Erinma Bell Image

Erinma Bell

Non-executive, Associate, Board Member,

Erinma Bell (Non-Executive Director - President) Interview – August 2023

Prof Erinma Bell MBE is the sort of woman that makes you groan. Half of a duo that raised eight children, Erinma makes all her own clothes, is the Labour Councillor for Moss Side, Deputy Lieutenant for Greater Manchester and is the only living woman to have her statue in Manchester Town Hall. Oh, and she is also President of Lloyd-Davies Associates. I have two dogs, some half-healthy houseplants, and a Netflix subscription. Groan. 

Erinma is co-founder of Carisma, the front-line community company  that is responsible for transforming the “gunchester” image of Manchester, and that has since gone on to champion the interests of young people across the city. 

Erinma’s journey as a community peace-activist began one late, cold December evening in 1999 when she, and her husband Raymond, witnessed a close friend gunned down in Moss Side. Erinma spent forty-five minutes keeping her friend alive whilst waiting for an ambulance. That was the night Ernima said “enough is enough ''. 

Interviewed by Lesley Lomax August  2023

Erinma, it’s been over two decades since that December evening. What I want to ask you is who was Erinma Bell before that night in 1999?

“I was a mother. Eight children altogether - five birth children to my husband, but eight of them all together, seven boys and one girl. I was also a staff development and training manager, training senior managers how to do their jobs better When we moved back to Manchester, funding fell through for the charity I was working for so I started working as a freelance consultant”

How did you get into making your own clothes? And have you ever thought about having your own fashion label?

“I've always made clothes for the children. Fashion is my passion. I've been sewing since the age of about nine. I’m mainly self-taught but I used to watch my mum a lot because my mum sold a lot of her sewing. It was her passion; she ran her own business. And she worked for the city council as well, she was a silver service chef. At home she cooked everything from scratch. I mean, we were a family that could never go out to buy fish and chips”.

“I thought about having a fashion-line too and it's something that I've tried to start so many times, but just never quite got there. I've even had a shop on Claremont Road in Moss Side, that was over twenty years ago though. 

“I guess both my parents were business people, especially my father. He was very astute in business, and I've always described him as a black version of Arthur Daily! He could definitely sell ice to Eskimos, he could sell anything, and he could source anything and everything. And this was before the days of internet, you'd always see him with the Yellow Pages”

So, you grew up with entrepreneurs?

“Oh yes, that’s what was around me as I grew up”.

Do you think your entrepreneurial personality and background is why you got involved in stopping gun crime after that night in December 1999?

“I can't say yes or no to that. Because if that were to happen again today, would I dive in there and stand in front of the shooters and say, “stop shooting”. Probably not. But then yes, because I know that I'm a very action orientated, focused person - I’m a doer. And I think we were brought up to give charity, and to pay homage too; it's what my mum and dad always did”.

“And I think back then, it was a case of I didn't think about it, then when you look back, it was fight or flight. And I decided to stand and fight, it was an instinct thing, that what was happening was not right. I did stand up for what was right, and I think that's what it was about back then. 

During that period, were you ever concerned about going up against gun violence and gang culture? 

“No, I wasn't afraid of going up against it. Because I was born and brought up in Moss Side, so most people knew me. Even the people that were involved, they were our peers. I knew them as in “oh, my God, we went to school with him”. It just didn't make any sense. It wasn't something that you were afraid of, per se, because it's your neighbourhood, it's your set of people, so you're not afraid of your people. Instead, you just try to understand why.”

And out of all this came your charity, Carisma. From what I've read, Carisma was based on local people owning the gun problem themselves, and the concrete action to solve it. You created a platform where those people could speak for themselves and tell their own story. Do you think that's at the heart of communities coming together? 

“Absolutely. Because back then, why Carisma ended up being formed was because I was one of those that was speaking out to the media – ‘I’ll tell you what I think about the shooting, it's bloody disgusting. It's awful. It's terrible and it shouldn't be happening, people need to stop this’. And then what I found was on the one hand, we had threats. We were threatened not to speak to the police, not to speak to the media, my children were threatened. But then on the other hand, you had people that were saying - "I really agree with what you are saying in the media, I really agree with what you've said in the paper, I will stand by you.”

“So, in my head, I was thinking - well, if you want to stand by me, it's all very well telling me on a one to one, now let's do that in public. Because like I said, I'm very action orientated so it became about building that platform for people to be able to visually show that they were saying, ‘enough is enough’, but doing it practically, in a physical but in a peaceful way. There were loads of us thinking the same, so let's take that ground swell, so that people will listen to us, rather than picking us off one by one, talking to individuals”.

Bringing this more to today, how do you inspire younger people to get involved in their communities and take responsibility and ownership?

“Well, it's twofold. People need to have that sense of belonging first and foremost, because everybody wants to belong to something. So, it's about providing that sense of ownership that you do belong here. This is for you. Providing that to our young people, letting them know that this community, this city that we're in, this is your city, this is for you. The jobs of tomorrow are your jobs, they're not my jobs. All we can do is guide you, this is what we say to young people when we go into the schools, all we can do is guide you -  because we've done it, seen it, worn the t-shirt, sent the postcard, we know exactly the road you could walk, and we know the road that you should not walk. So, it becomes about getting people to have that sense of belonging and ownership. And then there's giving people the opportunity to be able to be who they are within their communities as well. It’s not just about opening a door, it's not just about showing people a window of opportunity, it's about opening that door of opportunities that people can go through. And that's what people need today”. 

So, part of what you do today is giving people a positive alternative. Do you see starting their own business as one of those alternatives?

“Absolutely. Even way back in the day, those young people that were on the street corner selling drugs. They were businessmen - accountant, recruiting people, personnel manager, salespeople. Now let's direct that energy and skill into what we older ones will call, something positive. And that's what we mean by providing them with positive alternatives. Taking what they are good at and showing them a different way to use it. We are not trying to turn people into something else - it’s about drawing on and recognising the skills that they have, and not writing them off.”

“When we were 14 or 15, did we know what we wanted to be in life? We didn't have a clue. We didn't know we could be at university. That wasn't for us. You know, some of us couldn’t even spell ‘university’. So that's what we mean about providing positive alternatives, taking young people and adults into different spaces, physical spaces that they wouldn't normally go into because they perceive it's not for them. But we (Charisma) hold events at places like Manchester University because once you walk through those doors, you see it is just a building.”

“If you come across young people who might believe that being an entrepreneur or business person is impossible because of who they are or where they are in life, what kind of things would you say to them? Everything is possible. The only thing that holds you back is yourself, the only person that holds you back is yourself. I was brought up with ‘if at first you don't succeed, you try and try again’. And ‘there is no such word as can’t’. And, if you really think that is true, it becomes true. You might meet barriers or something that you don't quite understand, but there's somebody else who does understand it. So, you should always ask - and the knowledge will be given to you. There's always a way when there's a will. I've helped young people in the past to set up their businesses or go to university”. 

So Erinma, how did you become President of Lloyd-Davies Associates?

“Well, LDA, what they're striving to achieve, encouraging people to set up their own businesses, and encouraging people to learn how to set up their own businesses, that's what I know a lot of people want to understand, so it fits perfectly with what we want to help people do”. 

And do you think LDA has the potential to be a global force for good, perhaps within the African diaspora?

“Yes definitely, because worldwide there are a lot of people, as we learned during lockdown, who want to learn about reemployment skills or how to set up a business, and they do look towards the west, to the UK to learn that. And, if we engage with them online, be connected with a global world, we can work internationally”.


Innovation Time

Book an initial 30-minute conversation with a Lloyd-Davies Associate

Select a time