“The pandemic accelerated the move to digital and with it left many people behind who haven’t been able to access the support services and information required to assist with the issues they are experiencing.”
An interview with Bea Dawkins, Community Development Worker, Cornhill Community Centre
Community Centre’s have always played an important part in bringing people together by providing a familiar space in the heart the community to gather, socialise, learn and access support and information when needed.
Like many services which had a face-to-face delivery method at its core, when the Covid-19 Pandemic struck in March 2020 and brought with it lockdown and social distancing measures, Community Centres were required to adapt and rethink the ways in which they could connect with the people of the areas they serve and facilitate that sense of community at a distance.
Cornhill Community Centre is situated in an Aberdeen neighbourhood which Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation (SIMD) data identifies as having issues with poverty, health concerns and drug & alcohol misuse. Being able to target communities directly to
asses their needs with the aim of creating a more equal and fairer society is a key aim of Aberdeen’s Local Outcome Improvement Plan and, going forward, Cornhill Community Centre is determined to be part of it.
Bea Dawkins, Community Development Worker at Cornhill Community Centre shared some of her aspirations for the reopening of the centre, their potential for partnership working and details of the networks of support they currently offer.
Scarf’s original aim was to eradicate fuel poverty and although this purpose remains at their core, Scarf has also diversified their offering and today makes a real practical difference to individuals and organisations by offering help and advice on energy efficiency, conservation and affordability.
As we head toward winter, a UK wide energy crisis looms. With prices set to skyrocket, coupled with financial issues caused a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, many households will struggle to afford their energy bills.
As part of our series of blogs for Challenge Poverty Week 21, Lynn Smith, Marketing Manager at Scarf talked to us about the work of the organisation, the support they offer for people facing issues with affordability of energy bills and how they actively work to tackle fuel poverty.
“The pandemic has meant my journey with Cornhill Community Centre has been a bit of an unusual one so far…
“I only actually started working at the centre a month before we went in to complete lockdown last March. It was frustrating as I had developed a programme of events which we were about to launch which all obviously had to be put on hold.
“However, I felt it was still important to reach out to the community, not only to remind them that we were still here to help but also so that we could connect people with each other. Isolation as a result of lockdown had a detrimental impact on people’s lives and in an area like Cornhill, where there are already issues with mental health and alcohol and substance misuse, it had the potential to exacerbate existing problems hugely. That’s why we tried to play a part in reaching people and providing activities to reinforce that sense of community and interconnectivity.
“So we launched a series of regular online meetings and workshops including a music group where people could get together to listen to and discuss music as well as share original compositions; a poetry group which turned out to be really successful and saw people expressing their feelings and experiences through their work; a mother and toddler music group music for early year cognitive development; a crafting group where the coordinator hand delivered all the necessary materials to participants before hand so that everyone could make things together over the Zoom call; a healthy habits discussion group and a wellbeing group led by a Capacitar practitioner which was a really great way to unwind at the end of the week.
“By offering these regular activities free of charge we were able to connect with our community on a regular basis and also signpost people to support that was available if they found they were struggling with things. What mattered most though I think was that social connection – the friendships that formed, the discussions that were had, the thoughts that were shared, I think that has made a huge difference to people’s lives over the past 18 months.
“And now, as we prepare to open the Community Centre once again, which we hope will be at some point over the coming months, we want to build on the success of our online workshops and further fulfil our potential as a place where people can feel a sense of belonging and get the support they need.
“If you look at where we are, right in the middle of Cornhill, we are in the perfect geographic location to act as a hub to offer help and support to the community. We have the real potential to make a difference to lives and to alleviate some of those issues noted in the SIMD data, especially the issue of poverty.
“Going forward, what we are hoping to do is to form partnerships with organisations in the city to deliver programmes of support which will benefit the people of Cornhill…
“Online engagement is one thing but having a physical, trusted space within a community where people know they can come, and feel comfortable to do so, is a huge advantage when it comes to reaching people.
“What I would ideally like to see is the establishment of employment workshops and support sessions where people who are struggling to find work can come along and feel listened to and supported. Likewise, I see the potential for working in partnership with drug and alcohol support services to deliver regular in community support within the informal setting of our centre.
“I’m also looking at the ways in which other organisations deliver services and bring communities together across the city. For example, we are considering establishing a food pantry and, taking inspiration from other community organisations which have popped up over lockdown, I think it would be great for the Community Centre to act as a base for the facilitation of community action – I envision organised litter picks and people from the community getting together to help each other and their wider community.
“The pandemic showed us that people do want to connect with each other and I think by offering a central base and by actively promoting these ideas and opportunities that Cornhill Community Centre can act as a catalyst for real change in the area. If we can bring the community together we can identify where the problems are, what the needs are and with strong partnership working, can be in the position to direct people to services so they can get the support they need.
“The pandemic accelerated the move to digital and with it left many people behind who haven’t been able to access the support services and information required to assist with the issues they are experiencing. I’m excited about the move back to face to face delivery and look forward to engaging with people at the Community Centre and to bringing the people of Cornhill back together soon.
“Aberdeen is sometimes a bit polarising as city, alongside the perceived wealth there are a lot of people who really struggle to get by.
“Obviously with the recent cuts in Universal Credit and the rise in energy prices, the coming months will be very difficult for people. There are so many organisations in the city that do amazing work to support people in need and I think it’s important that as a community organisation we work with them so the people we serve in Cornhill know that help is available and that we are always here to support them.”
“I feel in a way we are reopening with a clean slate and with a lot of potential and would like to invite any organisations who would like to work with us and deliver their services face to face in Cornhill to get in touch.”