This time feels different. People are tired, burnt out, it is winter and nobody really knows when this will end. We want to be able to look beyond the short term…
I am writing this on ‘Blue Monday’ – apparently the most depressing day of the year, supposedly based on factors including the weather, post-Christmas debt, the long haul to next Christmas and the fallout of new year’s resolutions.
Add in the pandemic and surely we have moved further down the Covid-inspired rainbow into a darker shade of indigo.
Many people in Scotland are finding this second lockdown harder than the first. Families supported by Multicultural Family Base before the first lockdown were already struggling with issues relating to poor housing, food poverty, low income, domestic violence, mental health difficulties and social isolation. The arrival of COVID-19 magnified these problems as many families, previously employed by the gig economy lost their incomes, were unable to access the usual support and missed social interaction with friends and family. There was, however, a certain level of acceptance and a huge amount of resilience shown by many people during the first lockdown.
Dayna Mehrdad runs our 4 Corners project at MCFB, which works with socially isolated minority ethnic children in schools and in the community, using football and other activities to help build confidence, develop strategies for communication and make friendships. She tells me: “During the first lockdown, it felt like parents were running on adrenaline. There was a general sense that this was going to end in the not-too-distant future. This time feels different. People are tired, burnt out, it is winter and nobody really knows when this will end. We want to be able to look beyond the short term of dealing with immediate needs and think longer term in terms of how to help families rebuild and recover.”
MCFB has a long track record (23 years) of supporting vulnerable and disadvantaged minority ethnic families in Edinburgh. We are aware of the extent of need. We are even more aware of the different barriers that exist that prevent minority ethnic families from accessing mainstream services and support, which include language barriers, racism, immigration status and lack of knowledge of mainstream services, such as housing, employment support and schools. Our role has always been to break down these barriers, advocate on behalf of individuals and empower them to stand on their own two feet.
Adapt and change – quickly
One of the babies in this group, it turned out, had never seen another baby before
If there is one thing we have learned from this crisis, it is that you need to be prepared to adapt and respond quickly to ever-changing rules and circumstances. During the first lockdown this meant moving all of our support online.
As restrictions for meeting people were lifted in the latter half of 2020, we were quick to pounce on the opportunity to run small socially distanced outdoor groups for children and young people, repurposing part of our car park as a play area and offering socially distanced meetings outside for isolated parents. We even managed to hold our first mother and baby group in a physical space for 6 months, thanks to staff at Duncan Place Resource Centre, who provided a safe space with all the safety measures in place.
One of the babies in this group, it turned out, had never seen another baby before and as he lay on the floor and looked around him, he appeared fascinated to see that there were actually others like him and his mum in this world!
Overcoming isolation with online and offline support
Parents whose children are now learning from home yet again tell us they are struggling to live within close confines. We are offering a new online group for parents where they can unwind and talk to other parents, something we hope will help put family life and conflicts into perspective. Throughout lockdown we have been running weekly classes for Arabic speaking refugee men, preparing for them for their driving theory test. One candidate has already passed and others are preparing take the exam (in English) soon.
If we are successful in receiving further funding, including from Leith Chooses, we will be able to support families by providing food vouchers, activity packs and workshops to tackle social isolation and food poverty, the main themes of Leith Chooses 2021. We hope by summer to be offering gardening sessions in partnership with Leith Community Crops in Pots, outdoor sports (cycling and kayaking) in partnership with Bridge 8 Hub and in-person mother and baby groups. If this is not possible, we will continue to offer the kind of flexible support we already provide and to make use of partnerships to offer dance, arts and crafts and cooking workshops online. Flexibility will be key.
Our message to families is clear – stay safe and stay home. We will remain in regular contact with you, we are there for you and difficulties can be overcome. We hope that this will alleviate feelings of isolation and enable parents and children to process emotions and foster an increased sense of well-being.
Results of Leith Chooses funding event will be announced 16 February
Featured image: Painting and words by MCFB service user. Funding for art materials supplied by Foundation Scotland