Two volunteers at the heart of one of Sheffield’s most important charity schemes helping isolated older people, want others from Black, Asian & Minority Ethnic (BAME) backgrounds to come forward to support their work.
The kind-hearted duo are speaking out now as the charity they give their time to- Sheffield Churches Council for Community Care (SCCCC)- launches a new branch of its successful Good Neighbour Scheme.
The Inclusivity Community Care project particularly aims to provide targeted support to older people from diverse backgrounds, some of whom face cultural or language barriers which prevent them from accessing the support they need.
That’s why Vijay and Azura are calling on more BAME volunteers to come forward to help get the new project off the ground.
This is their story.
Vijay Raghavendran, (44) originally from South India, has travelled, studied and worked in several countries, before moving to Sheffield in 2018 to further his career as a research scientist at the University of Sheffield.
Hearing about SCCCC’s Good Neighbour Scheme from a colleague’s girlfriend, he signed up straight away and has been visiting one of the charity’s service users, Joseph, ever since.
Vijay said: “I see Joseph every week. He is a Jamaican man in his late 80s and is immobile. I enjoy talking with him, sharing photos and videos from my trips, playing music on my iPad and watching the telly with him. SCCCC and its volunteers are doing a wonderful job by reaching out to older people who still have a lot to share to those in their younger years.”
Vijay, who is fluent in many languages including Tamil, Kannada and Hindi, is pleased the charity is adapting its services to make it more culturally sensitive.
“The term ‘BAME is merely an acronym for people from different countries and cultures. It is natural that each community deserves the support that best suits them. Cultural sensitivity is important and it needs to be thought of collectively, but also for each individual service user’s needs,” said Vijay.
One in five Sheffield residents is from a minority ethnic background.
However, take-up of support from the BAME community and engagement across the city is much lower than this. It’s particularly a problem amongst older people, for whom additional language and cultural barriers often prevent them from accessing much needed services.
Azura McIlwraith (28) is originally from Singapore and moved to Sheffield in last year. She initially found the transition to a new country challenging, but discovered SCCCC after looking for ways to boost her social confidence.
Azura said: “Mostly, I wanted to make new friends. Seeing as the programme also helps an older person to make a friend though, I thought what better way than to volunteer for the Good Neighbour Scheme.
“Reaching out to BAME communities and providing support which feels more familiar to older people within those communities could provide a real boost, particularly for those who feel less comfortable accessing support.
“I know that differences in religion, race, culture and language can make seeking or receiving support challenging or inaccessible for some people. The language barrier in particular can sometimes cause a deeper sense of loneliness, especially when a person can only communicate or express themselves best in their mother tongue.
“Being able to talk in multiple languages is a great skill to have. In community and social work, speaking more than one language helps to bring inclusivity and provide an outlet for non-English speakers to interact and communicate, to feel included and to be more comfortable and joyful with their life.
“As for myself, I’ve gained new life experiences and knowledge from my service users. Sharing our different cultures and experiences gives us a lot more to talk about, broadens our perspective and creates a stronger bond in our friendship,” she said.
The Inclusive Community Care Project is a two year initiative paid for by the National Lottery Community Fund. It is part of SCCCC’s current long-standing Good Neighbour Scheme, but adapted so that it is culturally sensitive and geared towards the needs of older people and volunteers from BAME backgrounds.
Rehneesa Inez, who runs the project at SCCCC, said: “The Good Neighbour Scheme is open to older people and volunteers from all cultural and ethnic backgrounds. However, as part of the Inclusive Community Care Project we are especially looking to recruit volunteers and to support older people from BAME backgrounds and those who speak additional languages.
“Where possible, we aim to match volunteers and older people according to their needs, for example someone who speaks the same language, is from the same cultural background or lives locally.”
For more information about becoming a volunteer for the Inclusive Community Care Project, visit scccc.co.uk/get-help/inclusive-community-care-project or email firstname.lastname@example.org