Franstine Jones: ‘I decided to become a voice for people like myself’
- Credit: Charlotte Bond
As another Black History Month draws to a close, it’s important to look at the members of the local Black community and reflect on the amazing impact they have made – and are continuing to make – here in Suffolk.
And one local woman has been at the forefront of helping stamp out racial injustice and inequality for decades now.
Meet Franstine Jones. Ipswich born and bred, she has dedicated her life to helping improve the lives of the Black community here in the region.
And after working her way up in various retail jobs after leaving school, Franstine eventually joined the police force – later going on to become the first female president of the National Black Police Association, among other roles within the force.
She also heads up BInspyred - an organisation she founded that provides equality training, as well as coaching and mentoring for those from Black, Asian, and other ethnic minority backgrounds.
But as she continues to strive for equality in a time where Black Lives Matter is at the forefront of everyone’s minds, she herself admits there’s still a long way to go after facing prejudice herself throughout her life.
But in order to get to know Franstine and understand the journey she’s been on, it’s best to start at the beginning.
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Franstine was born in Ipswich to parents Jeremiah and Gwendolyn Limerick, who had arrived in Britain from Antigua in the 1950s during the Windrush generation.
Her parents chose Ipswich as her father’s cousin was already living here – and moving to be near familiar faces just made sense for the Limericks.
“The plan was originally to emigrate to England temporarily and go back after a few years. They chose to come to England because after the war ended, people from the Caribbean and other Commonwealth countries were asked to come over and build the country back up, filling those jobs that people here didn’t want to do. And people like my parents answered the call,” she explains.
“Growing up in the 60s and 70s, life for me was about mum and dad working hard to provide for us children, and my siblings who were still in the Caribbean.
“My mum worked nights so she could look after us during the day, while my dad worked all day – but they were always around for us.”
And it was seeing how hard her parents worked that gave her the values she still holds today.
Franstine - who attended St Matthews Primary School, Tower Ramparts School (until it was demolished in 1979), and Stoke High School - has fond memories of her time in education.
And it wasn’t until she left school that she realised some people viewed her differently purely because of the colour of her skin.
“I was very naïve, and I didn’t know anything about race until I left school at 16. That’s when I discovered my difference meant something.
“It was in the workplace when I first noticed. There would be little comments that made me go ‘Oh’. I remember I went to work for Primark, and the manager said to me ‘You’re the first Black person who’s worked here. And when I worked at Tesco, I worked my way up to supervisor and I was the first Black supervisor they’d ever had. I had people come in from the local community and say ‘well done’, and that’s when I began to realise it wasn’t normal.”
Following a stint in retail that she balanced alongside raising her children, Franstine felt she’d done all she could do, and wanted to further her ambitions.
“Even from a very early age, one of my biggest and strongest values has been about fairness. I don’t like to see unfairness, and it really stirred up feelings in me when I saw somebody being bullied or upset. I’d always want to see if I could help, and if I found out the problem and it was something I could help with, it gave me real satisfaction to see how helping them made them feel.”
Fuelled by her caring and empathetic nature, Franstine kickstarted her career with roles at the Benefits Agency and later Suffolk County Council before going for a job within Suffolk Constabulary’s diversity unit.
“I decided to became a voice for people like myself. After seeing how defensive the police could be, I thought to myself there’s a lot of work that needs to be done with this organisation, to get them to understand what it was like for the Black community in Suffolk, predominantly in Ipswich.”
Franstine’s role saw her work closely with officers, helping them think about the things they needed to consider when working with different communities, as well as helping recruit a more diverse force.
“I can often remember my manager telling me that by working in the organisation, I was able to act as a conduit for better community relations, as people knew me and what I stood for. People would come to me and say they’ve got this problem or that problem, or ‘Should I go to the police?’ because there’s a lack of trust and confidence. Often, people think if they’re victims, they themselves will get in trouble because they’ve reported something.”
As well as working within diversity, one of the many other roles that Franstine juggles is chair of the Stop and Search Reference Group in Suffolk – a community-led independent body that offers an impartial view on the use of stop and search across the county, aiming to ensure that it is used proportionately and appropriately.
It is this role that enables Franstine to encourage the Black community in Suffolk to come forward and talk to the police, in order to find out how the policing process works.
“I want people to be able to ask questions they’ve always wanted to ask, but didn’t know how or even if you could ask them. The Stop and Search Reference Group has a good relationship with Suffolk Police as we’re not there to hit them over the head with a hammer – we're there to help them deliver a service by using their powers in a fair way, as well as help them understand the community.”
And it was during her time while working in the police’s diversity unit that Franstine was elected as the first female president of the National Black Police Association in 2013 – beating out a number of senior male contemporaries who hailed from much larger and more urban forces.
Upon election, she was invited with other senior officials and CEOs to a roundtable with David Cameron at 10 Downing Street, to discuss how to remove bias from the recruitment process.
Shortly after, she was also invited by Home Secretary Theresa May to another roundtable of senior police officers and community representatives to discuss diversity within policing, recruitment, and the retention and progression of Black and minority officers – specifically the use of equalities legislation to ensure a more diverse police force.
And Franstine admits that her time as president was an eye-opening experience, to say the least.
“I was really shocked at how many officers had brought cases of race discrimination to employment tribunals. And in those cases where it was found that discrimination did take place, nothing would ever happen to the officers that were responsible. If anything, they’d be promoted further down the line into higher positions.
“It’s been a really hard, long road with the police when it comes to race equality, and addressing it and the disproportionate police powers on Black people. And I’m not talking about individuals in the organisation, I’m talking about the organisation itself which has a culture that protects itself.”
And it is this aforementioned discrimination and harmful stereotyping that Franstine herself has unfortunately been on the receiving end of throughout her time in the force.
“That’s been my biggest battle, and I’m fed up of being stereotyped as an angry, aggressive, intimidating Black woman. If I’m passionate about something, as I am with equality and diversity, I will show that same passion as when I fear something wrong is done.
“Every day, people who don’t know me and how passionate I am about fairness, equality, justice and inclusion all conform to this harmful stereotype because I talk loudly, gesticulate with my hands and the tone of my voice is so strong. It’s certainly had the biggest impact on me because it’s caused me to be discriminated against and treated differently.”
And one particular exchange at work has stuck with Franstine, even to this day.
“I noticed this one officer was feeling uncomfortable around me, and he always came across as nervous whenever he had to report on race. One day he was leading on an operation around taxi drivers being subjected to hate crimes and he kept looking at me and felt nervous.
“It bothered me, so at the end of the day, a superintendent was walking past me so I asked him if I could ask him something. Before I asked my question, he quipped ‘Oh, I’d better put my bulletproof vest on,’ to which I replied ‘You’ve answered my question’.
“I often get comments like ‘Here comes trouble’, and I always ask them what they’re basing that on. They say they’re only joking, but I find it offensive, and eventually those little throwaway comments wear you down over time. In my experience, do I think I’m stereotyped as an angry Black woman the majority of the time? Yes, I do. And it’s worrying because if a Black woman is frightened that someone is stalking or harassing her, what level of service would she get from the police? Would she be believed, or would she be passed off as being hysterical?”
Franstine understands that the fight against prejudice and discrimination is far from over – and she continues to strive for justice in all fields, which is why for the past few years she has been focussing her time on helping lift up and advance the young Black generation here in Suffolk, alongside the police work that she does.
“I’m incredibly thankful for my experience of being president of the National Black Police Association. It’s the opportunities I was afforded in that position that I realised because Black people often aren’t in those spaces, it’s why we’re so underrepresented in so many areas and organisations. So it’s up to us to create those spaces, and do that work ourselves.”
Passionate about helping young Black and ethnic minority people realise their potential to become the next generation of leaders, she set up BInspyred.
“By mentoring young people, especially young Black boys, I want them to reach their potential and also consider other options, rather than the stereotypical options that might be put in front of them. For example, my son was good at science, but his teachers thought he’d make a good PE teacher? Why is that? Why not a chemist, or a doctor, or a scientist? Because he’s Black and can run fast?
“I want these young people to broaden their horizons. You look at all of the sectors like the water industry, and the environmental industry, and we’re just not represented there - but these are the industries of the future. They’re going to play a bigger part in society over the years, and I don’t think anybody would tell them ‘Have you thought about looking at climate change?’ because we’re not there yet in those spaces.”
To help combat this, Franstine has recently developed a leadership programme which she is hoping to launch shortly.
“I've got all of the modules sorted, it’s just a case of finding the time to put meat to the bones and set it up. They have a lot of these programmes in the big urban areas and I’ve seen them in action, and I thought how much I’d love to bring something like that here to Suffolk.”
Franstine is also part of the Suffolk Black Community Forum where she leads on criminal justice, Aspire Black Suffolk, and Suffolk University where she mentors students from Black and minority ethnic backgrounds.
“And since lockdown has lifted, I volunteer at a youth club every Wednesday called ACYCLE, which stands for African and Caribbean and dual heritage Youth Creative Learning Experience.”
Following the closure of the Ipswich Caribbean Association, ACYCLE was established in order to improve the confidence, identity, self-esteem and attainment of African, Caribbean and dual heritage schoolchildren between the ages of five and 11.
“These young people start off as these quiet, shy children, and each week you can see their confidence grow. You seem the stand a bit taller, their chests puffed out a bit more, and you see them come out of their comfort zones and try new things. It’s so rewarding to see – I love it.
“As a Black woman in Suffolk, I’m just trying to do what I can, and if I can bring other people along with me then I will. It’s important to me that I raise awareness around the sort of opportunities and community work that is available, as a lot of people from our community don’t know these things are happening, and having access to them is more important than ever,” she adds.
To find out more about Franstine and the work she’s doing, visit binspyred.co.uk