Interview with Oladapo Awosokanre


Interview with Oladapo Awosokanre from the Community African Network

Oladapo Awosokanre, Community African Network, talks to Veryan Wilkie-Jones, Hackney CVS Programmes Manager about working and living in Hackney.

Q: Tell us about Community African Network and the work you do?

CAN is an umbrella organisation created in 2016 with a group of 6 African-led Hackney charities as a Hackney CVS project who provided the encouragement and support. The aim was to collaborate and form a strong voice for the African community in the borough, with a primary focus on advocacy, health outcomes, and developing culturally appropriate services. We wanted to communicate to our communities about the health issues that affect them using local languages, and offer support in a variety of ways including befriending, writing letters, and attending appointments with community members. We also provide free space for our members to have meetings and use our office facilities.

In order to make connections with community members we do a lot of outreach which involves going to places where people of African heritage gather such as hair salons, churches and mosques in order to engage them in conversations about health and provide information.

At the beginning one of the first projects we worked on was on breast cancer. We received another funding from the Hackney Council via Hackney CVS to provide information and signpost services to the Black community. We were then awarded additional funding from the Council for sexual health which involved distributing free condoms.

My initial role at Hackney CVS was to find a way to make CAN sustainable as an organisation and to raise essential funds. I then moved over to a role within CAN and the charity became independent in 2019 when it was registered as a Limited by Guarantee with Companies House. The number of African-led Hackney charities in the network has since more than doubled to 15 now.


Q: What do you enjoy most about your role?

As the programmes manager for CAN (and one of two part-time staff members), I oversee all the projects and fundraising, as well as providing capacity building support for our members, and I manage the office – I wear many hats! I enjoy the opportunities to engage with members of the community and facilitating outreach events. I also enjoy supporting member organisations by helping them to fundraise and providing guidance on organisational development. It’s more than a job to me – it’s a passion.


Q: Why is promoting health screening so important for the African community?

I believe it’s really important because there are some issues that affect the African community disproportionally such as diabetes, some types of cancer (bowel, cervical, breast, and prostate).  There are also problems around obesity. We have translated literature on some of these issues into African languages – Swahili, French, Portuguese, Luganda and Tigrigna. We have also had funding from the ICB (initially with CCG) since 2018 on increasing bowel cancer screening uptake within the African and Caribbean community in Hackney by engaging patients through GP surgeries. This project has been very successful. We recruited a team of volunteers to phone patients, speaking to them in local languages to encourage them to use the bowel cancer screening kit by explaining the risks of not testing. Over the years we have seen an uptake of almost 30% since our engagement.

We know that people in our community will listen to trusted leaders so it’s important for us to engage with spiritual leaders who will then help convince our communities. During Covid we organised in March 2021 a huge online meeting with trusted community leaders, the director of Public Health, the Mayor of Hackney and 100 community members to discuss issues around having the vaccine. Part of the meeting involved breakout groups in 5 languages! Following the meeting, we were able to facilitate 12 Covid community clinics which helped significantly the uptake of the vaccine.


Q: What led you to give a talk at our Well St Common Neighbourhood Forum recently and do you feel it benefitted your work?

I was invited to give a talk at the forum on barriers to health screening in the African community by Polly Mann at Wick Award. I have known Polly for years as I live in Hackney Wick, and I have been on the Wick Award funding panel for around 5 years. Polly was keen for me to speak about the issues around barriers, and it was a great opportunity to talk about what CAN does in the community in Hackney. Since the forum, I’ve had 6 invitations to speak at other events about our work and barriers affecting the black community, and we are now working with Public Health. It’s been a fantastic networking opportunity. By providing insights it also helped us reach residents in a culturally appropriate way. I think the forums are a very good initiative to bring the community together, and there is a lot of diversity. There is a need however to include more of the younger generation.

Q: What do you love about working in Hackney?

I’ve been living in Hackney for almost 20 years – so I was not born here but I was definitely bred here. It’s a diverse borough and there is a growing black community, especially African. Hackney is my home, everything is here for me – my church, good food and great places to relax. I am very active in the community because of my work and also in my personal life. My children (I have 2 daughters) have learned a lot, grown in confidence and become inspired to get involved themselves.


Q: Can you tell us about any future projects coming up?

We have a new project on bowel cancer and have just completed training for 14 volunteers who will go into GP surgeries to engage with patients over 56, speaking to them in local languages, to encourage them to return their bowel cancer kit. We are really excited about the project and hope to have a significant impact.


Q: One last thing – how can people get involved with CAN?

Get in touch with us if you’d like to volunteer or use our services, the CAN office is open Monday to Friday. Just pop in or give us a call any time.