Published: 09/06/2016 18:30 - Updated: 09/06/2016 16:39

Supporting each other is invaluable

Written byVal Sweeney

Highland Multicultural Friends is helping to prevent loneliness and social isolation.
Highland Multicultural Friends is helping to prevent loneliness and social isolation.

IN the English language class run by Highland Multicultural Friends, the students have added a new word to their vocabulary – acquaintance.

During a discussion about loneliness and isolation, the women practise their language skills as they talk about how they can make new acquaintances when they meet other parents at the school gate.

Highland Multicultural Friends is a women's group which provides support and friendship to ethnic minority individuals in Inverness.

Each week at the Cameron Youth Centre in Planefield Road, Dalneigh, women can take part in a range of activities including English language classes and fitness sessions, or join the sewing group or cooking and friendship club.

The organisation brings together women from countries as far afield as Pakistan, India, Turkey, China, Poland, Kurdistan, Jordan, Bangladesh, Slovakia, Tanzania, Lesotho, Morocco, Egypt, Libya and Thailand, as well as Scotland and other parts of the UK.

The atmosphere is one of friendliness and warmth along with a shared understanding of what it is like to be in a strange and unfamiliar place, perhaps thousands of miles away from family and friends.

"Some people think the group is like a second family," reflected one lady from Bangladesh. "It is a two-way thing. There have been other people who have been through the same situation and so to support each other is so invaluable."

Finding friendship at Highland Multicultural Friends.
Finding friendship at Highland Multicultural Friends.

Alison Pyott, programme co-ordinator, said the numbers attending the various classes and activities fluctuate from year to year but last year almost 70 people were involved.

"Everyone feels a sense of isolation at some point," she said. "There are changes in family circumstances, perhaps ill health in yourself or a family member, or a change of job, redundancy, or bereavement. Most folk recognise they will feel isolated for a while but look for support.

"The problem for people from very far away is that they perhaps have less support from the people they would first turn to."

The activities help to break down the sense of isolation by enabling the women to build up a network of friends as well as their confidence.

"The reason we started a sewing group is that if you feel like you want to make friends, sitting and chatting is not always easy," Ms Pyott said.

"Having a practical focus for people who like sewing, for example, makes it easier. Then, the folk who don't sew asked if we could find something for them so that's when the cookery group started."

One woman who has become involved in the group is Irum Aziz who moved from Milton Keynes to Inverness as a newly-wed last September with her husband who took up a new job as a dentist. Previously, she had worked as a project manager.

"I did find it quite different when I moved here," she recalled. "I did feel quite isolated and lonely."

Another member is Daniela Janssens, who is originally from former Czechoslovakia and moved to Inverness in 2004 unable to speak any English. She now helps others to learn the language.

"I know very well how frustrating and impossible it is when you can't speak the language," she said. While some women acknowledge the initial sense of isolation at being far from their homeland, they also feel there are cultural differences in the treatment of elderly people in Britain.

"Back home, big families live together," said one. "Here, people put their parents in a care home when they get to old age."

Another lady, from Bangladesh, who attends the English classes, said she sometimes visits an elderly neighbour.

"She lives on her own and she feels everything is difficult," she said. "I feel very bad for her inside my heart. I never see anyone visit her."

If you want to help tackle loneliness, please let us know what you plan to do. Whether it's inviting a neighbour over for a cup of tea or volunteering at a local community group, we'd love to hear about it! Simply email newsdesk@spp-group.com with your name, where you live and details of your pledge and we'll publish a selection on our website. You can also download and fill in the coupon below (click link) and return to us at the stated address.

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