We are not discussing the ‘truth’ here. Most probation staff had little real connection with the Centre and like many aspects of how race was attended to in the Probation Service at that time, perceptions, often untested against real experience, tended to predominate. Some of the basis for the perceptions are apparent in this summary of a film about the Centre, prepared before I arrived:
Derrick Anderson reading poem: “ … a culture needs a centre…”Birmingham: canal, playground, dancers, murals, street scenes in Handsworth, illustrating the visibility of the black and Asian residents. Sign for the Cultural Centre indicating its link with the Probation Service. Offices, notice-boards, pictures, musicians practising, etc. Bob Ramdhanie saying it’s difficult to explain exactly what he does, being a Probation Officer in a cultural centre. Ramdhanie’s VO talking about the Centre being founded, in 1977, to respond to the needs of young black people (who often have poor self-image because of the way society treats them) to help them channel their energies usefully: pictures on the walls of the Centre, photographs of black people, police, skinheads, headlines about teenage “mob”, poor housing, etc. He talks about the Centre offering the young people something they want as well as making art“a living commodity” and not something outside their reach. Judah talking about how British education fails black people: it teaches them about white history but not about their own: his VO over images of black Africans and over woodwork shop in the Centre; he thinks the Centre helps them establish their own identity. Poster of Bob Marley. Kokuma Dance Company. Pat Donaldson explains its inception, and that it became based at the Cultural Centre as this offered cheap rehearsal space, etc. Angela Samuda talks about having been on probation and finding the Cultural Centre through that. Doreen Forbes points out that local youth centres don’t offer very much: they all want access to music and art, rather than table tennis. All intercut with footage of the company performing.
ACE114.310:10:27 10:20:39 Groups of people, including Yugesh Walia and Bob Ramdhanie, discussing the editing of 8mm film of local people talking about their views of the West Indies in relation to their own lives.More 8mm footage. The back garden of the Centre where people are creating an African village. Ramdhanie emphasises that the Centre works with both “offenders as well as non-offenders” and explains that the village will offer to those in search of identity something “more tangible than music and dance”. Centre workers talking about the design for the garden features – including buildings and sculptures – and its planting. Plans. Construction. Oneness performing Weh Dem Come From over. Ramdhanie’s VO talking about the garden adding to Handsworth’s outdoor facilities as a whole. Children’s ballet class, sign for Open Day, dancers in marquee,ballet class; woman’s VO saying that she uses the facilities she wants and has no problem with the idea that some of the people at the Centre are offenders. Young Centre worker explains that people outside sometimes assume that he is an offender. Dance classes. Ramdhanie receiving an award from the Mayor; Centre activities,dancing, etc. Ramdhanie’s VO says that the Centre’s links with the Probation Service are generally not an issue, but young people can sometimes be worried about television coverage if they think it might wrongly identify them as offenders. The Centre recording studio; Derrick Anderson talks about it as somewhere where anyone can record, and where they can get help from people with arranging their music, etc. Oneness recording Mama Don’t Cry. Errol Whitter talking about helping young people develop their music. Young people dancing.
ACE114.410:20:39 10:31:50 Music continues over street scenes, children in playground, boys playing cricket, etc. Samuda says that, while the Centre may fulfil some of her needs, “the problem is still there”. Photographs of British nationalist march, policeman arresting black woman, house fire, people with bloodies heads, anti-police-brutality placard. Dancers exercising; Ramadhanie’s VO believes that many young people find the Centre’s activities in “giving them a balance … quite rewarding”. Musicians and dancers setting up at outdoor event; shots of event intercut with dance class, rehearsals,and costume making, etc. Ramadhanie says the Centre offers “a positive image for young black people”, but doesn’t pretend to solve their problems.
African Caribbean imagery predominates in this account and the terminology is about ‘black’ people. The idea of how this Centre is related to the function of the Probation Service is not clearly expressed, and indeed Bob Ramdhanie says it is difficult to describe what he does as a probation officer in the Centre. There is just a kind of hope that displaying shared public experiences of disadvantage, celebrating ‘cultural’ expressions and a belief in art as a way of expressing human value will rub off on people who offend and offer an idea of positive crime free living.