'Mindsets are starting to change' - Cornwall activist on life in one of the UK's whitest counties

24-05-21 Marcus Alleyne profile pic-Marcus Alleyne
Credit: Marcus Alleyne

It has been one year since the death of unarmed black man George Floyd in America sparked worldwide calls to end racism. 

George Floyd's murder in police custody led to protests across the South West supporting the Black Lives Matter movement.

As part of our Black Voices In Conversation series, ITV News West Country has spoken to those across the region who continue to lead the movement to see what impact the past 12 months have had.

ITV West Country reporter Alpha Ceesay sat down with Marcus Alleyne, co-founder of Black Voices Cornwall, to find out what the past year has been like in one of the country's least racially diverse places. 

  • Black Voices In Conversation: Marcus Alleyne's full interview with ITV

Marcus has lived in Cornwall since he was 11 years old, having moved from Birmingham.

"My mother and my then-step father decided to relocate to Cornwall and that was a bit of a culture shock to be honest.

"It was a real shock to the system, going from somewhere very built up, very urban, very busy, very multicultural... to moving into an environment where it was almost 100% white people that I was surrounded by."

He experienced racial abuse early on in his school years, including both name-calling and physical bullying.

Marcus spent his break-times and lunchtimes at school in the music department to get away from the abuse he was receiving. Credit: Marcus Alleyne

"I was worried and a bit fearful of just walking around the playground," he said.

Marcus says his school days played a pivotal role in his activism, but the death of George Floyd pushed him to try to make some real change in Cornwall.

In July 2020, alongside Beresford Lee, Helen Hutchinson and Abi Hutchinson, Marcus founded Black Voices Cornwall (BVC).

The aim of the organisation is to build on the calls for change seen across the Duchy last year through communication, education and unification.

Black Voices Cornwall founders from left to right-Marcus Alleyne, Beresford Lee, Helen Hutchinson and Abi Hutchinson. Credit: Marcus Alleyne

But Marcus says it has proved a challenging task in one of the UK's whitest counties. According to the latest available census, less than two per cent of the population is black.

He said: "It's far more serious than we initially thought.

"We are hearing some of the most horrific stories of mistreatment and unfairness and inequality - and this is happening at senior executive levels across some of the major organisations we have here in Cornwall."

Over the past year, BVC has taken part in a number of events to promote conversation and education about racial disparities in Cornwall.

These include a variety of social media and in-person series to allow for difficult conversations on race in public spaces, developing diverse and inclusive resources for schools and training courses for businesses.

Members of BVC have taken part in events to promote progress in tackling inequality by having difficult public conversations about race. Credit: Simon Barclay

It has also partnered with Cornwall Foundation NHS Trust and is working closely with Cornwall Council and Devon and Cornwall Police.

But following all this work in recent months and the events of last summer is Cornwall a better place for people of colour?

  • Marcus on changing the mindset of people in Cornwall

Marcus said: "Lots of questions have been raised about 'is Cornwall the most racist part of the country?

"When I speak to colleagues working in more urban areas... on a regular basis they're saying 'why are you still working in Cornwall?'"

But he added he believes people are finally listening, making it the perfect time for change.

"For too long we've been silenced as people of colour," he said. "We've been not listened to and I think now people are starting to finally listen and take heed of what we are saying and the effects that it has on us.

"I think it's the perfect opportunity to try to change the mindset of a nation, which is effectively what we are here in Cornwall.

"I'm so proud to live in this part of the world. My daughter was born in Cornwall and is as Cornish as the next and I don't want to have those negative opinions and mindsets dictate where I should and shouldn't live."