UNPACKED has helped me to have confidence in myself, rather than continue to stay in the shadows

Environmental activist Rakesh shares his experiences from our latest training course for trainers, UNPACKED.

I have a background in Environmental organising, based mainly in North East England. Most notably I have been involved in the Save Druridge campaign, where we have successfully opposed an opencast coal mine. I continue to work with local groups to oppose newer applications. I am a member of the Greens of Colour committee, a liberation group that highlights the inequalities faced by communities of colour in the UK, and works to support more people to get involved in politics. 

Like a lot of people across the globe, I’ve had a turbulent year. The UNPACKED programme has been my one constant over the last 12 months. As it comes to an end, I’ve begun to reflect on just how much it has changed in my life and in myself. In June I was made redundant, which prompted me to start taking steps to change my life. I moved away from somewhere I had lived for 18 years, and I now find myself back in the city, in the place closest to my heart – Newcastle upon-Tyne. Alongside that big change, I’ve taken steps to deepen my understanding of environmental activism, and UNPACKED has played an important role in that.

Taking part in the programme has helped me to have confidence in myself, rather than continue to stay in the shadows. I came into the programme as someone who had never really facilitated many workshops as a part of my organising. As a result of the learning and active practice during UNPACKED sessions, I gained confidence and started to volunteer with the Ella Baker School of Organising, so that I could put my learning into practice. I really valued this experience, and it also highlighted to me that I need to be in more radical spaces. 

As the Black Lives Matter movement became prominent during our first lockdown, the local Green Party groups asked Greens of Colour to facilitate trainings that would help them reach out to people from marginalised communities. As a result of being on UNPACKED, I was able to step up to this, not only providing what they were asking for, but going a step forward and bringing content into the workshops that would challenge white people about the prejudices that they hold. I have now progressed onto working with a co-facilitator who is white. My co-facilitator has already been working on their own prejudices and accountability for many years. With the knowledge I learned from UNPACKED, we’ve been able to carefully co-create a session which they now lead, which is aimed at helping white people to recognise the racism that they hold. 

In February I was named as one of 100 BAME Environmental organisers in the UK, in a publication called Climate Reframe. As a result, I have been and continue to attend events as a speaker. This is something I would have shied away from in the past, but because of the support from UNPACKED, I have taken these opportunities by both hands and I’m becoming a better public speaker. 

The programme has also helped me to stand up for myself, I don’t allow people to walk all over me and this goes for my personal life as well as when I’m in organising spaces. The most recent insight I gained from this new found confidence is: when you know something is headed in the wrong direction, step in, and change the course as soon as possible. Don’t wait for it to get so bad that when you do, you end up venting frustrations and saying something that will cause people’s feelings to be hurt. This is paramount in training spaces, and especially when working with a co-facilitator, because you are responsible to the participants. What you don’t want is conflict being handled badly, which could affect both the way in which your participants are able to learn, but also the way in which your co-facilitator is able to engage with you and run a smooth training. 

It has been an honour to be part of the very first cohort of UNPACKED, I am forever grateful to Nim Ralph for the amazing work that they do, and how they have always made me feel welcome. I attended Campaign Bootcamp’s residential training programme five years ago, and as a result, I have learnt to take more risks. UNPACKED has helped me along that journey in the past year, as I made some of the biggest decisions about my future. I look forward to continuing to grow and support others to grow as I take my learnings out into the world!

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