According to research published this week by Lancaster University, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a disproportionate socio-economic impact on Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) individuals living throughout the UK. In particular, the study highlights that members of the BAME community are 3.1 times more likely than those who are white to have lost their jobs during lockdown, whilst also being 40% less likely to benefit from employee protection schemes, such as furlough.
In an effort to address these inequalities, BBO Bridges – a Black Country-based employability support project that promotes social inclusion – has been working tirelessly to support members of the BAME community, many of whom have found the COVID-19 pandemic to be an especially daunting time.
Whilst the cultural issues and barriers faced by members of the BAME community aren’t necessarily universal to the whole BAME demographic, the Bridges project is familiar with the additional challenges that such individuals are facing at this time. This understanding, as well as having a diverse group of project workers with lived experience, has allowed the project to deliver for the local community.
In the weeks leading up to lockdown, people within the BAME community were reportedly feeling confused with a lack of clarity around what was happening in response to the pandemic. In some cases, the lack of English language skills meant many participants were unaware of what was occurring and key messages, like washing your hands for 20 seconds and keeping safe, were either being missed or misunderstood. To combat this, English as a Second or Foreign Language (ESOL) sessions delivered through Bridges became more and more focused on ensuring health messages were being understood. During one-to-one sessions, Bridges staff found that they were often being asked what was happening and what individuals could do to remain safe, with these sessions becoming an important lifeline for residents throughout the Black Country.
Bridges staff have supported participants with cultural issues and situations that have arisen, particularly for those who live with their extended family. Staff within the BAME community have been able to work with participants of the same ethnicity, offering a solid understanding of the cultural demands and additional struggles and stresses that the pandemic has brought about whilst families have been in isolation. In addition, Project staff have helped participants with day-to-day tasks, such as getting shopping and offering food bank vouchers; resources that many people within ethnically diverse communities are reluctant to access due to the attached stigma.
One example of how the Bridges project has supported the BAME community is the help that Bally, Organisation Lead for Sandwell Asian Mental Health Support Group (SAMHSG), received from the Bridges team at Just Straight Talk (JST). Bally set up the SAMHSG to support people in the Asian community in Sandwell with their mental health after her own experience led her to understand how important this support was. Bally had experienced bullying and isolation in the workplace, and part of her recovery led her to focus on her culture and background.
Volunteering to provide regular weekly meetings for all ages and genders, Bally began to see the tangible benefit her groups were having on those who attended. Through regular support groups, SAMHSG can challenge stigma and raise awareness for mental health within Asian communities and beyond.
“When the lockdown began, I felt completely cut off and, like many, I had to self-isolate for personal health reasons”, Bally recalls. “It was a very uncertain time. I’m not the best at ‘tech’ and felt I only had my phone to call around my support group, and check in on their wellbeing and keep S.A.M.H.S.G. running. I really didn’t think we could keep the group going. Helping others is a key part of who I am”
Bally, connected with the BBO Bridges team at Just Straight Talk (JST) via the Sandwell Networkers group and has always kept strong contact, collaborating with various workshops, celebrations, and community events.
“JST took the time to coach me on how to connect to video calls”, Bally laughs, “Very patient, it took a while, but it really opened up doors… I just can’t believe that in such a short space of time, I’m now able to coach members of my group to connect to SAMHSG online meetings”
Within a few weeks SAMHSG were beginning their digital revolution. Bally enlisted one of her volunteers to support her with the ‘tech’ and plans were made for a JST remote coaching session ahead of launching their first online support group.
“Being able to run our support groups online is priceless. It would not have been possible without working in partnership with JST and BBO Bridges. I’m so thankful that they have helped us to continue to support our participants. There were some challenges along the way, but with a little help we overcame them!”
Bridges is funded by the European Social Fund and the National Lottery Community Fund. For more information about the project, please visit www.stepstowork.co.uk/bridges or contact us on 01922 627555.