Based in Rotherham, Diversify was founded by Sara Cunningham and Dawn Purvis.
Both women, now in their mid-thirties, were working for a small charity that delivered diversity training around disability. After the charity folded, the pair decided to not only continue its work, but build on it.
Diversify was founded in February 2019. The team offers business consultancy in diversity and inclusion subjects to help businesses in relation to law, fair HR policies, and good practice. It also delivers workshops in schools across the country to help schools become fairer and more understanding environments.
Dawn explained, “We’re trying to bring awareness through personal stories and experiences. If you stand in front of people and say I have a disability, and this is how it affects me, you get more empathy, rather than lecturing people on what they’re meant to do and not meant to do.”
Sara was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in her early twenties and had suffered workplace harassment, winning a tribunal case; her employer was found in breach of disability laws. Dawn, who has chronic fatigue syndrome, had also struggled with her career due to her illness.
“At my worst, I was sleeping 20 hours a day, but was still exhausted,” Dawn said. She struggled with post exertion malaise. “It’s difficult to plan your life because you’re not sure what will trigger it, and your baseline of energy can be depleted so quickly.”
With no assets, Key Fund gave a £32,075 loan with a £5,425 grant to help set up their Community Interest Company: “We wouldn’t have been able to start if Key Fund hadn’t given us the funding at that time.”
During the pandemic, furlough and Covid grants ensured they survived. “We were ready with the database, processes and marketing and the first workshops were ready to go, with four or five bookings, and then Covid hit.” Dawn said.
To date, Diversify has reached 24,810 children and 2,265 adults, a figure rising month-on-month. It employs four staff and a small team of freelancers to deliver its workshops.
Profits from its corporate clients go towards lowering costs to schools in poorer areas. With a turnover of £180k in 2021, the ambition is to become less reliant on grants.
Both Sara and Dawn are members of the LGBTQ community. Their team all have lived experience of discrimination, due to their gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation or disability.
“Schools and teachers talk to us a lot, and often contact us if they have an issue or problem at school. One had an issue with racism. A black pupil had hand sanitiser put in his bottle of water as bullies said he needed to be cleansed.”
Bullying is the common thread, and their workshops focus on misogyny, LGBTQ, disability, gun and knife crime, and race.
“Anybody who has been bullied is at a much higher risk of self harm. I was self-harming at 13. It’s a common teenage thing,” Dawn said. “Trans people are also at much higher risk of suicide, and of being physically bullied. I think that’s part down to the big deal in the papers about trans rights, and people are either for or against. Just as they’re trying to work themselves out, they find themselves in the middle of a massive political argument, which is only going to make them feel worse as they’re aware some people hate them.”
Dawn feels the divisiveness of our age necessitates the work of Diversify.
“Everyone has an opinion now on social media. If it’s someone with lots of followers who has an unkind opinion and they’re an influencer it’s going to have an effect, whether it’s someone who writes their favourite books like JK Rowling or some other celebrity. Now you have 11-year-olds on social media and they can form opinions from there.”
The isolation of Covid, she believes, made children more vulnerable, not helped by the wider news agenda.
“They are feeling more anxious and unsure. I did a workshop for nine-year olds the day before the Ukrainian war started and a little girl was saying she was really worried as they have nuclear bombs and was terrified that they’d press a big button and we’d all be dead.”
Dawn sees a strong future for Diversify as the organisation become less reliant on grants.
“Basically, at a time when everything is so divisive it’s about putting more kindness into the world. All we’re saying is people are different, don’t treat them differently because of it. It’s just an understanding of others, and for people to have a little more humanity.”
IMD 9% most deprived
EDI Group LGBTQ and Disability
Worked with Over 11,000 individuals