You’ll have heard the trope about the swan on the water; still on top but paddling furiously below the surface? GCIN is a little like that, volunteers and workers busy running from drop ins to group meetings, the door being chapped by people looking for advice, food donations being delivered while the phone doesn’t stop. It’s hard to take time out to think about the future, but we’ve been trying.
GCIN is a charity and limited company so our work is overseen by a board of trustee directors, which I chair. Our job, as well as seeing that everything is running as it should be, is to ensure that we are achieving the change we set out to and to plan for our future.
We’ve been thinking, what is it we are trying to achieve, what’s our purpose? And it is simply this:
‘To achieve social justice in Govan and Craigton by building a strong community based on equality, mutual respect, support and integration.’
We want to work with partners in Govan to support everyone in Govan. We were initially founded to act in the interests of refugees seeking asylum, but quickly also began working with established BME communities, new migrants from Poland and elsewhere and people who have always lived in Govan.
Mutual support creates integration at its best. Imagine two women sharing and supporting each other’s experiences of domestic violence. One is from Zimbabwe, one from Cardonald. Their interaction and shared experiences lead to actions that contribute to equality. This is the type of integration that we are interested in.
We are setting ourselves a pretty big task, but we have a lot going for us. We’ve been around for over ten years, building trust and connections in Govan. We have the energy and talents of more than 20 brilliant volunteers and 5 workers bringing their knowledge from all over the world. We’ve been bringing people together through drop-ins, parties and exchanges. We have use of a community flat, and are delighted that we get a lot of support.
We are proud to provide safe place for new communities to grow, this weekend a member of our women's group told us: “Women’s group is the oxygen in the week for many of us”.
We think we’ve achieved a lot but we know there is always more that could be done. Sometimes it’s difficult to see what progress is being made and this can be frustrating.
For example, we know that the official racially aggravated crime figures in the Govan and Craigton area have been rising and that in this past year they have been among the highest in Glasgow – official figures are yet to be published, but we are requesting figures to be released to us, which we will share as soon as they are made available. We do know, however, that between April and July 2014, at least 9 incidents were reported, between August and November 2014, 16 incidents were reported, and from December 2014 to April 2015, at least 9 incidents were reported,
This is just the number of times that people actually report being racially harassed and we know it’s the tip of the iceberg. There are lots of theories about why people don’t tell the police when they’ve been racially abused. Many think that refugees are scared of the Police here because of their experiences with police forces in their country of origin.
We are not sure if this is still true, if it ever was. We have heard first hand from people that they don’t report these crimes because they don’t see the point - ‘you tell the Police and then nothing seems to happen’.
For years we’ve acted as a third party reporting centre – people can tell us about the harassment and we forward the details onto the police. However, we don’t think this approach is working because so few people use it. We all need to do more.
While it’s important to be critical of those in authority where it is deserved, we’ve been thinking about ways to find a new approach. We’ve been part of a process organised by a local councillor, bringing together community groups, housing associations and local authorities to work together in tackling this issue, and we’ve invited Nicola Sturgeon to our next network meeting to make sure she knows the extent of the problem and to ask her what more the Government can do.
We are keenly aware that the make-up of our board doesn’t fully reflect the profile of the people who are part of GCIN so we have been trying to put more of our effort into being led by those people for whom we provide services and support (we still can’t work out what language to best use – ‘members’ seems exclusionary, our ‘service users’ seems a bit clinical).
We’ve started simply, asking members of our Women’s group and drop-ins; ‘Do you feel safe?’ ‘What would help you feel safer?’
Their answers were profound, troubling and surprising. Racial and religious harassment was an issue, but more time was spent talking about domestic violence. Already, we’ve identified some shared actions and different ways of working.
We want to take this further and have secured funding to support community members to develop their own research, focused on action, into whatever issues are important to them. We hope it will be around safety and harassment but it’s really up to the community. We are looking forward to being guided by the findings, whatever they are.
We’re also about to start a men’s group and a homework club and are always trying to improve our drop-ins whilst better publicising our housing case work. At the same time, we want to be better at telling you what we are doing and asking for help.
If you think you can contribute in anyway, please get in touch. We’d love to have you join in with the paddling.
Chair of Govan & Craigton Integration Network