First Black Lady Mayor Champions H&F Regeneration

Sumi Sastri interviews Marion Schumann, director HFVC

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HFVC’s director, Marion Schumann is a doer – you sense it when you meet her.  When you view her legacy of work to the community starting from her work as a volunteer teacher, Labour party member working with people at the housing estates of Tower Hamlets, secretary of a neighbourhood association in Tower Hamlets, to local councillor to becoming the first black woman to hold the position of Mayor as early as the 1990s and moving on to become the Director of an Housing Association in Lambeth, you realise she is a doer with passion and a vision.

Marion Schumann’s work covers a broad canvass she has worked in the voluntary, commercial and statutory sectors and has a deep understanding of the needs and requirements of each sector. She has spent 25 years working hard to develop skills that have been of immense benefit to HFVC’s drive to change the structural unemployment problem in Hammersmith and put people back into work across sectors. Schuman has attracted big business in the area – Disney, Starwood Hotels, United Biscuits – to participate in community affairs.

She has placed people back into work in the charitable and government sectors. She has built a community of volunteers who have put back into the community far more than it has received in funding this year and not having contracts to run employment type projects from the LDA/SFA or the local authorities, Schumann says will have a negative impact on the growth and regeneration of Hammersmith  in particular and West-London where the reach of HFVC’s work extends; but she will look for opportunities that can bring funds to the voluntary & community sectors via partnerships, which will bring all relevant stakeholders together, and this must include the local authorities, businesses, Registered Social Landlords (Housing Associations) and the Voluntary & Community sectors to pull resources together, have a shared vision for their communities in the hope of reducing social isolation, provide employment, education and training for young as well as People over 50.

But what makes Schumann not just a doer but a believer in volunteering? Her personal history is as intriguing as her professional one - her father half German-Jew from West Berlin and part Sierra Leonean came to Britain with the family when Marion was seven years old.

“I have beautiful memories of Sierra Leone, my father was working with government and we were part of the ruling classes, but my father could see the country was going in a direction that simply wasn’t right for the people, so we left before things became ugly and descended into civil war, years later,” Schumann says.

Growing up in west London’s Shepherd’s Bush, Schumann was passionate about politics from a very early age because of her family history. She studied Languages at University of London’s Queen Mary College learning Russian and Czech. “I had to spend a year overseas as part of the course and it was really very funny here was this black woman with a German Jewish name speaking Russian, it confused everyone,” Schumann says laughing with a twinkle in her eye. Her middle class background did not deter her from becoming part of the very fabric of the community she lived in and she decided to volunteer to work on the local estates in Tower Hamlets.

“I am passionate about volunteering because when I was a youth, it is what I did to understand the community, work with them and solve problems with them in a way that works,” Schumann says. Schumann also volunteered her way into her first job as a volunteer teacher after she gained her qualifications to teach. “I believe volunteering is a great way to network, understand a job and build a CV,” she says.

Because she believes, she does what she says she believes in supporting, nurturing and developing volunteering as a way back into work. And Schumann is not a quitter, celebrating her 10th anniversary as the head of HFVC, she is not complaining about the cuts but wants to shed light on what the funds mean in terms of speeding up the regeneration of the local economy.

Schumann herself took a huge pay cut because she wanted to become a part of changing and regenerating an area she had lived in as a child. In the ten years she has transformed the organisation from under five staff (half of them part time) to developing jobs within the centre and satellite offices in Brent & Harrow/ Hillingdon for nearly 30 people.

She is not a stranger to small funds – the centre started with only GBP 10, 000 income in grants and a total turnover of GBP25, 000. Working tirelessly with her team over 10 years this situation changed and HFVC attracts over GBP1-million in funds, grants, contracts and charitable giving.

“Why should we be punished for our success,” Schumann says, “ for every pound we get we put so much more back into the community it does not make sense that our contracts are cut as the government’s return on investment is so high on the work we do.”

HFVC because of Schumann’s vision has raised funds from a variety of different sources and unlike some of the other charitable and social-enterprise trusts who rely only on government money, HFVC is on a stronger financial footing.

“The cuts could mean job losses at the centre and that is not a good message to send out to the community. We get so many unemployed people, skilled volunteers through the door our success rate is 85% in getting people back into work, we talk to people from the Job Centres, the Youth, run fund raising courses for those who need to raise funds – and then they see the person who has been helping them has to go because of funding cuts – it is just the wrong message to send out at a time like this,” Schumann says.

HFVC was awarded GBP120, 000 for core activities but requires over quarter of a million pounds to develop key initiatives that will develop volunteering as a route into work to the next level. Works4 U a project started last October is in its infancy and requires commercial and government funding to develop skills training, volunteer placements in work and final recruitment strategies for volunteers. This project could be in jeopardy and other core volunteering projects – Youth Unlimited which support young unemployed people in the Borough and rehabilitated young offenders ran out of funding last year; PETE – People into Education and Training runs out of funding end September. The project offers one-to-one training for the unemployed, skills needs assessment and skills training – a vital ingredient getting people back into work.

 Schumann is appealing to commercial sponsors, charitable trusts and other funding bodies including government funding bodies  in west London to review the work that HFVC and Works4U have undertaken and its success rate and consider new funds or review cuts in the light of the long-term gains for the local community. She is also appealing to those looking to fill vacancies to contact the volunteer centre and support people who want to get back into work by reviewing what HFVC has to offer in terms of recruiting the right volunteers for your organisation and become a brand champion of volunteering as a route back into work.

Contact Marion Schumann at HFVC or visit for more information


August 18, 2010