Susan Smith on how vital community groups are to building relationships when we most need them
Just over 18 months ago, a baby moved in with me and I lost 10lb in two weeks. One of the first things that struck me when I finally got a moment to breath was that babies are very boring. The next thing was that I wasn’t going to be able to survive a month alone simply bonding with my tiny bundle of cuteness the way adoption social workers recommend – I needed help.
Initially that came from immediate family, who came around, made tea and joined in with the nursery rhymes. Six weeks in, the health visitor visited and gave me an Edinburgh Buggy Walk leaflet, and things started to really look up. The Buggy Walk is a voluntary organisation that exists on a little bit of funding but is mostly volunteer led. There are walks in parks across the city every day of the week. For me, Summer 2019 Tuesdays were all beautifully sunny as I happily strolled around the park making friends while my baby blissfully snoozed – at least that's how I'll remember it.
Through the Buggy Walk, I met some mums who introduced me to the wonders of the church-led playgroup. For £2 a week your child gets to play with loads of toys, and you get to eat delicious home-made cake with other mums and dads.
And then there is Bookbug – a partnership between the Scottish Book Trust and local councils, where once a week everyone gets together in the library to sing songs with a yellow literary loving bug. Seven months into lockdown with no date yet for our local library to reopen, my wee girl is still talking about Bookbug.
I am so glad that I adopted in 2019 and not 2020 because these services were absolutely vital to my wellbeing during the time I was alone with a pre-verbal pre-ambulant baby. I worry about new parents, single or otherwise, who are not able to access these activities this year.
I was thinking about this when I was reading Edinburgh Voluntary Organisation Council’s Mind the Craic report. “I feel like I belong to something where I’m safe and can be myself” said one Edinburgh resident describing the voluntary organisation they use.
Mind the Craic was a 2019 exploration of what people in the city thought about voluntary sector early intervention and prevention services in Edinburgh. It discovered that they are all about relationships.
For another person, the service meant: "Slowly beginning to realise that you’re not alone. I came to meet people and to get feedback on experiences from people experiencing the same thing".
Local communities have shone in 2020 and many of the organisations featured in Mind the Craic have continued to provide digital services and some face-to-face activities as well. They are #NeverMoreNeeded than right now not least because the truly preventative group activities – lunch clubs, art classes, cooking classes, peer-support groups, baby and toddler playgroups – are simply not there.
Mind the Craic engaged with 66 groups across Edinburgh and spoke to people from 7 to 98 years old. They were people with or without disabilities, from various ethnic backgrounds, religious beliefs, sexual orientations and nationalities. They all agreed that they need community voluntary services in their life.
One of the really hard things about 2020 is that we’ve lost the illusion of knowing what’s coming around the corner. Will this end in six months, nine-month, another year or longer? There’s growing talk of Covid fatigue but the reality is some people just need more human contact than they are getting.
Through the #NeverMoreNeeded campaign, we know that voluntary organisations are struggling to survive. It’s not enough to say they are important, we need to invest in them now because if they are not there to pick up the pieces of our tattered wellbeing when lockdown ends, maybe nobody will be.