Yvie Holder, Founder, York Race Equality Network

Yvie has been promoting diversity and equality for over 30 years, in both a personal and a professional capacity. Formerly a teacher of English and Drama, she has been instrumental in the setting up of various initiatives in York, and has been involved as a volunteer in trades union work, school governing, mentoring and in the Alzheimer’s Society. 

In 1989, Yvie set up her own business and provided training and consultancy to hundreds (perhaps thousands) of people in organisations too numerous to list, over 25 years. The training was as varied as Equality Law and Policy; Assertiveness and Confidence Building; Making Friends through Stories; Management Development; dealing with racism; working with diversity. 

Yvie was the founder/chair of York Racial Equality Network – YREN – in 1994. Initially YREN had no funding or office so a small group met in each other’s houses and made plans. They created events, ‘Gatherings’, to bring people together, where they heard people’s concerns and offered support over harassment, racial attacks and discrimination. They paid for it out of their own pockets until their work was recognised and they received funding, employed staff and became a charity. YREN has expanded its work over the past 25 years. 

Four of the original group developed an action research project with York Council for Voluntary Service and the Social Work Department at the University of York. As a steering group, they provided placements for Social Work Practice students, who, in two studies, interviewed parents, children and teachers in the local area. YREN used the evidence from the research to raise awareness of the issues identified, such as racial harassment and isolation. Yvie gave talks and briefings to Head teachers, Governors and PGCE students as well as arranging a training session at YREN to develop their members confidence to do this work. 

One of the outcomes of the study was that children wanted more opportunities to meet others from mixed families, so Yvie sought funding to set up a youth group which was unique in North Yorkshire. It was inclusive and multi-denominational, welcoming young people from any religion or none, and members could bring a guest. Yvie still comes across former members whose friendships have lasted into adulthood and who recall the youth group with pride and delight.

Yvie established the Equal Opportunities Office at the University of York in 1998, now the Equality and Diversity Office, which provided information and guidance on all aspects of equality, as well as support to complainants of harassment and unfair treatment. The University promoted her to Director, to ensure that an experienced voice would be heard. She retired in 2010. The Equality and Diversity Office is still running and has continued the work, adapting to current priorities.

Yvie says that her approach has been to try and take the ‘fear’ and misunderstanding out of equal opportunities, to make the subject interesting and engaging and to provide a commonality for people to find links with each other. She has helped to create job opportunities in York. Her work has supported people, some from other countries, who felt disempowered and humiliated by injustice; she helped them regain control over their lives. 

Although Yvie has changed direction many times, she has always been involved in education; in the community; and in trying to tackle injustice and discrimination whilst sometimes being on the receiving end of it herself. 

Finally, she is writing about it all, in her poetry, giving readings and talks, and writing a memoir, which centres on her parents’ struggles in the 1950’s when they met in the UK and how their experiences replayed in her own life. Her book spans 200 years, from a Caribbean slave plantation, to Brexit and the Windrush scandal. It covers themes of loss, separation, adoption, interracial marriage, reconciliation and enduring love. It explores what it is to belong and what values shaped the Britain we know today.

Sources: Janice Peggs with Yvie Holder

Image of Yvie Holder ©UntoldHull