Asha Neighbourhood Project, which supports women and families in Beeston Hill, had to find safer ways of engaging with service users through the outbreak.
Existing activities such as events, preschool services and programmes had to be postponed and cancelled. The centre closed temporarily, however employees were able to continue working from home. Service users, who include a range of backgrounds including Bangladeshi, Pakistani, Indian, Arab and African women living in South Leeds, have been contacted weekly, with virtual community connections through WhatsApp, emails and social media.
We have been able to support service users during the crisis on looking after mental and physical health, support with loss of jobs, employment support, online physical activities and online learning, as well as advice on how to decrease the spread of infection. Those who were struggling with the isolation as well as those who had or developed mental health concerns were supported through telephone conversations. A few elderly service users were worried; this pandemic reminded them of famine due to the panic buying, wars and previous experience with infections and diseases.
Workers were worried about their job roles, and not being able to work therefore not being able to provide for the family and make mortgage and bill payments. Many parents felt stressed as they could not help children with online learning. Large families living in one household lead to domestic arguments; a few leading to domestic violence.
A service user’s husband was a victim of identity fraud but due to the language barrier, he could not report this, which lead to mental instability. We resolved this issue on his behalf by reporting it to police, financial conduct authority, national fraud and his bank.
Service user Shazia Sultana commented:
“I am excited to let you know that I have got the dinner assistant job in Greenmount primary school. I am very thankful to all the Asha centre team for advice and support. I am grateful for the confidence courses and health activities to motivate, develop confidence, social and work skills.”
The month of Ramadan fell during the isolation. During this period, Muslims refrain from eating or drinking from sunrise to sunset. They reported struggling with a good night of sleep, however they felt less anxiety, more at peace, and free from over-eating which were originally due to boredom, stress and / or anxiety created by the isolation.
During Ramadan and on Eid Muslims congregate in mosques for prayer however this year they were not able to, which was difficult for some service users.
Service users struggled with family bereavement, and not being able to visit the sick or attend funerals. Feelings with depression were dangerously high, this included a service user’s friend who committed suicide leaving behind two young children. Another service user had a non-coronavirus medical emergency, however on discharge, he had picked up the virus whilst in hospital.
Due to the serious mental health concern increase, we set up those at high risk with a partner they could talk to, who they trust.
Women who were made redundant, were signposted to organisations who could provide food, toiletries and medicine. Those who were seeking employment were referred to Smart Works, a company who helps to build women’s confidence towards employment. They provide coaching for interviews, and interview clothes. A service user who originally lost her job at the start of the isolation period, gained two part-time roles from this support, both in her preferred field, as well as receiving a wage increase compared to her previous role.
Shahina Begum commented:
“It was a nice chat about how I was feeling with lockdown/ Covid-19 and my job searches, and how I was doing. I have to admit at first I didn’t think this would do me any good but after speaking with you I realised I have been feeling a little bit depressed. After we spoke it made me realise that there is so much more I could be doing with this time. I have done a ton of applications, I have even joined some online skills classes you mentioned, I realised that this is a time to take a step back and really reflect on the things I would like to achieve, even if they are small steps. You all are doing a fantastic job during the uncertain times, thank you for taking the time out to check on me, it’s very much appreciated.”
Parents, whose children were of school age, and in receipt of free school meals, were encouraged to seek support from their schools. Those who were at risk of homelessness or were struggling with rent payments due to the crisis, were shared information on protection under emergency coronavirus legislation, to help them understand their rights.
Milagrosa Bodipo said:
“I am writing to you to thank you for the great support you have for me, I came to England with my children alone and I went to your association and you welcomed me with open arms. I am doing the course with you, during this covid19 pandemic you have supported me, giving me moral support, food, and contacting other associations I have had an interview with a Smart Works job coach, you help me look for a job, you are women with big hearts. Thank you very much and many blessings”.
This post was written by Tahena Ahmed
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