotes and organises a wide range of cultural activities. There is a regular drop-in at the Belvedere Centre in Norwich and CAN organises social events at other venues throughout the year.

Chris is a partner on the Black History Month Steering Group, work for which she was recognised by an invitation to the house of Commons in November, she is a trustee of the Norwich Centre - a world-renowned counselling centre for personal and professional development, and does work for Off the Record, NNREC and the Norwich Refugee Group among others. She has visited schools, women's groups and been on local radio to talk about Caribbean life, culture and heritage.

Chris is committed to empowerment through the development of full and true potential especially among disenfranchised and disadvantaged groups, with an emphasis on assisting women and the BME community. Awareness of these values has led to her being elected to chair the BME staff network within the Norfolk and Waveney Mental Health NHS Trust where she works. Chris strongly believes that diversity of human cultures should be celebrated and not ignored or ridiculed.

Chris Michel


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Junior Johnson

Junior Johnson is the driving force behind the community group Young Urbanites, which specialises in working with vulnerable young people to help reduce disaffection and exclusion and improve their ability to cope with the challenges they face.

He was born in Paddington, West London to Ghanaian parents, but was fostered at the age of six months to a white family in Kent after his natural parents’ marriage broke down. He grew up with what he describes as “an identity crisis,” and behavioural problems, which led to his exclusion from two schools. He returned to London in his mid-teens (1974) to ‘find himself’ and solve his identity crisis, however, as a confused and vulnerable young person in a time that was turbulent for black youth in general, he was drawn into south London street-life. He became a full time dealer moving up the ladder with age and experience. In his battle to beat incurred cocaine addiction (late 1980s) he recognised that he had become a type of role model. Deeply disturbed by this he decided to go to university to study Sociology and Psychology in order to make sense of the life choices he had made, and why so many young black males were set to follow the same path.

He decided to form Young Urbanites (2001) and design, accredit and deliver his own self-development and drug awareness programmes. Through his ability to combine participant understanding of youth culture and academic and applied specialism in this area, he developed a reputation as an extremely credible provider, which led to his services being sought throughout the country. Increased personal stability and a desire to have a more active role in the life of his now eight year old were behind his decision to leave London and move permanently to Norwich, where he is in the process of establishing Young Urbanites as a leading provider of personal development opportunities for young people.

Junior Johnson


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Rose Girdlestone

In the late 1960s, the United Kingdom started to recruit young men and women from different countries to do nursing training. At the time Rose had just completed her two years preparatory nursing, so she was able to convince her parents that this would be a good opportunity for her, and at the same time her salary could be used in order to benefit the education of her younger brothers. In May of 1968 Rose was accepted, and arrived at her new English home in January 1969.

Rose was surprised to learn that the aspect of nursing that she had been accepted into was not entirely the same as what she had initially expected. On her first day Rose discovered that she was to do psychiatric training. Due to the low diversity of Filipinos around at the time and the fact that she herself was new, it wasn’t until 6 years after her arrival, on a brief stay in Essex, that Rose was able to help a Filipina in a matter of great importance. By then she was considered to be the senior staff amongst the Filipino nurses in the hospital so when she returned to Norwich one by one the Filipinos came to her with their problems. It was then that Rose began to realise that there was nothing in the way of a support group to help or advise anyone.

Rose continued to avail herself to those who needed her help, but knew she couldn’t do it alone. In the early 1990s, a Philippine society was formed in Norfolk, however it appeared to be run by an Englishman. It was a step towards what Rose had hoped to achieve but it seemed to her that the parties they held twice a year were only a small fragment of what they really needed to be doing.
This inspired Rose to join the NNREC in the mid-1990s, as she felt that she could do more and also that the Filipino should be represented by one of their own. With the help of the NNREC and also their own inputs, Rose and her colleagues were able to set up the Norfolk Philippine Support Group. Since it was born it has gone from strength to strength.

Overall Rose believes the Norfolk Philippino Women’s Support Group to be a success, growing in number every year and helping an increasing number of people through times of trouble, alongside building and creating friendships between members.

Rose Girdlestone


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Dr Eshetu Wondim Agegne

Dr Wondim Agegne is a scientist. His scientific carrier spans over 25 years in numerous scientific studies in particular in Phytobacteriology, Virology, Agronomy, Horticulture, and Agro-ecology. In his early carrier
he worked as a Commercial Farm Director with over 3000 employees. The farm was an agro - industrial initiative for sustainable economic development.

Dr. Wondim Agegne is the current projects coordinator and treasurer of the Norfolk African Community Association (NACA). He was one of
the founders of NACA in 2001 and prior to that he has been involved in voluntary work for over 12 years. He has served as honorary treasurer for five years and for four years as chairman of the Norwich International Club (NIC) from 1991 to 2000. The NIC organised social events every week on Sunday evenings for its members and the wider community promoting international friendship.

Dr. Wondim Agegne was given a Civic Award in 1998 by the Norwich City Council for his dedicated service to the club. He is also one of the founding members of the Norwich and Norfolk Racial Equality Council and
MENTER. Nationally, Dr Wondim Agegne was also instrumental in the establishment of Connections for Development (CFD); a UK Black and MinorityEthnic Communities Network for International Development.

Dr Wondim Agene is still active in scientific research and consultancy. In 2002 with Earthwatch Europe he carried out an ecological expedition to Ghanaand has made an outstanding contribution by discovering new plant species in Talawana Village in Wichau district. On his return to Norwich, he expanded the African allotments project at Bluebell
South Model Allotments site by encouraging gardening and nature conservation that involved members of NACA and local people.

Dr. Wondim Agegne together with his colleagues on the management committee of NACA were awarded a Group Civic Award from Norwich City Council in April 2004 and were also Regional Winners in the Adult Group Category for the Anglia region of the Nationwide Awards for voluntary endeavour in June 2005. Dr. Wondim Agegne has received a lifetime membership of the Millennium Awards Fellowship Certificate in June 2003.

He considers sharing his skills as most rewarding in teaching agricultural
sciences, writing projects proposals for sustainable environment and horticultural training following organic principles.

Dr Wondim Agegne


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