The Space is a project in the Govanhill area of Glasgow whose vision is for families to be enabled to live flourishing lives in thriving communities.
Govanhill is the most culturally diverse area of Scotland with over 50 languages being spoken. It is also an area of intense overcrowding with in excess of 15,000 people living in less than one square mile and it is home to some of the poorest 10% of people in Scotland. Residents have a lower life expectancy, poorer physical and psychological health and problems associated with addictions.
In addition, it’s also home to the European Roma migrant population which is the most despised ethnic minority group in Europe.
The Roma people are largely in temporary employment and rely on ‘gang masters’ for work and housing. Roma people are being exploited by employers paying as little as £3 an hour for long shifts and they experience high rents, sub-standard conditions and non-existent tenancy agreements. This leads to overcrowding as families are forced to pool their resources, evictions, and tensions across the community as a result of increased noise and problems with sanitation and waste. Health care professionals have found growing levels of malnutrition amongst children and infestations.
Thus, Govanhill is an area that suffers from immense economic poverty and social inequality as people are discriminated against depending on their ethnicity.
The project has witnessed the savagery and brutality of the poverty experienced by the Roma community and it is like no other poverty in Scotland. It is a poverty that deprives them of their dignity and such raw undiluted poverty is shocking. It is a poverty that has honed and developed their instinct for survival as seen in the mothers who collect bags from local rubbish tips and empty them out in the basement of tenement buildings to obtain food or anything else they could use. It’s also the case that many of the families they support are illiterate in their first language and their understanding of the world is based on what other people tell them. Indeed, most will never have read a book or a newspaper and so live in an information vacuum. This has a profound impact on their ability to engage with society.
The Space spent 18 months as a pilot project listening to the voices of the community thus, everything they do is based on the needs of the Roma people and how they do it is based on their Christian values. It’s their Christian values that set them apart and are the key to the immense favour and success of the project.
The Space recognises that regardless of ability every individual has gifts to offer. They work in an accepting and compassionate way, respecting each person’s dignity and build relationships to empower people to transform their lives and the life of their community. They aim to challenge the beliefs and structures that oppress people and keep them living in poverty. Everything they do is underpinned by building relationships based on truth, compassion, gentleness and accountability.
The Space’s model of working is relational – they work with families and visit them regularly in their homes as well as brokering relationships with other service providers. This is very labour intensive but being with a family in their home is by far the best way to get to know them and the issues that are keeping them in poverty.
In response to the needs of the community The Space offer 3 streams of support:
Community Drop-in is where relationships start to develop as they engage initially with the women and ultimately work with the whole family. When families arrive in this country many are destitute and at the Community Drop-in they can obtain the essentials they need for daily life – food, clothing and bedding. They are also enabled to buy what they need at prices they can afford, e.g., a bag of organic vegetables can be purchased for £1 on a Monday. The Community Drop-in is also a space where the Roma ‘come to be… to be sociable, have coffee and chat.
Community Integration is concerned with linking families with essential statutory and voluntary services, such as health, education, welfare, housing, utility providers, nurseries and mother and toddler groups. This is achieved by brokering relationships with providers, accompanying people to appointments and providing advocacy so that people are enabled to make informed decisions.
Building Better Futures focusses on developing personal growth and personal skills. The Space currently provide nursery level education to adults in a dignified manner teaching basic literacy, numeracy and an ability to speak English. They offer trips to widen their experience of Glasgow and Scottish culture and will soon commence parenting classes developed specifically for this group. Wellbeing classes begin later this year to teach the women how to manage stress and anxiety.
The Space are developing 2 new initiatives:
Building Community which operates across ethnic groups to bring people together to build social trust by enabling people to identify shared values and to come to a understanding of other cultures. They are also planning to develop a social enterprise to offer supported employment opportunities.
Building for Social Justice seeks to tackle the systems and structures in our society that perpetuate the cycle of poverty and prevent people from building a better life. This work is undertaken collaboratively and focuses on bringing about change in business practice and change to government policy.
You can visit their website here: http://www.spaceglasgow.org.uk/