KATE MYERS TALKS TO GERRY DAVIS
GERRY DAVIS, 49, has been chief executive of Harlesden City Challenge for the past four-and-a-half years where he is responsible for managing the regeneration of Harlesden, Park Royal and Stonebridge in Brent, north London
HOW DID YOU GET TO WHERE YOU ARE?
I lived in St Vincent, in the West Indies, until I was 11 and was then educated at North Paddington School. I left school at 16, half way through A-levels, and went to work as a chemist at the Atomic Energy Authority. I realised that I really wanted to work with people and did the ordinary national certificate through day release which qualified me for teacher training.
My first job was teaching PE. When I was 26 I became head of year in a school in Tottenham and there began to see how many black kids were failed by the system and how black parents were alienated from schools.
One example I remember is that West Indian parents were thought not to care about their children's education because they did not turn up to parents' evenings. But the barrier was the way the evenings were organised. As soon as we changed the system we increased turn-out from 30 to 90 per cent. Also teachers were criticised for being racist because more Caribbean kids were excluded than white kids - but the fact that the Caribbean parents insisted on attendance whereas the white disaffected kids were more likely to truant was also a contributory factor.
I was then seconded into the Haringey multicultural curriculum support group to help set it up but I stayed there for two-and-a-half years and did an MA.
In 1980 I became the adviser for multicultural education in Brent, then moved on to be district inspector in Tower Hamlets where I saw even more closely what poverty and sheer overt racism are about. It was very painful personally.
In 1988 I returned to Brent as deputy director of education. By this time everyone was saying that I would be the first black director of education. But I was getting fed up with being the first black anything and, anyway, I thought the deputy's job was much more satisfying.
I went to see the chief executive to ask his advice - he asked me if I would be prepared to be seconded to HCC to set up the action plan and get the company off the ground. It turned out to be everything I wanted from a job.
WHAT IS THE MOST IMPORTANT ASPECT OF YOUR JOB?
I've always felt a responsibility to help to improve life for black people. My particular concern at the moment is the long-term unemployed, especially black males.
WHAT DO YOU ENJOY?
As a teenager I lived about 100 yards from my present office. So I am spending a budget of Pounds 37.5 million on improving my "home town". I particularly like meeting with community organisations with inklings of an idea and helping them to realise it. I like encouraging the dreamers to dream even bigger. You cannot do that if you are a director of education.
WHAT DON'T YOU ENJOY?
Some of the frustrations which arise out of Treasury bureaucracy.
WHAT WAS DIFFERENT FROM WHAT YOU EXPECTED?
How much I would love the job.
WHO INSPIRED YOU AND INFLUENCED YOUR APPROACH?
My old chemistry teacher, George Spinoza. When I became a teacher I always wanted to be like him, a "total teacher" where the subject is the medium for educating the person. Mike Stoten, who was director of education in Brent, taught me about managing systems and enabled me to get on with my job. Daphne Gould, who was a head in Tower Hamlets, and who showed how her school could add value to all children, reinforced for me the stupidity of selection.
WHAT KEEPS YOU SANE?
I work out regularly, have a very supportive wife and Suni Patel my PA. I have the capacity not to worry about things I have no actual control over.
WHO ARE YOUR HEROESWHO DO YOU ADMIRE?
First my uncle, Ebenezer Theodore Joshua, who was a chief minister of St Vincent for a long time. I lived with him for a year when I was a child and he was the first politician I met who had a passion and dedication to improve the lives of people who others choose to forget.
Second, Don Borham who was captain of the 93rd Boys Brigade Company in Harlesden when I was growing up. He created opportunities for me to learn self-reliance and discipline while, at the same time, being part of a team. The time I spent with him was the only time in my life in England I have been in a mixed-race group and been aware of a sense of brother-hood without any racial affiliations.
GYM AND TONIC
6.00 Get up
7.00 Go to gym for work out
9.00 Deal with in-tray
10.00 Start writing annual report
1.00 Lunch with colleagues
2.00 Meeting with project staff to discuss development of one initiative
2.30 Meeting with PA
3.30 Meeting with potential project proposer
4.30 Visit a project to see it in action
6.30 Dinner with a headteacher