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Adapt and carry on: Community groups learn new way of life and help others during lockdown

By James Vukmirovic | Birmingham | Features | Published:

For many community organisations across the region, the coronavirus pandemic and lockdown restrictions have changed how they operate.

U Island CIC works to help members of the eastern European diaspora in Sandwell acclimatise to life in the UK. It has held cultural events such as a Maslenitsa celebration

Services working with people and the communities they serve have faced challenges in the last three months since lockdown began in order to continue operating.

Services dealing with mental health, children, ethnic groups, vulnerable adults and the elderly have had to adapt how they worked in light of social distancing and other restrictions imposed by lockdown.

The African Caribbean Community Initiative (ACCI) in Wolverhampton, U Island CIC in Smethwick and Walsall Black Sisters Collective (WBSC) are all examples of groups who had to deal with the restrictions.

Each said that the lockdown had hit their services initially, but they had been able to move on and continue to provide services to their client bases.

The African Caribbean Initiative has been at the forefront of supportive services for individuals affected by mental ill health in Wolverhampton since 1987

Ted Bailey, hub manager at ACCI, which works with people with mental health issues, said the group had had to close the hub on Newhampton Road East, inform service users and work out what to do next.

The 38-year-old from Wolverhampton said: "We didn't know what was going on with this virus and everyone's anxiety became really high, but we had to keep going as we work with a lot of vulnerable people.

"So we worked to help people coping with mental health issues from a range of backgrounds such as the Afro-Caribbean community living in Wolverhampton wherever we could.

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"We've still done out-reach visits where we can, as well as helping service users arrange their shopping, GP appointments and pharmacy pick-ups and counselling over the phone and through systems like Zoom."

Irina Oshenye said the pandemic had shown U Island CIC could adapt to any circumstance

U Island CIC founder Irina Oshenye said the organisation, which works with children and families from across the Eastern European community, had to adapt quickly to lockdown.

The 37-year-old from Birmingham said: "Initially, it was very kind of sudden and a bit of a shock because I guess, like many organisations, we were not really prepared for things to be so sudden.

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"We had to shut down our children's classes, but within about seven days, we had re-thought the strategy and moved all our sessions online, running to the same schedule.

"We started running art classes and after lockdown started, a lot of families were self-isolating and couldn't get hold of art equipment, so we prepared packs and sent them out to families.

"We've also been helping elderly people who don't speak English to access essential services, which has helped them as they don't know how to deal with this."

Maureen Lewis said the future would be different for people accessing the service

For Maureen Lewis, chief executive of WBSC, there had been a lot of worry around funding and how the service, which works to provide for the health and social needs of local people, was going to function.

The 56-year-old from Walsall said: "It was quite stressful and worrying at the beginning, because all of our income suddenly disappeared because of the closure of our services and we wondered how we were going to survive.

"We had some existing funding from a grant, which was due to finish at the end of June, so I had to rejig some it to help clients using our daycare service, which we had to close.

"We have been helped by partner organisations who know we work with vulnerable people and people who are isolated, which has enabled us to do food parcels each week and run a telephone befriending service.

"We've also received funding from the National Lottery Community Fund, which has gone a long way to helping us continue to run.

Walsall Black Sisters Collective develops projects to focus on the needs of children, youths, adults and the elderly in Walsall

"In regards to our children's services, we've had to look at when we can reopen our after school club based on social distancing rules. It may be in September, but we're still working on plans for that."

Ted, Irina and Maureen also spoke about the future and how their services can work going forward.

Ted said: "We are a big pillar for Wolverhampton going forward because of the mental health issues people will have suffered from being isolated for so long.

"I believe ACCI services will be needed more than ever and we are here for anyone suffering from mental health issues in the city, be it through our daily Skype calls or through phone calls."

Irina said: "I think the future is more stable than it was before because we know that we can adapt to any circumstances.

Ted Bailey said the ACCI had had to adapt to meet the needs of its service users during the pandemic

"This was a good test for us, because we know that whatever happens now, we can still carry on and deliver the services online and over the phone, and face to face when we are able to."

Maureen said: "We know the future's changing in terms of how we run our service for wellness, so I think the service will be different.

"It'll be based more around the telephone befriending and we will be doing a lot more on Zoom and the internet, as well as helping our client base who don't know how to use a computer."

To find out more about the organisations mentioned and the services they provide, go to the following links:

African Caribbean Community Initiative - acci.org.uk

U Island CIC - u-island.co.uk

Walsall Black Sisters Collective - walsallbsc.co.uk

James Vukmirovic

By James Vukmirovic
Community Reporter - @jamesvukmirovic

Community Reporter at the Express & Star, helping under-represented communities to find a voice in Wolverhampton. Contact me at james.vukmirovic@expressandstar.co.uk.

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