We heard how Govan Community Projects are helping refugees and people seeking asylum adversely impacted by Covid-19.
Clients wellbeing has been significantly impacted by the lockdown, in particular stress caused by accommodation and asylum support issues, social isolation, food insecurity, access to ESOL and digital poverty making access to normal supports which have moved online extremely difficult, particularly for new arrivals. Many of our clients are reporting low mood, anxiety, distress and suicidal ideation.
We moved our services quickly to work remotely, offering online support for advice and advocacy to continue supporting asylum support applications and destitution grants, delivering food parcels to those self isolating, initially in partnership with Mears housing officers.
We have moved our food distribution from food parcels to supermarket vouchers, thanks to some emergency funding. This gives recipients more choice and control.
We run community social groups and a homework club and these have continued to meet online weekly, with some moving to twice weekly and workers providing ad hoc individual check-ins and support to some members when requested.
Our ESOL classes are also just about to restart via video classes.
We have been fortunate in obtaining various pots of emergency funding which has supported our food distribution, mobile phone top-ups, issuing activity packs to families and enabled us to start two new initiatives:
The main challenges we have encountered is that most of our services ran as a drop in. We were not able to contact all of our community members to make them aware of the changes to services once lockdown hit.
Due to the limited resources at our disposal, another challenge has been putting strict referral criteria in place, and only being able to offer support to those who are using our other services (regardless of postcode), or who live in the Greater Govan area.
The biggest challenge has been that of digital poverty/digital literacy. Many of our community members did not have the digital devices required to use zoom or other communication methods being used by online services. This also means they struggle to access up to date, relevant information on keeping safe and protecting themselves and others from Covid 19.
We also did not have the technical expertise within the team to set up mobile device management. However, we managed to get help from some IT volunteers through a new scheme Scottish Tech Army. We were matched with someone with the relevant expertise, and with emergency funding we were able to recruit a part-time staff member with the relevant digital champion skills to support our Digital Inclusion project.
We encountered another challenge with the high cost of tablets which can use 4G connectivity. However we used a workaround of purchasing less expensive wifi enabled versions with mifi routers.
Providing devices isn’t enough. For real accessibility, it’s crucial to provide the end user with practical support to increase skills and confidence. At a minimum support is needed to set up the device, set up email addresses and use the apps.
We have also learnt that our community members felt safer in engaging with individual therapeutic support rather than group support.
The wellbeing support is in too early a stage to be gathering feedback yet but from the referrals we can see that the main reasons for seeking therapeutic support are: the impact of hotel accommodation/support worries, the impact of the asylum process, family difficulties, mental health deterioration and reductions in support, isolation and the impact of coronavirus.
Therapeutic support has always been in our development plans and we would hope to attract resources for this development longer term, however at this point in time priority will be sustaining existing, well established strands of support we offer.
We see there always being a place for digital inclusion work for our community members, particularly new arrivals to support their wellbeing and ability to communicate/access services. We are still putting in place our post lockdown operational plans but following evaluation of online ESOL, there may well be scope to continue to offer a combination of virtual/face-to-face classes which may reduce accessibility barriers to some.
Partnerships are so important in reacting to emerging and ongoing crises, as well as keeping up with initiatives which are not necessarily asylum sector specific. We were really fortunate to be well connected locally through our community development work. This made it easier to access support and share knowledge of opportunities with other agencies, which enabled us to quickly establish the additional expertise we would need for new developments.