The Black Health Initiative

The Black Health Initiative is a community engagement organisation that looks at health inequalities within education, health and social care.

I headed down to their headquarters for a chat with Heather Nelson and Sofyanah Ramzan, CEO and Chair of this Leeds-based charity, to find a bit more about what they do, who they support, and how to get involved.

There was a warm welcome waitng for me from Heather and her team as I visited their base in an small old church outbuilding down on Chapeltown Road on a bitterly cold February day.  It wasn’t the first time I’d met Heather – I did so a few years earlier when I was photographer for the Leeds Black Music Festival, so we had chance for a quick catch up before talking business. 

Heather, who is also a Magistrate of over 20 years, gave me the background to Black Health Initiative and its roots. Back in 2006, AIDS charity BCAT had a re-organisation and change of name, and Black Health Initiative (BHI) as we know it today was born.

 “We wanted to widen the scope of who in the community we could support on wider health and well-being issues for all. These issues included mental health support and challenging the stigmas amongst certain communities, as well raising the awareness of cancer. In 2011, we became the only charity in the UK with a dedicated Cancer Programme.”

Heather continues “Since then, BHI have a well-earned reputation for innovative ways of working and the ability to reach some of the hard to reach people in the community. As well as health initiatives, there is also a social inclusion element to our work.” 

One of these initiatives, launched in 2015, is Fusion Extra. This Wednesday lunch club drop-in session is aimed at the 50+ age group. Its focus is on food, exercise, socialising and other health issues such as dementia. The club, held at the Osten Bindi Centre on Chapeltown Road, costs £5 per person each week which includes lunch.  We hope these will be resumed sooner rather than later. There are three  other BHI community-based cafes in Leeds, at the Moor Allerton Centre, the Reginald Centre and the Compton Centre. 

Education and training are key objectives for the charity, and they are heavily involved in delivering training and consultancy to various organisations such as the NHS, Council and Prison Services on issues such as breaking down cultural barriers, unconscious bias and effective community engagement. Regular community workshops and evenings are also provided on areas such as Social Prescribing, Education & Careers for young people and Female Genital Mutilation (FGM),

A new programme of events had been developed for this coming year in order to bring awareness to certain issues as well as celebrating diversity in Leeds and it kicked off  with the ‘Leeds Lives not Knives#LLNK performance at the Mandela Centre. Young people discussed and shared their viewsand stories around the impact of knife crime, which included the experiences  of Trauma Nurses who deal with the aftermath of such crimes.  There’ll be more news about the programme when we are once again restored to normal daily living.

Perhaps their most renowned event is the aforementioned annual Black Music Festival that takes place on August bank holiday weekend (and we hope it can still go ahead). “It’s the fastest growing festival in Europe!” Heather exactly tells me. And the figures prove it, with attendance rising sharply, from around 5k at the first Festival in 2014, to 60k attending last year. The Festival showcases the best of local and national music talent as well as lots of tasty cuisine from around the world. 

In October 2019, BHI were awarded for all their work and commitment by winning the UK’s Legacy Awards, awarded to recognise and celebrate diversity in our communities. 

BHI are always in need of more volunteers, of all ages and backgrounds and in various roles owing to their busy work programme.   Information on how to get involved contact BHI on E: [email protected] T: 0113 307 0300.  It’s something you might wish to pursue when we are once again free to mingle! 

The BHI website is currently under development. For further information on workshops, training, awareness campaigns and events check out their below social media sites: 


Twitter: @BHILeeds

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