ACCM (UK) was formed by Sarah McCulloch in 2008 to tackle socio-economic deprivation and health inequalities amongst Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME communities in Bedford. ACCM (UK) offers a wide range of services from education and training programmes, to advice and practical support, with a particular focus on gender inequality and violence. 
We need to empower women, making sure they live safe lives, making sure victims of abuse are supported, making sure they understand their freedoms and rights. We need to make sure communities have the information and let them decide that “this is not for our children”.

Grassroots community engagement is at the very core of ACCM (UK)’s work, whether it be tackling long-term issues such as forced marriage, domestic violence, and Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) or combatting myths and misunderstandings about Covid-19 and the vaccine.

Sarah believes that the key to creating sustainable change is to build trusting relationships with the people and communities they work with. The majority of ACCM (UK)’s work therefore takes place within community settings and involves nurturing relationships with influential community and faith leaders.

Tackling FGM, domestic violence and forced marriage

This approach can be seen clearly in the methods ACCM (UK) use to address FGM and other gender-based forms of violence. ACCM (UK) runs regular health and parenting classes for young mothers. Through these classes they not only teach general parenting skills, but also educate and empower women to combat harmful cultural practices such as FGM.  ACCM (UK) address these issues sensitively, avoiding criticizing the cultures of the women they are working with, while ensuring they understand these practices are both damaging and illegal.

As Sarah explained, “We need to empower women, making sure they live safe lives, making sure victims of abuse are supported, making sure they understand their freedoms and rights. We need to make sure communities have the information and let them decide that ‘this is not for our children.’”

At the same time, ACCM (UK) works with community leaders, legal and health care professionals, and the police to provide protection and support, tailored to victims– as well as educating and changing the behaviours of men. Sarah believes that “faith leaders are the key to reaching men” as they are often highly respected and trusted members of the community.

The challenges of COVID-19

Like many Locality members, ACCM (UK) has been forced to adapt their services during the covid-19 pandemic.  It is well documented that ethnic minority communities have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic in the UK. ACCM (UK) recognises that this may be due to a combination of socio-economic factors and cultural practices. They have therefore taken a culturally sensitive approach to the support they offer.

Firstly, they have been offering culturally appropriate practical support such as food distribution and support for isolated people. For example, they have been providing food parcels that are sensitive to their client’s needs. As Sarah explains, “[We have been] buying food to deliver to ethnic minority communities, meaning what they are getting is food they are actually eating… some Muslims were saying ‘We are getting tinned pork – we don’t eat pork.’”

ACCM (UK) has also been working with community and faith leaders to combat myths and misinformation about COVID-19 and the vaccine. “It is disappointing to see many men and some women, shaking hands, giving each other cuddles and not wearing masks. They are spreading the disease among themselves. Because they live in large extended families. This means they are transmitting the virus more quickly …In some communities there has been a lot of gossip. Last week I was talking to an elderly man who said, ‘I’m not going to take the vaccine – it’ll make me infertile and give me a brain tumour.’”

Rumours can spread quickly among close-knit communities where family and friends are often trusted over the state or the news. For this reason, ACCM (UK) has been working very closely with health practitioners, community leaders and local faith radio stations to reach out to communities and help dispel these myths.

Keeping domestic violence services open and adapting them to the pandemic

Although many projects were paused during the pandemic, ACCM (UK) were adamant that their domestic abuse services remained open. During the pandemic many victims have had to spend far longer periods of time with their abusers, increasing their vulnerability. ACCM not only kept their in-person support (including counselling and rehousing services) open but also increased and adapted their phone based support.

“You always assume that everyone has a phone, but some don’t. So, these people come into the office with PPE and we provide them with the counselling and support they need that way”.

“Since lockdown we have rehoused 18 women and 2 men but some choose to stay because it’s their home and they have children. We’ve devised a way of communicating with them – we ask them if they “need milk” and if they say yes then this means the abuse is happening but if they say “no, bread” then we know they are safe.”

Challenges beyond COVID-19

Looking beyond the pandemic, the main challenges ACCM (UKL)  faces are around funding. In recent times, this has been exacerbated by increased competition for fewer funding pots: “The big charities have lost out on their normal fundraising sources and are now going for the smaller pockets that we were applying for – and we are losing out on that.” However, Sarah identifies a recent increase in ring-fenced funding for BAME-led organisations as a positive development.

Benefitting from the Locality network

Sarah told us that being a member of Locality has had “huge benefits” to ACCM (UK). Over the years, ACCM (UK) has benefitted from practical support, and actively participated in numerous groups – sharing skills, advice and experiences with members from across the country with similar goals and needs. Sarah is especially fond of the comradery of Locality Conventions: “I have often enjoyed going to the Locality Convention, meeting people and listening to speakers on brilliant topics – as well as the social side.”

Monday 8 March is International Women’s Day. Sarah and ACCM (UK) have a simple, clear message to all women who are victims of gender-based violence: “You are not alone, don’t think there is no help out there – there is help.”

Find out more about ACCM (UK) here

Find out more about the benefits of becoming a member of Locality here