Suzanne Munday our fourth guest blogger is clear, “we have to learn from what has worked and be honest enough to acknowledge what hasn’t so that we take forward the ‘best’ into the post COVID recovery period.”
Does this situation sound familiar to you? There is a global pandemic raging and turning everything we know on its’ head. Government advice is to stay put, not to travel either for work or leisure, to self-isolate if you catch the virus, to wash your hands frequently, to cut yourself off from family and friends to protect those nearest and dearest to you…..these are all things that we have become intimately familiar with for very good reasons.
But what if you come from a community that has travelling in its’ very DNA and summer is the time when you traditionally go on the road? When you rely on being able to move about for work and to generate enough income to support your family for the rest of the year. When your accommodation isn’t big enough to enable someone to self-isolate. When your cooking and washing facilities are in a separate amenity block.
And it gets worse. For families who are ‘living’ roadside or on land with no access to running water and sanitation but for public health reasons, are required to stay put.
Yet, daily life still has to go on. Families have to be fed, children have to be schooled and amused, homes have to be tended and elderly friends and neighbors looked in on.
Financial and food insecurity, fuel poverty, poorer mental health and wellbeing, digital exclusion and lower literacy levels, disruption to vital support services for individuals and racism. These are just some of the issues that MECOPP’s Gypsy/Traveller Team and partners have had to deal with and work with the community to find solutions to. All of this within a fast changing environment that often leaves you running to catch up. And don’t forget – you still have your ‘day’ job. Community and individual need pre-COVID 19 do not just go away!
“I’m on my own with my child, I’m a carer and it’s hard going at the best of times. My child’s dad hasn’t been able to work so he can’t give me any money to help out. Mecopp applied for a grant for me and it helped me out so much, I could get the wee ones clothes and other things he needed. They also got me some food from the foodbank, to be honest I’ve never used a foodbank before and I was embarrassed to death about it and I wouldn’t want anyone knowing, but the worker picked it up for me and brought it to me.”
So how have we adapted and responded as a team to the very real challenges brought on us by COVID-19?
Like many of you, we have moved to remote and digital working. We have set up new services with Scottish Government funding to support the community through the pandemic focusing on financial resilience and emotional health and wellbeing. Welfare benefit applications, access to crisis grants, hardship funds and other sources of financial help, referrals to community food banks and other forms of practical support have become our daily focus. Our telephone support service is supplemented by weekly ‘welfare’ calls undertaken by individual team members. We have consolidated our existing partnerships and forged new relationships which will have lasting benefit. We have learnt new skills, particularly around social media and have worked with partners to create a dedicated Facebook page for the Gypsy/Traveller community:
We have become script writers for information videos, voice-over artists and designers for promotional materials to help get key messages across in an accessible way. We are learning to work in more creative and flexible ways supported by our funders.
And in the midst of all this, we have found time to celebrate Gypsy, Roma, Traveller History Month and Carers Week! Together with partners, we delivered a ‘virtual’ programme of activities including films, pod casts, photo exhibitions, story boards and much more. If there is a ‘silver lining’ to be had, then this is it – our ‘reach’ for the online version of GRTHM has far exceeded what we would have achieved if we had delivered ‘actual’ events. 360,874 hits so far and on course for 400,000!
So where next? It has been fantastic that so many organisations have worked together to support one of Scotland’s most marginalized communities through the pandemic but the question we should all be asking is ‘what happens now’? How do we not only consolidate the gains that have been made but build on them for future sustainability?
This is what I think…….we have to learn from what has worked and be honest enough to acknowledge what hasn’t so that we take forward the ‘best’ into the post COVID recovery period. We need to ensure that Gypsy/Traveller men who are self-employed benefit equally from small business support initiatives. We need to support young Gypsy/Travellers to resume their education and build their aspirations for the future. There must be a continuing focus on mental health and wellbeing to build personal resilience. We need to eradicate food insecurity and fuel poverty. Services that have been suspended must be reinstated and not ‘lost’ in the local authority funding maelstrom to come. And, the joint Scottish Government/COSLA National Action Plan must be extended beyond its current lifespan recognizing the wholesale disruption to planning and implementation brought about by COVID-19. Most of all, we must continue to listen to and involve the community in every aspect going forward.
Suzanne Munday, Gypsy/Traveller Programme Manager, MECOPP Carers Centre
Tel: 0131 467 2994, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, Web: http://www.mecopp.org.uk/