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. Born in London, to a Trinidadian father and English mother, and raised in Kingston Upon Hull, Yvie came to study at the University of York, where she graduated in 1976.  She became a teacher of English and Drama in a West Yorkshire comprehensive school for seven years, and was the first black President of her local union branch. She has been instrumental in the setting up of various initiatives in York, and has been a volunteer as a school governor, as a mentor for women, in work with older people and in the Alzheimer’s Society.

Because of discrimination she had experienced and observed, Yvie decided to devote her time to improving equal opportunities in organisations. In 1989 she set up her own business and for the next 25 years, she provided training and consultancy to hundreds (perhaps thousands) of people in organisations all over Yorkshire. These included teachers, social workers, school dinner supervisors, magistrates, police constables, the probation service, people involved in childcare and many others.  She also tutored adults returning to education later in their lives. Her courses were as varied as Equality Law and Policy; Assertiveness and Confidence Building; Making Friends through Stories; Management Development; dealing with racism; working with diversity. 

In 1994 Yvie became the founder/chair of York Racial Equality Network – YREN. 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 these activities out of their own pockets until their work was recognised better known and understood. Eventually they received funding, employed staff and became a charity. 

Four of the original members developed a project with York Council for Voluntary Service and the Social Work Department at the University of York. They formed  a steering group, and 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 to YREN members, to help develop their confidence to take action and to know their rights.

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. 

YREN created links with a wide range of people and organisations across the city and has expanded its work over the past 25 years. 

In 1998, Yvie established the Equal Opportunities Office at the University of York, now called the Equality and Diversity Office. She provided information and guidance to the university 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 became a member of a national committee on equal opportunities in Higher Education. She retired in 2010. The Equality and Diversity Office is still running and has continued the work, adapting to current priorities.

Yvie found that people were often anxious about discussing equal opportunities, so her approach was always to try to reduce their fear and misunderstanding. Even when tackling difficult issues, she aimed to make her training sessions interesting and enjoyable, so that people could find links and commonality with each other. 

Over the years, her work has supported people, some from other countries, who felt disempowered and humiliated by injustice; she helped them regain control over their lives. She has also helped to create job opportunities in York. 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 poetry and prose and giving readings and talks. Yvie is working on a memoir, which tells of her parents’ struggles in the 1950’s, when they met in the UK, and how their experiences replayed in her own life. The story 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