Minority, elderly and isolated: London’s vulnerable communities come together to fight Covid-19

Picture the scene. You’re 75 years old, stuck at home in isolation. You’re in a country that’s not your own, 6,000 miles from people who speak your language. News of the pandemic is making you stressed and worried, and then your local community centre, which has become your support system, closes. What do you do? 

Like many communities across the country, Haringey’s elderly minority citizens have been hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic. Without help, many would neither have the network nor the skills to survive isolation. But, determined not to let these communities suffer in silence, a local group of Haringey Heroes has rallied together to launch a support initiative. 

For more than 15 years, the Community Development Association for Minority Communities has been a cornerstone of society for Haringey’s minority citizens, its drop-in centre in Tottenham a safe space where refugees, asylum seekers and their families can socialise, get support and gain valuable skills to thrive in UK society. While social distancing means the physical space has had to close, its team, led by Abubakar Sheikh, is busier than ever.  

In April, Haringey Giving received an urgent call for help from the charity asking for funds to set up a system to help elderly and disabled people from local minority communities during the crisis. Thanks to the generosity of our amazing donors and fundraisers, we were able to quickly put together a grant of nearly £4,000. 

The project is now live and supporting over 75 people from Somalia, Sudan and Yemen as they endure 12 weeks of government-advised self-isolation. As well as food and essential supplies, they’re receiving emotional relief through a buddy support system, run by the charity’s incredible volunteers. 

"Thank you so much for helping me at this difficult time,” said one beneficiary, aged 75, from Somalia. “I was very worried, very stressed, but now your support makes me feel very happy, very relaxed. So thank you very much, all of you, for your support."

We caught up with the charity’s chairman Abubakar Sheikh to find out how the project is going

Hi Abubakar! Who does the charity support?

We support people from minority communities  – 70% of our beneficiaries are from Somali community and the rest are from Yemen, Sudan, Ethiopia and Eritrea. We support single parents, low income families, refugees, older people, people with mental health or disabilities, children and young people. Many are facing high levels of poverty, unemployment, debt, overcrowding, social isolation, mental health problems, domestic violence, youth crime or social exclusion. 

How has your work been impacted by the Covid-19 crisis? 

Haringey Council sent us a letter saying we can't open the centre anymore so we had to close. We received many, many calls from the elderly, from people who lost their jobs, from refugees and asylum seekers saying "we need help to buy food or get a medical prescription," or "we want to apply for benefits but we don't have a computer.” 

How is the grant from Haringey Giving being spent? 

The funding we received from Haringey Giving gave us the confidence and the motivation we needed. We have appointed eight volunteers who every week buy fresh food and essential supplies which they take to over 75 elderly people at their homes. Then these volunteers contact the elderly every day to make sure they're okay, have a chat with them and see if they need other help.  

Why’s it so important to support our local communities right now?  

Because if we are not united, if we are not supporting people, then we can't beat this coronavirus. If we are united, if we are working together, helping each other, protecting our elderly and vulnerable people and keeping them safe, we can beat this sooner rather than later. If we work together, we can achieve our aim. We can find the best solution to stop this coronavirus. 

What services do you offer at the centre when it’s open? 

We have a lot of services for all ages. We provide intervention education classes for children from low income families with special educational needs and learning difficulties. We provide youth employment support services to make sure that young people who are at risk of youth violence or crime are using their time in a positive way. We do drop-in advice services for refugees and asylum seekers to help them integrate into society and find employment. We also have elderly social clubs and women befriending services where people can come and socialise, have coffee and share their stories. Sometimes they bring cultural food to share! 

What’s next for the charity? 

We are a small charity but we're growing. Every time we get support, we get the confidence and motivation to work harder. The overall aim is to support our community and make sure, for example, our children become successful when they finish school and don’t end up on the streets. We want refugees to integrate more quickly, find employment and become good, useful citizens in this multicultural society. We also want our women and our elderly to be less isolated and lonely, and improve their health and wellbeing. 

We are planning more projects to support young people in our community because there's a lot of young people, especially from Somalia community, who have been killed every year in youth violence and youth crime. We have a lot of ideas.

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