CREDIT – The Star, JPI Media

How new BAME community engagement officer hopes to make Sheffield charity more culturally sensitive – Feature in the Sheffield Star – JPI Media

Rehneesa Inez has a face that many in the city will soon come to know well.

The 22-year-old is in the process of moving to Sheffield, having just started her new role as BAME community engagement officer with Sheffield Churches Council for Community Care’s Inclusive Community Care project.

“Of course it’s strange starting a community engagement job, just as we’re all going into lockdown, and engagement with the community is completely off the table,” says Rehneesa, who started her new job in April.

“I decided I wanted to be ready to hit the ground running, so I threw myself into research, calls, and online meetings, and learning all I could whilst in lockdown at home in Nottingham.

“I also spoke with our current service users and volunteers by phone to find out directly how they felt about the existing service.”

Rehneesa’s new role, as part of the Inclusive Community Care project, is geared towards making the charity’s services more culturally sensitive.

“The charity currently runs a Good Neighbours Scheme in the city, to support older members of the community,” explains Rehneesa.

“Volunteers visit with older people who may be feeling lonely or isolated, and take the time to sit with them and have a conversation over a cup of tea.

“Obviously, during lockdown, this service has predominantly become about checking in on people using the phone, and ensuring they have everything they need, but it’s still been able to be effective.

“This service has been running for a long time, and is doing really well, but we’d noticed there was a gap in terms of reaching people from a variety of different cultural backgrounds.”

According to the 2011 UK census, 19 per cent of Sheffield residents classify themselves as BAME, with some neighbourhoods having up to 62 per cent of BAME residents.

However, take-up of support from the BAME community and engagement across the city is much lower than this, particularly in relation to the elderly BAME community who often face additional language and cultural barriers which prevent them from accessing much needed services.

This lower up-take up can also be seen at SCCCC, where currently only 4 per cent of volunteers and services users are from the BAME community, with specific communities such as Somali, Roma, Afro Caribbean and Chinese totally absent.

Rehneesa says: “It can be anticipated that there is a huge unmet need in these communities

“We realised that in order for us to engage with people in these communities, the service needed to become more culturally sensitive, adapting to suit different needs, rather than a one-size-fits-all method.”

One of the barriers Rehneesa is keen to address first is language, and she is seeking people across the city that speak one of a number of different languages, to come on board as volunteers.

“We don’t want people thinking it isn’t for them - this service is for anyone and everyone,” says Rehneesa, who has a Masters in cognitive neuroscience, and a background in psychology, as well as personal experience as a BAME community member.

“My family is British Pakistani, and I’m very in touch with my Pakistani background, which I think makes me relatable when I’m going out to communities and trying to build trust and rapport with people from all different ethnicities and backgrounds.

“I’ve also been delighted by the number of fantastic BAME organisations and groups already working hard in these communities, and the relationships I’ve been able to start building with those during lockdown.

“There’s a great feeling of collaboration in Sheffield, with a lot of great teams working towards a common goal.”

And while she is keen to get out and about and introduce herself, Rehneesa admits that it may be a while before she is able to physically engage with the community.

“Obviously we’re following government guidelines, and whilst I hope it will be this year, there are no guarantees, these are strange times.

“I do feel confident though that we can adapt this service, and ensure that it’s hitting all the notes it needs to, going forwards, so that everybody’s needs are being met.”

Contact Rehneesa on rehneesa@scccc.co.uk if you would like to talk, as a potential service user, or volunteer.

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