On these dark, autumnal days, it feels good to find a charity called Lives of Colour. When I spoke to its founder Florence Nyasmo-Thomas, I was struck by her warmth, passion, and her vibrantly colourful persona. Two pages of scribbled notes later, I felt we had only talked about a small part of the work Lives of Colour does to make the county a brighter place.
The 10 -year-old charity Nowans Community Trust launched Lives of Colour as an initiative two years ago and it uses the G.R.A.D.E.E.S Inclusion Strategy to elevate the voices of marginalised communities; this includes representing people of all genders, religions, ages, disabilities, ethnicities, economic status and sexual orientations. An important part of what they do is recognising that a person may identify with several of those characteristics, if not all of them. The charity emphasises that we are all colourful in the different ways we think and where we come from.
“We all bring something different and it enriches our everyday experience,” Florence says.
Florence moved to Cheltenham around twenty years ago and studied for her second degree in Politics and Community Development at the University of Gloucestershire.
“I had this feeling that something wasn’t right,” she says, “And I just couldn’t put my finger on it.”
It wasn’t until 2013, after one of Cheltenham’s first Kenyan residents died after battling serious mental health issues, that the town’s Kenyan population felt they did not have a voice or representation where they lived. They came together to talk about this, and Florence thought she would go along and listen to what they had to say.“
To cut a long story short, I was elected as Chair of the group,” she tells me. “It became known as African Community Foundation Gloucestershire.”
Since then, Florence has instated Cheltenham’s Black History Month, determined that it should not all be about slavery. This year’s event was part of the Cheltenham Literature Festival and University of Gloucestershire, taking the form of a fascinating online discussion. Back in 2018 she felt there were lots of important events and conversations that did not fit into Black History Month and, seeking a place where these discussions could take place all year round, she set up Lives of Colour.
Conversations of Colour soon followed, a series of discussions with a variety of professionals that have been broadcast on YouTube. It was in this way that young people’s concerns about not feeling represented in the books they read came to light. Florence responded to this by curating a list of current, inclusive literature published within the last four years. She updates the list all the time, recognising that attitudes change so quickly that a book can easily become old-fashioned. It’s a fantastic resource that schools and parents can subscribe to.
I worried that the effects of the pandemic would have given the charity’s colour a gloomier shade, but for Florence it is still all go!
“I’m organising the Cheltenham Change Conference,” she says. It’s on 30th November and it’s a live-streamed conversation with policy and decision makers and leaders about how we can make things more inclusive for people from black and Asian ethnic minorities.
She has also helped to start a fund for organisations who do not qualify for National Lottery and other government assistance.
“I was shocked at how many of these organisations do great work and don’t qualify for government funding,” she says. “Small organisations have to work to survive instead of promoting what they do and being able to apply for the funding they need.”
Florence has therefore been part of a forty-judge panel to decide which organisations are deserving of money from the Phoenix Fund.
This could easily be draining work, but Florence tells me how important it is for her to do things, rather than just moaning about them.
“For a long time, I didn’t know why I felt that something wasn’t right and now that I know, I want to do something about it,” she says. “I want to be the sacrifice so that the next generation can build on that.”
And what next for Lives of Colour? Florence plans to revive the friendship town connection between Cheltenham and its Kenyan twin town of Kisumu by going to meet with their new Mayor.
“My Mum lives near there, so I’m looking forward to having a holiday with her,” she says. When I tell her that she definitely deserves her holiday, Florence laughs her wonderfully warm laugh.
Check out Lives of Colour’s YouTube channel to find a wide range of fascinating discussions. Lives of Colour – YouTube