For many of us, wrestling with the challenges of Covid-19, 2020 was a year of confinement – of not being able to live our true lives. For our colleague, Besham Singh, however, 2020 was a year of liberation – of escape from a lifetime of fear and lies and the chance to begin again, in the UK and with Serco.
Besham first realised he was gay at the age of four. However, born into a fiercely heteronormative society on the Caribbean islands of Trinidad and Tobago, he existed in constant fear and isolation.
“I had to live a lie – at work, at home, everywhere – trapped in a world of homophobia, discrimination, abuse and exposure to LGBT+ hate crimes. My mother told me, ‘if you are gay, consider your mother to be dead’.”
In October 2019, aged 24, Besham bought a plane ticket to London and left Trinidad and Tobago with no intention to return. He had decided to claim asylum in the UK.
“I had an overwhelming need to see light at the end of the tunnel. My life depended on it.”
He arrived at Gatwick Airport and immediately declared his wish to claim asylum. For the next four months he travelled through the UK asylum process, and it was during this time that he first encountered Serco.
I will always associate Serco with feeling safe, secure and supported. They transported me from London to asylum accommodation in Liverpool and then Bolton. While the government provided a weekly allowance, Serco took care of all my other needs. I found the whole process well designed, caring and thoughtful. My Serco housing officer was fantastic. She gave me a warm welcome and made sure I had everything I needed for every step in my journey – always checking to see if I was ok. My wellbeing was her priority – nothing was too much trouble.
I will always associate Serco with feeling safe, secure and supported
Besham was granted asylum in February 2020. That was the end of his journey to the UK, but only the beginning of his journey with Serco.
Besham immediately started looking for work. He registered with a recruitment agency and gladly accepted the first assignment offered. Only at his interview for the role did he discover that the employer was none other than Serco.
“That was very comforting. There could be no better employer to work for – an organisation whose whole purpose is to help people in need. Working for Serco is my way of giving back to the company whose support meant so much to me when I first arrived in this country.”
Based in Serco Citizen Services, supporting the UK Department for Work and Pensions, Besham quickly worked his way up into a permanent managerial role, drawing on 6 years previous managerial experience in retail.
“It truly is a different world. This is the first time in my life that I can be myself; the first time I can be proud of myself. There is no discrimination. I made it known that I am gay, and I have developed a good circle of work friends. This is something I never had before, when even my own team treated me like an outcast. I couldn’t let people into my life.”
Besham’s experience has changed his approach as a line manager:
“Serco put a lot of effort into their people and I want to do the same for my team. I like to see people move up and make something of themselves, and Serco is rich in equal opportunities for people to grow. There is so much you can do and become, working for this company.”
In November 2020, Besham saw an advertisement for the role of Co-Chair for In@Serco, our network for LGBT+ colleagues and their allies.
“I thought, ‘This is destiny – you don’t get an opportunity like this every day’. I immediately saw that this could be a platform from which to help people not to be afraid of being themselves, so they can live and work to the full.”
Besham spoke to his line manager, who recognised it could be beneficial for him and was supportive of his application.
On Besham’s interview for the role, Ed Jervis, former Chair of In@Serco, comments: “There was an authenticity about his motivation to make a difference for the lives of LGBT+ people, based on his own lived experiences, that made it clear he has the potential to be a powerful driver of positive change.”
“People who bury themselves beneath a lifetime of lies are doing themselves great harm, even in self-defence. Sharing your experience is a way to heal yourself, and to help others heal themselves. People in Serco have said to me, ‘Your story is inspiring me to share my own’.”
For all his colleagues in Serco, for all members of the LGBT+ community and for anyone seeking asylum, Besham offers this advice:
“You are never at fault for choosing a better life. There is no shame in seeking help. It shows that you are strong. You should be praised for choosing to live – for choosing to be yourself.