Black History Month interview with Cym D’Souza, Chief Executive of Arawak Walton Housing Association

Cym D'Souza, 15 October 2021

For Black History Month 2021 we’re using our platform to shine the spotlight on leading Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) figures in social housing who have excelled in their fields and helped shape our sector today. In this interview, we catch up with Cym D’Souza Chief Executive of Arawak Walton Housing Association and Chair of BME National.

What’s your current role and what does it involve?

I’m Chief Executive of Arawak Walton Housing Association and I’m responsible for delivering the organisations mission objectives. As a Black & Minority Ethnic (BME) specialist housing provider, we are very involved in local strategic housing partnerships in Manchester, Stockport, and Trafford to ensure the needs of minority ethnic communities remain high on the agenda.

I also Chair BMENational which represents over 40 BME housing associations around the country. We act as strong advocates for the needs of our communities.

BME National aims to highlight the contribution BME housing associations make to successful, vibrant, and integrated communities while promoting equality and diversity in the delivery of housing and support services.

The membership consists of Chief Executives, Managing Directors, or any decision-making nominees of BME housing associations and is open to any association that chooses to define itself as a BME organisation.

Tell us a bit about your journey and career as a BME woman in housing

I joined my first housing association in 1987 as a Finance Director. I was to be honest quite remote from tenants and whilst I had faced discrimination myself, I had no idea I would play a role on the housing discrimination faced by minority ethnic communities.

However, I was invited to join a fledging BME housing association called Aisha based in Rochdale and realised I could create change and had a high enough profile to raise the issues with key people in the Housing Corporation (now Homes England and Regulator of Social Housing). From then on it was just a matter of time before I knew I had to have a greater voice in order to create change by working for and then becoming Chief Executive of Arawak Walton.

What are some of the biggest achievements in your career in housing?

My biggest achievement has to be what has to be what has been created in Arawak Walton. We are an example for inner city housing provision, multi-cultural sheltered accommodation, employing a myriad of young people who have gone onto have great careers and most importantly changing thousands of people’s lives through the provision of good quality, safe and attractive homes that our tenants are truly proud to call home. 

What impact does Arawak Walton Housing Association have on the local community and residents?

Locally, we concentrate on providing good quality, culturally sensitive housing in the inner-city areas of Manchester, Stockport and Trafford. This means raising concerns about poor quality private rented sector housing in the City, dealing with neighbourhood safety issues and working with small community groups to provide activities for young BME people, many of whom are dislocated from education and training opportunities through discrimination. We also support Boaz Trust, a specialist provider supporting refugees and asylum seekers.

Why is diversity important in social housing?

The people we house come from extremely diverse backgrounds. They are often living in poverty and feel like they have no voice and are powerless to change their circumstances. It’s important as a housing sector, especially board and executive teams members reflect the diversity of the communities we serve.

We are here to provide housing and services to our tenants that should be based on empathy, not sympathy or paternalism. We can’t do that if we don’t employ and listen to diverse voices in our own organisations.

Do you have any inspirational BME figures in housing?

This would be the founding Chair of Arawak Walton, Louise DaCocodia who fought tirelessly for justice and equity for minority ethnic communities living in often appalling conditions in the inner cities. She also encouraged me to speak out and lobby people in powerful positions to create change.

Why is Black History Month important to celebrate?

Black History Month for me is all about celebrating and remembering all those diverse people past and present who made a difference to the lives of ordinary people. They gave hope for change, acted as role models to young people to aspire to greater things. It’s good to revisit their journeys and also encourages me to continue to raise my voice when I see injustice and inequality.