Ethnic Minority
Black Country

Black Country ethnic minority engagement webinar

Our Near Neighbours worker recently partnered with Black Country Healthcare NHS Trust and a number of community partners to look at the impact of Covid-19 on our ethnic minority communities

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Shaz Akhtar 2 Black Country Near Neighbours Coordinator

Shaz Akhtar is TCT’s Black Country Near Neighbours Coordinator

You can watch the full webinar below:

Bringing groups together across the Black Country

Hosted by Black Country Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust and Transforming Communities Together, this event, held on 28th September 2020, explored how voluntary sector organisations have adapted during Covid-19. Attendees and speakers shared their experiences and ideas around how we can address the barriers that ethnic minority communities are currently facing.

An excerpt of my talk

I’ve been asked to talk about the barriers that exist in ethnic minority communities - how they have surfaced and how Black Country Near Neighbours has continued to work with organisations and residents during the pandemic.

In the beginning of the lockdown, a lot of people struggled with the idea of staying home and we saw people reacting to this in different ways. I remember the supermarket shelves and how empty they were. My neighbours and I choose to focus our time in our gardens and improve our homes, but we also had residents adjacent to where I live who resided in high rise flats. They did not have any open space like us to distract themselves.

So, when I was thinking about today’s webinar the slogan ‘we are in it together’ kept on resurfacing in my mind - I questioned and reflected upon it... the more I reflected the more I questioned whether we really were in it together?

The pandemic has highlighted the inequalities in general within the ethnic minority communities. When talking to residents and grassroot organisations, I have observed is that this is largely down to social and economic barriers that these communities face.

When I say social and economic barriers, I’m referring to my experience that by and large ethnic minority communities live in highly dense and deprived areas, in poor social housing, they are working class, have more basic amenities, and are more likely to be on zero hour contracts, not sure how they will make ends meet, and some are highly reliant on foodbanks.

These are just a few barriers I’ve mentioned but just listing them like that stresses me out - can you imagine what a huge impact this can have on a resident’s mental health and well-being?

My role also involves me working closely with faith organisations, and I am one who will turn to faith in times of anxiety and despair.

Residents expressed how they couldn’t fully use the facilities of their places of worship and not being able to do so had impacted on their mental health, anxieties and they felt very isolated.

What further added to these anxieties were far-right groups using faith to point the finger of blame for the spread of the virus - we saw racist graffiti targeting a Chinese takeaway. Across the Black Country, more residents told me about the verbal abuse they were encountering. All this surely has an impact on one’s health.

I can endlessly talk about the barriers communities are facing, but how can we break down these barriers, whether its grassroot community issues, health inequalities, inequality in general? I strongly believe from my experience in the role, that it comes down to a collective approach - organisations working in unity, moving forward together hand in hand to be heard.

How Black Country Near Neighbours continued to create space to bring people together

A few weeks into the lockdown, my aim was to talk to as many residents and leaders of organisations as I could and find out how people were coping and what would make them feel better.

After a successful reunion on a Zoom online conversation, I was optimistic this could work with a lot of the groups I had been working with and could be a good way for their groups to continue to meet.

I knew that it would come with its challenges, for example not everyone is good with technology and downloading the Zoom app may be a barrier for some. So we decided to help people download these apps and organisation’s leads helped their participants where it was needed.

From the popularity of these groups, TCT secured some funding to start Bringing People Together. It’s a pilot network connecting people to others from the comfort of their own home. The funding is from the National Lottery Community Fund and it is part of their response to COVID-19 to develop these groups into a network.

Major Health Inequalities

All the health inequalities stem from something, as mentioned - our surroundings, our experiences of life, etc and from what I have observed ethnic minority communities are at higher risk because they experience racism in the streets, they live in highly dense and deprived areas, their housing conditions are poor, etc.

Looking at these points makes you realise our inequalities exist at a grassroots level and have an effect in other areas -on the top of the list with no doubt is health and wellbeing of ethnic minority communities.

From this ethnic minority engagement, once the report is commissioned, I would like to see the Sustainability and Transformation Partnership consider having a grassroot voice presence, bringing together voluntary organisations to see how we can move forward to a better future together and make change that will be felt in the grassroot level.