What has been Camden Somali Cultural Centre’s role in the pandemic and what inspired you to get involved?
Ubah: In normal times, we have so much going on – including advice and information services, a supplementary school for children, and a parent and toddler group. Everyone was shocked when lockdown began and we had to adjust quickly.
As well as dealing with people’s urgent needs relating to lockdown and our normal work, we worked with Camden Council to disseminate information to the Somali community. We fed into the wider advice network – the pandemic has impacted health, housing and finances so there’s so much need.
We helped share the government’s You Are Not Alone domestic abuse awareness campaign – I was asked to be a community spokesperson because lockdown increased the number of domestic abuse cases and affected our community as well as others. We featured on African and Somali TV and local radio, in English and Somali language. It was important to spread the word about the help available even in lockdown.
John: Our information and advice service had always been face-to-face because this is hugely important to the Somali community. We rearranged ourselves to offer services via phone and email. We’ve started our in-person appointments again, and they fill up so quickly because people do want to see you – I’ve known some people in the community for many years.
Rukia: We had lots of calls in lockdown where people didn’t understand that we couldn’t just visit, so it was very difficult.
What is the main thing you have learned since the pandemic began?
Ubah: People in the Somali community have realised they need to look after their health more, even if it is a challenge for some. It’s been a big priority change as an organisation to put health firmly at the top of our agenda. We’ve also realised how important a connection to Somali culture is to people’s mental health. So we’re going to expand our cultural work to help build people’s resilience.
Rukia: I’ve learned that we need to move around more!
What one change would make the greatest difference for Camden as we come out of the pandemic?
Ubah: We need an increase in social housing in Camden as housing is not affordable. We will also need to deal with the aftermath of the pandemic on children’s mental health. Children are resilient, but they were at home for a long time, many not having the devices needed for schoolwork, and got scared because the adults did. At the moment I don’t think there’s enough in place to help children cope with the long-term impact of the pandemic and lockdown.
John: Housing is a really challenging issue to solve when rent in the private sector is so expensive, and there’s so much pressure on social housing.