A community support worker

Karen Okra is a community support worker of dual heritage who has lived in Hull all of her life. Growing up on an east Hull council estate she cared for her mother, who suffered from MS, and two younger siblings from the age of 10. This gave her the foundation and passion to pursue a role as a carer and community activist into adult life, challenging injustice and working to improve the health and wellbeing of communities, especially those in the most deprived areas of Hull.

Karen is a director of the Freedom Festival and supports several community organisations across the city, in roles that include acting as a community representative and advocate, event planning, consultation, fundraising, consultation and research. In particular, she is involved in identifying the challenges and needs of the community with the key focus on promoting and developing a good understanding between ethnic groups, intergenerational groups, people with disabilities and the wider community.

She is also developing her own artistic project based on the theme of Hull Identity, which aims to encourage groups and individuals across the city to explore and embrace identity through celebration of sport, art, culture and diversity, working in schools, communities and multi-cultural organisations and establishments such as the Wilberforce Institute of Slavery and Emancipation, and the Hull Black History Partnership.

Karen believes Hull’s year as UK City of Culture is an opportunity to reach communities through arts and culture to address some of the issues, negative attitudes and behaviours faced by many members of the community.

“I want to be a voice of the community. People’s voices have to be heard; they need to know their voices are important and that they will be listened to. People from all walks of life have to be part of City of Culture, without it being tokenistic. We need to meet people where they’re at, talk their talk and never judge anybody until we’ve walked in their shoes.”