Profile: On the Level with Lord Ouseley

LORD OUSELEY OF PECKHAM RYE or Herman Ouseley, as he prefers to be described has an enviable career record. 

And if ‘first’ was to become an official title Sir Herman Ouseley could claim another four to add to the unprecedented list achieved in his personal and professional life as a Black male in British society.

He was the first Black Race Equality Adviser in Local government in London Borough of Lambeth in 1978. The first Black Policy Advisor for Ethnic Minorities with the Greater London Council in 1981. The first Black Chief Executive in a local authority in England with the former Inner London Education Authority in 1988 and then as CEO of the London Borough of Lambeth in 1990 and the first Black Executive Chairman of the former Commission for Racial Equality.

Lord Ouseley impressive career spanned thirty years in local government covering different authorities, as well as experience in disciplines such as town planning, social care, community development, facilities and people management.

Hewas elevated to the peerage as Lord Ouseley of Peckham Rye in 2001 and currently utilizes his time purposefully between his reduced employment activities, his charitable work and his parliamentary responsibilities as an independent cross-bench peer, which, in the main, involves helping individuals who are having difficulties with institutions and championing causes which relate to providing opportunities for disadvantaged communities and eliminating inequalities and injustices.

He currently operates as a self-employed management consultant, with a varied portfolio, which includes a substantial amount of voluntary and charitable, non-remunerated activities.

What inspired or triggered your interest in your present career?

I have always drawn inspiration from my mother, who came from Guyana in 1956 (British Guiana then), who was a nurse but did several other jobs just to keep the family together and to meet her obligations in life as she saw it. Her enthusiasm created a desire in me to pursue a career in public service. This, I regarded, as a privilege and soon found that, the so called “public service ethos,” was a source of motivation to help others to meet their particular needs and to fulfill obligations to the communities and wider society being served.

What is your proudest achievement, and how do you regard failure?

My proudest achievement is to be acknowledged for doing a good job in whatever I do. I am always delighted with the personal satisfaction and pride whenever an individual meet me on the street or wherever and tell me how much they appreciate what I may have done for them (usually unknown to me), or how I may have inspired them and others, or that the contribution made by me to resolve any problem they were experiencing helped them to secure a satisfactory result. It provides me with enthusiasm to do more and to serve with pride. Equally, there are timely reminders when I have failed to live up to expectations and it can be quite humbling. Failure is a spur to do more and do better. Failure is not acceptable. Success can only be measured by the responses of the intended beneficiaries in public service provision.

Which political/prominent figure do you admire most for their vision or achievement?

It should not be a surprise to anyone to hear that in my lifetime that the most iconic, admirable and inspiring politician in my life has been Nelson Mandela. There can be no-one above him in my view. Meeting him was a remarkable experience in which, a truly great man made me, a mere non-entity, feel very special. That is the mark of his greatness. There are other politicians who I have found inspirational or have had the opportunity of working with and know they are genuine dedicated servants of the people. Among them are Andy Hawkins (Lewisham 1970/80s), Ken Livingstone, Paul Boateng,

Diane Abbott, Keith Vaz, Bernie Grant, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.

How would you explain your success, and how much is due to luck and how much to hard work?

My successes, such as they are, relied on being in the right place at the right time, being helped by other people, having a work ethic and always persevering in spite of obstacles, being lucky, being inspired by others and recognizing that you have to take personal responsibility for your actions and not get bogged down by looking to blame others for your failings. In my view, whilst there may always be good reasons to look elsewhere to attribute blame for failure, it is important to look at oneself thoroughly and examine weaknesses and scope for improvement, as well as the tactics for overcoming the barriers which exist or which will be put there by others to prevent you from succeeding.

What in your opinion is the most significant political milestone of the last decade, and will it change the future?

The most dramatic political milestones of the last decade have been the terrorist attacks in NY and London. It has made a huge impact in international relations with the so called “war on terrorism”, on domestic policing policies with a focus on “fundamental extremism” and how we see and trust other people, especially in how we have been conditioned to be suspicious of some other groups of people who are not like ourselves and represent a threat to our well-being.

What do you think is key to building a harmonious multi-cultural Britain?

I consider that formal education programmes through teaching and learning, bold political leadership and a less biased media are the key ingredients in building a harmonious multi-cultural Britain.

If you were able to introduce a law what would that be?

If I could successfully introduce a new law it would be to make the House of Lords predominantly democratically elected, thus being served with my P45 instantly.

The American people did not expect President Obama’s timely arrival; do you think such a surprise is possible for Britain within the next fifteen years?

In the present social and political climate and culture, I see little chance of an Obama type Prime Minister in Britain in the foreseeable future.

You are given £50,000 to spend half on a charitable cause(s) and half on yourself.  How would you spend it?

Any resources coming my way and not for me personally would be recycled to the charities that I am involved in. If I am to be cajoled into spending half on myself, a real treat would be, if it was affordable, would be to have all my friends and family treated to a personal concert performed by one of the great musical artists of my generation, Stevie Wonder. With £25,000 only, I would be lucky to get more than one tune out of him but what a treat!!!

Is there a goal that that you would yet like to achieve?

The fantasy goal that remains outstanding for me to achieve is a hole in one on a golf course but I will settle for playing a good round one day. More seriously, I very much yearn to see the youngsters and adults, who I mentor from time to time, go forward to realize their ambitions and achieve their goals in life.

What would you like to be remembered for?

I would like to be remembered for living the life I loved and loving the life I lived. I thoroughly enjoyed public serving, working with people on behalf of the people and enjoyed being loved by people who appreciated me for such an attribute.

Tell us something about you that we don’t know

What may come as a surprise for people who think they know me but do not know that I was a good pianist before I discovered football (much to my mother’s deep annoyance and regret), was a djay in bars and clubs in south London and the Kings Road, Chelsea, occasionally did jam sessions in clubs and famously jammed with Geno Washington at the Playboy Club in San Antonio, Ibiza a long time ago!!!!! For a guy from Peckham it’s what you might call “Luvvly Jubblee”!!

NOTE: Lord Ouseley was education was at the William Penn School in South London, near his home in Peckham, where he lived most of his life, after settling there in 1957, following his arrival in England from Guyana. He achieved his municipal management diploma after studies at Catford College in Lewisham, London, and has since been awarded 12 honorary degrees from Universities across England and Scotland in recognition of the quality of his considerable work and career achievements as a trailblazer, role model, leader and mentor. Herman is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel Management and was knighted in 1997 for services to local government and community relations.

After he stepped down as Chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality in 2000, Herman set up his own business, Different Realities Partnership, and undertook many assignments in the private, public and voluntary sectors with regard to institutional discrimination, organizational structural change, people management, community cohesion and equality treatment. Herman’s voluntary and charitable portfolio is extensive and has included being patron of dozens of local organizations, chair of a Housing Association and has set up or supported many community projects designed to meet pressing social and community needs. At present he is Chair of the PRESET educational and training trust, Chair of the Policy Institute for Ageing and Ethnicity, Council member of the Institute for Race Relations, Council member of The Football Association, Trustee of the Manchester United Foundation and has Chaired KICK IT OUT (the national campaign to kick racism out of football) since its formation in 1993/4.

He also devotes much of his time voluntarily in providing personal and professional advice and mentoring for individuals and is involved in inspirational and motivational speech-making at schools, colleges and for staff groups in the workplace. When he finds the odd moments for himself, he remembers that he has an extended family who value his existence and presence as well as many trusted and lovable friends, who provide support and inspiration.