Posted on 25 October 2021

In support and to raise awareness of Black History Month (BHM) and National Hate Crime Awareness Week (9-16 October), Leeds College of Building students had the opportunity to work with a visiting published author.

Bali Rai, an English author of Punjabi heritage, attended the College to speak to students about his books and promote writing for pleasure. The author uses unheard voices of Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic (BAME) communities from British and world history to create captivating fiction for children and young adults.

Born in Leicester in 1971, Bali grew up in a multi-racial community close to the city centre. Bali uses his experiences to talk about diversity, race, and prejudices. While at Leeds College of Building, Bali read excerpts from his published work to help nurture the creative writing skills of students studying Level 1 Plumbing, Plastering, Wall & Floor Tiling, and Brickwork alongside GCSE English.

Menna Bailey, head of English and ESOL at LCB stated that Bali’s experiences of growing up in a multicultural community really inspire our students, as many are from areas of substantial deprivation and struggle to find an anchor point for writing or creative work. LCB often uses relatable reference points such as films or gaming to help give them a bank of culture capital to draw from and find inspiration.

“By bringing in people like Bali and using topics that students can engage with, we are looking to bridge that gap and give learners the skills needed to be successful in English. Bali’s work is really accessible and relatable for students. His writing sparked fascinating debates about race, hate crimes, and diversity and generated some fantastic creative writing.”

According to the latest annual Home Office Hate Crime statistics released during National Hate Crime Awareness Week, 124,091* hate crimes were recorded in 2020/21, compared with 105,090 offences in 2019/20. The data show a 9% increase in offences and is the highest overall number since records began in 2011/12. As in previous years, racially motivated incidents were the highest ranked, standing at 74% of all recorded incidents.

Other topics, such as events at the UEFA European Championship and Leeds United F.C. were also used to engage students. Contrasting Daily Mail articles about white and BAME footballers were analysed, and race and bias were debated. By using more familiar channels and subject matter, students gained confidence about methods of text analysis.

“We are passionate about diversity at the College. The Construction industry is still a predominantly white, male sector, but thankfully this is changing. We’re implementing lots of strategies to help more ESOL and BAME students access rewarding careers in this field, from boosting foundation English language skills to supporting highly-qualified refugees and asylum seekers to re-train and fill vital skills gaps.”

Menna Bailey, head of English and ESOL at LCB

Students at LCB were delighted with Bali's visit. They felt as if they'd been inspired through giving them a real insight on why the topic's they're taught in the classroom are so important. 

After the visit, Leeds College of Building Brickwork student, Kayden, was even inspired to read a book for the first time since primary school: "It made me want to go and get a book out because that's what I need to do to improve my English. I thought the way he read part of his book to us made it come to life. It made me realise what we do in the classroom is actually important."

Author Bali Rai said:

"I believe passionately in the power of reading, and was delighted to work with LCB students again. Reading and good literacy go together. No matter what your chosen career path, literacy is the foundation for success. It was also a pleasure to debate diversity and representation with the students - a lively and challenging conversation, which I enjoyed. Sharing views is important, and we can only move forward as a society if we talk, discuss and consider each other's views without judgement. I look forward to my next visit!"


Bali will be returning to Leeds College of Building in 2022 to continue this educational programme with more students.