Kate Auker

on ‘inclusion’

We finish off our exploration into values with this final episode on ‘inclusion’ – Sam is joined by Kate Auker, who has spent most of her life tackling inequality in one way or another.

Kate believes deeply in fairness and shares her thoughts on the complexities around inequality, particularly ‘hidden inequalities’ working with homeless communities and people in crisis food poverty and insecurity. And she shares some of the simple things she does to help provide a sense of belonging for others.

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Show Notes

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Guest Info

A photo of Kate Auker. She is wearing a dark v-neck t-shirt over a light grey long sleeved top, and she is smiling at the camera. Kate has white skin and red hair, which she wears in a bob.

Kate Auker

Kate Auker (she/her) has spent most of her working life tackling inequality in one form or another with her formal education in psychology and mental health. For much of her career, she has worked with LGBTQ+ young people and their families, delivering training to schools and services to help promote inclusion, diversity and a more understanding and equitable society.

Kate moved across to what she calls  ‘hidden inequalities’ working with homeless communities and people in crisis food poverty and insecurity. Often referred to as ‘hard to reach’, Kate argues that a better description would be ‘easy to ignore.’ After working in a food bank and homeless shelter for 3 years, she is now maternity cover CEO at The Welcome Centre in Huddersfield.

Kate is a Trustee at Voluntary and Community in Calderdale & Kirklees (alongside Sam!) and spends any free time crocheting and playing the piano – both with varying degrees of skill (her own words!)!

Transcript

[music]

Sam McCormick:

Hi, everyone. Welcome to Curious e-Motion, a podcast that explores arts and wellbeing through the stories and experiences of inspiring people.

I’m Sam McCormick, and this episode is the last one in this series! We’ve been exploring the six values that we hold at Curious Motion. And today, we’re finishing off with one more episode on ‘inclusion’.

Now if you’ve listened to the previous few episodes, you’ll know that I’ve chatted to a few guests on this topic already. It’s really close to my heart and it’s really complex. So I thought it needs a range of voices and thoughts to delve into it.

I’m delighted that today I’m joined by Kate Auker, who has spent most of her life tackling inequality in one way or another. She’s currently the maternity cover CEO at The Welcome Center in Huddersfield, and she has extensive experience working with homeless people and LGBTQ+ young people and their families.

I met Kate through my role as a Trustee for the charity Voluntary and Community, or VAC, as we call it. If you’ve listened to episode five, you’ll know I’ve chatted to VAC’s CEO, Dipika Kaushal, about inclusion too.

Kate’s drive for equity and fairness was something that was really clear from when I first met her. And so I’m delighted to have her join me to discuss this topic today. Kate explains the complexities of inequality, particularly what she describes as ‘hidden inequalities’. And we celebrate the simple things that we can all do to help each other feel that sense of belonging that we all long for.

I do hope you enjoy it. Okay. Let’s get into our chat.

Hi, Kate.

Kate Auker:

Hello, Sam.

Sam:

Thank you so much for being here. It’s lovely to chat to you and see you.

Kate:

Oh you’re very welcome.

Sam:

So we’re having a chat about inclusion today, which is something I’ve been chatting to a few guests about. And we’re rounding off the series with this one because inclusion is such a big topic, isn’t it? And we’re not going to tackle it in a few podcast episodes, but we wanted to get a few different thoughts on this value. And I know it’s a big part of what you do. So yeah, thank you so much for being here. Can you start off with just a bit about your professional background for us?

Kate:

Yeah. So I’ve always worked, I suppose, in the field of inequalities. I started off working with Gypsy Traveller and Roma communities. And it’s always been something that’s– I don’t know, perhaps because I’m a bolshie redhead, but I have a really strong sense of fairness. And for me, that was what drove me into this field of work. It was just to get that’s not fair. That just isn’t fair. So I worked with those communities for some years, and that led me into working with children and young people, which led me to Barnardo’s.

I should probably say that my formal qualifications are in psychology and mental health. And that tied into a project that came from a youth group I worked at for LGBTQ+ young people. And that was great, absolutely fantastic to watch that service grow. That was called Positive Identities. And to be able to work with families and with young people that were just beginning to find out who they were. And take those first steps in their life to coming out. And in dealing with the problems that came about as an aside.

So at the time, I was also volunteering at a homeless shelter and did a little bit of work with some women there in our crisis house in terms of their mental health. I worked there for a few years and then took a step over that way as the business manager at the shelter. And now I’ve come to The Welcome Centre as a maternity cover, Chief Executive. So, again, that’s expanding more and different inequalities in my learning within. So that’s where I’ve travelled so far in my work.

Sam:

Lovely. And I know you’re really keen to shine a light on hidden inequalities. And I wondered if you could give us more information on that. I was really interested in the information you gave us in your bio where communities that are kind of referred to as ‘hard to reach’, you’d actually– you’d really call it ‘easier to ignore’. And I think it’s a really important point. So, yeah, I just wanted to touch on that. What’s your experience been around that?

Kate:

I think much of that, Sam, came from the work at the homeless shelter, is to realise that there’s so many people out there that might not be protected. And I’m going to use that term loosely because we know that that’s still not there. There’s still much work to be done. But you often find that if people aren’t protected by the Equality Act, they’re not a ‘protected characteristic’. It’s almost as if they disappear somehow. And certainly, for homeless communities, I mean, they’re still facing massive inequalities. People in food poverty, food insecurity. Even with the young people I worked with, with quite obvious learning disabilities, for example, but just haven’t been able to access the diagnosis. And I find amongst the people that are challenged with some of the widest, the biggest inequalities in society, digital inequalities, it just stems out. And yet wouldn’t be protected, aren’t protected, are almost hidden in our society. And I think that has become my area of specialism, it’s become what really drives me. I’m incredibly passionate about that because regardless for some people who are– for example, we look at intersectionality, we might have somebody who is black and gay, but they could also be homeless, they could also be a traveller. And it’s almost as if the greater the intersectionality, the more the invisibility or the greater the ease of ignoring for a lot of people. I’ve heard people in my time say, “Oh, gosh, well, what else do they want?” And it’s that perception that it’s almost some people commit it. It’s almost offering them a favour by acknowledging their identities. So that’s something I feel very, very strongly about, Sam.

Sam:

Yeah. I mean, it’s a really, really good point because the nine protected characteristics I know didn’t cover everything, do they? People’s life experiences are so varied and can change.

Kate:

Absolutely.

Sam:

Like you, I’m really keen to try and promote that and encourage people to keep an open mind and just maybe think first before acting or saying something or making a judgment, because it’s complicated, isn’t it? There’s a lot of things going on that we probably wouldn’t be aware of.

Kate:

Totally. It’s really interesting what you said about meeting people that needs changing along the way. And so I’m over, obviously, at Kirklees now and Kirklees are moving back towards what I see is quite an old school model, but one that works, which is place-based work. And that’s not just about getting in there to the local community and meeting people where they’re at physically. It’s about meeting people where they’re at on the journey. And that’s going to change throughout time. The needs are going to be different. And this is even before we start to look at, as you say, that the parts of them that are ‘protected’ as it were, or not, by the Equality Act. And again, that changes. It morphs, doesn’t it? So we really need to be far more open-minded, I think. And we’ve thought throughout the years about person-centred approaches and suchlike. But I think, yeah, you’re right. There’s got to be more about meeting somebody where they’re at and being open to be wrong as well. Actually, to accept the fact that we may have got this wrong. One size doesn’t fit all. And to be asking people, what do you need? What is it you need? People are very good at being able to access that if they’re asked the right question rather than us telling people what they want and need.

Sam:

Totally, it’s such an important thing. This has come up a couple of times now that I’ve been chatting about this subject. And really just saying, what do you need, making things accessible, is just a simple thing, but actually doable. And everybody could do that too.

Kate:

Absolutely. Absolutely. I think that’s one thing we can certainly all do in our community. That helps the feeling of inclusion and belonging. It’s to ask people and not to be afraid. And certainly, I used to work with quite a few transgender young people. And there was always this reluctance. So we did a lot of training in schools with teachers and such like. There was often a reluctance to ask those questions for fear of getting it wrong. And again, we’re going back to this sort of cloak of invisibility because to that young person, if you’re not asking those questions, what are your pronouns? What pronouns would you like me to use? Or you’re not asking the question of how they feel about changes to their body. And I think we’re reluctant because we don’t know, because we might be ignorant. We might not have the knowledge. We might be scared of getting it wrong. But equally, it can seem too personal. I think throughout that work, though, I realised very quickly that not asking those questions actually shows disinterest. And not asking those questions can have quite devastating consequences if we’re not careful.
So I would absolutely always advocate that people learn, people educate themselves. That’s our responsibility to do that, but are also unafraid to ask the questions. So we don’t want, for example, somebody who is Eastern European. We don’t want to go to them with questions about being Eastern European. It’s not for them to take that emotional labour. But we can go and read a book, listen to a podcast, watch a film and educate ourselves a little bit to join that conversation. And I think people are reluctant. And I’m getting on my soapbox a bit here, Sam. That’s for all the time talking about the ‘PC brigade’, which means absolutely nothing. It’s just nonsensical, isn’t it? It’s just nonsense. But people always say, “We don’t want to upset the PC brigade”. I mean, it’s just absolutely ridiculous that people say it. It’s not about upsetting anybody. It’s about learning. It’s about inclusion. It’s about conversations and it’s about belonging. And that’s not upsetting anybody as long as it’s done respectfully and as long as if you slip up, if you say the wrong thing and somebody corrects you, you just take it on the chin, apologise, learn and move on. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

Sam:

Yeah, learning is so important. We’re all going to get it wrong at some point, like more than once probably. We’re all human beings. And like you said, if it’s being done respectfully and we can just say, “Oh, okay. I’m sorry. I’m going to take that on board”, that’s an amazing thing. And that’s really important. It’s not all about this perfect sort of– how on earth would we know what somebody else’s life is like? You just can’t. So we just need to be there for other people, don’t we?

Kate:

Yeah, absolutely. And again, it can feel really challenging or it can feel really uncomfortable. But I think, certainly in my experience, just telling somebody that you want to support them and asking the right questions or even the wrong questions sometimes, it shows that person that you include them, that they are part of your world and you want to know more about them. And you want to do whatever it is you need to do to make them feel part of the community, part of society. And that just takes a little bit of bravery sometimes. And it’s not difficult. It’s not difficult to do really.

Sam:

Definitely. So I’m just hearing you say that you’ve learned things around not asking these questions is far more harmful. And you’ve learnt that through your career. So I just wondered, are there any other things like that that you’ve learnt or discovered through your career?

Kate:

I think certainly through my work at Barnardo’s, I did learn a lot about intersectionality, which was something I don’t feel I knew much about when I set out. But again, I would take that across to my work today. We talk a lot about in terms of homelessness and drug dependency, for example, or alcohol dependency. We talk a lot about dual diagnosis. And that is very different from intersectionality, but again, it’s just the idea that one thing can inform something else for somebody, that one is a direct, almost a comorbidity of something else. And again, it just comes back to treating each person as an individual. So I’ve certainly learnt that when it comes to what people bandy about as ‘EDI monitoring’, I would always say that best practice is to ask the question. It’s not to give people a series of tick boxes and to let people self-identify. Let people tell you. When that person’s leading their own identity, you’re going to get some very different answers, but you’re going to get the right ones. And that might mean you’ve got to do a little bit more work on the monitoring. But ultimately, you’ve then got that person telling you who they are, what they stand for, where they’re from, what they’re about and what they need. You’ll save yourself a lot of work actually that way, rather than trying to put your own feelings on it. And I guess that would be the answer, really, is to what I’ve learned and discovered. I don’t mean this to sound in any way negative, but on the start of the journey, whether it be a parent or it be whoever it might have been, people often come at it from a place of ‘I’ rather than ‘you’ and ‘we’. And that would be something that I think we all need to take on the chin. It’s not about you. It’s not about you at all. It’s about that person in front of you.

Sam:

I love that. It’s about the person in front of you. So true. So true. And then you would hope that if roles were reversed and you were in a situation where you were accessing a service, for example, that you would want that service to do that for you. So sometimes trying to think about, “Well, what would I think? What would I like if I was in whatever situation?” And quite often it is these things and that means we’ve got to put ourselves aside and really think about what that person needs from us rather than what we need.

Kate:

Absolutely. The NHS did a really amazing thing a couple years ago. The ‘My Name Is’ campaign that they started. And I believe that was somebody in Hebden Bridge that started that up. Just something as simple as greeting somebody. And you might notice that you go into a hospital appointment, and invariably that’s what they’ll do, come up to you and say my name is. And then that’s, again, a very simple way of making that link and starting that communication, but very effective as well.
[music]

Sam:

So talking about things we can do then, there are some everyday things that we can do to help us create a more inclusive society. And I wondered if there are any other examples or things that you would think of that can be really helpful that most people could do?

Kate:

Well, we’ve talked about educating ourselves a little bit, haven’t we? But one thing I’m quite big on, as you already know this, Sam, is talking. And we also have to listen. And I think there’s that balance to be made there. But one thing I’m really passionate about is talking to anybody and everybody, whether you’re at the bus stop or whether you’ve just moved house or your neighbour or you’re in a supermarket. I’ve always found that people tend to respond really well if you just see what you’ve got in common with them. It could be that you think, well, actually, they’ve got a crying baby in that supermarket queue. And just that approach, that smile, that friendly sort of passing the time of day with people is something that, I think is as a society, we’re not as good at as possibly we used to be. And actually, the joy is twofold because you end up meeting somebody new, having an amazing conversation, maybe learning something that you wouldn’t have known. And you’ve just got to do your shopping. That’s all you’re doing. And you come away from that, thinking, well, that’s two people’s days that are a little bit improved there. We’ve both had a lovely chat. So that’s definitely something that helps, I believe, to help that feeling of belonging in society. You don’t know what’s happening for that person. They might have just moved here. They might just have an awful time. You just don’t know. So, yeah, keep chatting randomly to strangers everywhere you go.

Sam:

I love that. It’s funny. I keep thinking this is a British thing, and I don’t know if I’m making an assumption. But I feel like a lot of us just don’t talk and we are taught when we’re children to sort of not talk, listen, you know, that’s got nothing to do with you. That’s private for them and la la la. But actually it’s quite harmful in some respects when we’re not able to talk, and particularly around mental health, isn’t it? I mean, it’s just dangerous in some aspects that we are in a society where there’s more openness around people’s experiences. And actually, by talking or just thinking about that, like if you talk to a stranger, you get a lovely perspective on other people’s experience of life. That’s so helpful for being open minded, learning about others that might be different to you.

Kate:

I started a random conversation with somebody who I then realised we had a bit of a mutual sort of friend and work link, an event I went to. Absolutely amazing woman. And she had grown up in Jamaica. And she said what people don’t do anymore is what she called liming. Now I probably pronounced that completely wrong as it would be pronounced if I were in Jamaica. But I’m in slightly grey, damp Huddersfield today. But she painted this beautiful picture of what that meant, and I was really interested in what she had to say. And the basic concept being is I haven’t got anywhere to go. I’ve got anything to do. I’m not talking to you and saying, “Hi, how are you? Yeah, great. Thanks. I’m fine too”, and dashing off. I’m actually talking to you with a willingness to spend that time with no expectations and no other priorities. It’s just that time that we’re spending together. And I thought that was really lovely. And I actually bumped into her on a little country walk one day, and we did just that. We were liming in the car park, and it was just really lovely just to not have anywhere to go, anything to do, and just to be able to spend that time, and as you say, come away with some new knowledge and a new experience of somebody else’s life.
I think, in terms of mental health, I think the British thing is very much to say, “Anything I can do, I’m always here if you want to talk.” But then we say, but not like that. Not like that. It’s sometimes as if where we don’t really want people to touch on it. And I’ve been around a couple of people recently who’ve had babies. And I think sometimes we’re very bad at talking about that, talking about, say, childbirth or talking about poor mental health or whatever it might be. Is it that we don’t want to put people off? We don’t want to scare people. But actually, if we had those conversations, it may make it easier for somebody else. They might feel more prepared. They might feel able to talk more about it to that random stranger in the streets. So, yeah, keep talking. Keep liming.

Sam:

Love it. I absolutely love it.

[music]

So let us come on to our last question then, which is the one that I’m asking all of our guests this series. And that is which three things would you like to spend more time on in your life? And what about less time?

Kate:

Oh, crikey. Well, oh my word. I think what would I spend more time on? It’s just having more time, I think. I do strive for that. I do try and put time aside, especially through this pandemic. I mean, I work in a food bank. It’s been very challenging at times. We’ve all worked incredibly hard. It’s easy to forget to look after yourself, isn’t it, especially if you’re in a caring profession. But I do. I’m very good at a bit of self care and a bit of looking after my own emotional health and wellbeing, or I’d be no good for anybody else. But I would like a bit more time to do my gardening, just chill out, a bit more meditation. I would like to say, Sam, that I’d like more time to exercise, but if I’m honest, if I find myself with a spare hour, I might do a quick something and then I’ll just read a book or crochet instead. But yeah, for less time, I think, it’s quite personal, I suppose. But I think I’d like to spend less time in the past or less time in the future and just spend more time in the present. I do spend a lot of time worrying about what’s going to happen and these new variants. Are we going to go through this again? It’s challenging, but I can’t think about that. And this is what any good meditation app will tell you, is we’ve got to be here and now and present, haven’t we? So, yeah. So to blend that question, a bit more time in the here and now and a bit less time worrying about what might be in the future.

Sam:

Oh yeah, that’s great. Presence is so important, isn’t it? And that just made me think about having the conversation that you were just saying. It’s about I’ve not got any way to go or anything to do. I’m here talking to you. But that is a really good exercise in presence.

Kate:

Oh, it is, isn’t it? It’s interesting, you think about appointments, say you go to a GP or whatever. We’re all so time poor, aren’t we? We’re so restricted for time. And I think that’s the beauty of that. I think when you’re giving somebody your presence as well, you’re essentially saying to somebody, “This is your time. And you’re not restricted. I’m not rushing you.” And I don’t think you can give somebody anything more important than that. You’re telling that person that for this period of time, this moment in time – it might as well be finite – you’re all that matters. You’re the important person. And I’m going to ask you about you. And I think that is massive to make somebody feel not just valued but important. And it’s genuine, isn’t it? It’s authentic. It’s not rushed. It’s not a series of questions. It’s just very real. And I think that’s really, really important.

Sam:

Absolutely. That’s quite an amazing thing, really, and again, simple.

Kate:

Yeah, absolutely. The best things are simple, aren’t they really? Just even going for a walk as well is just cheap, free even. And the wonders that that does for your mental health as well, I do try and go for a walk every day at lunchtime and encourage all my colleagues here to do the same thing. Just 10 minutes out is amazing, whether that be meditation, 10 minutes crochet. And if you can’t find 10 minutes to meditate, what do they say? You should be doing it for an hour.

Sam:

Yeah, that’s true. That’s a good reminder. Yeah.

Kate:

You just got to block it as well. I do a lot of time blocking in my diary. Somewhere I will say this is the time that’s blocked for this, and it’s non-negotiable. And I’ve found that that’s helped me to protect my mental health and emotional wellbeing certainly, is to just say that it’s that time. And whatever that time’s for, to eat my lunch, to have a walk, to do a crossword, whatever, and that’s not moving. And that can be enough, I think sometimes just to keep you solid and level and happy.

Sam:

Definitely. Time blocking is really helpful, giving yourself a bit of a schedule and a bit of something to follow along with this. Really helpful. Great. Well, thank you so much, Kate. It’s been amazing chatting to you. We don’t often get to chat like this, do we? So it’s really—

Kate:

No, we don’t. And I’ve had a lovely cup of tea as well. I’ve had a nice time out of my day and I had a lovely cup of tea. So I really appreciate that. Thank you.

Sam:

Oh, no, thank you very much.

[music]

Big thanks to Kate for this wonderful chat. I just love her warmth and dedication to ensuring all people are treated fairly and given what they need. I’m not sure there’s a greater gift we can give to someone than a sense of belonging.

Do check out the brilliant work of The Welcome Centre. They provide families and individuals in crisis in the Huddersfield area with food, toiletries and other essential items. Plus, they also do amazing advocacy and guidance work. As I’m sure you know, services like these have been hit hard by the pandemic, and so any support we can give to them is gratefully received. You can find more information on their website at thewelcomecentre.org.

Well, I’ve certainly got lots of food for thought from this series. Values are so complex, and my motivation for exploring them was to really cultivate learning and exploration. I like to remind myself that a place of learning is a place of strength. We don’t need to know all the answers. We just need to keep learning and exploring.

So as we bring this series to a close, I would love to hear from you about what you think. Is there anything that’s particularly stayed with you or that you’ve learnt? Has your perception of any of the values shifted? Do you have a favourite episode?

Please let me know. It literally brightens my day when I hear from you, and your feedback really help shape what we do. So get in touch by leaving a review or send me an email on hello@curiousmotion.org.uk. Or pop on our socials and you can DM us. Just search for Curious Motion.

I do hope you’ve enjoyed this series. A huge thank you to all our guests. I feel so privileged to have had them on the podcast, and a massive thank you to all of you, our listeners.

We’ll be back with another series later in the year where we’ll have a new theme and more amazing guests.

But in the meantime, here’s your final reminder for now to tune into your body, be kind to yourself, and stay curious. Bye!