BAME residents tell us about ageing and the importance of voluntary groups.
Healthwatch Camden was invited to speak at the national launch of the report ‘Ageing in Place for Minority Ethnic Communities: The importance of social infrastructure’ in August 2020.
This national research was developed to explore the types of social infrastructure that people aged 50 and over from Black, Asian & Minority Ethnic communities (BAME) use in specific places. As part of this programme, Healthwatch Camden explored the types of social infrastructure that people aged 50 and over from the Bangladeshi community access and to understand how organisations working with ethnic minority groups engaged with older members from their community.
The Manchester Institute for Collaborative Research on Ageing (MICRA), based at the University of Manchester, produced a report which is a meta-analysis of four other research projects that took place across England.
Ageing in Place
Our report, Ageing in Place, was a key input to MICRA’s work. Through this, we explored the importance of ‘social infrastructure’ (shops, community centres and green spaces) for older members of minority ethnic communities.
Meeting to maintain identity and relationships
We spoke with organisations working with Black, Asian & Minority Ethnic communities (BAME) and Bangladeshi people living in Regent’s Park and St Pancras & Somers Town Wards. Both wards are culturally and linguistically diverse and amongst the most deprived in London.
We heard how it’s important for older people with a shared cultural identity to have places where they can meet to maintain their sense of identity and relationships with others who share some form of commonality. The social interactions they were having in these places were more likely to be with people like themselves and therefore more prone to developing bonding social capital.
“It’s important because I can buy all the Bangladeshi products at a low price – also I like the area as I find more people from the Bengali community.”
“Brick Lane Market is very important because I can buy all the Bangladeshi things I need.”
“This place is important to me as it reminds me of Bangladesh and my culture. I like shopping there as people speak the same language and I feel comfortable and safe. Everyone there is from my community.’’
“We have long discussions about our life in Bangladesh, we read papers and discuss.”
Green and outdoor spaces
Parks, open green spaces and gardens were cited by many as important spaces in their everyday lives for general wellbeing, leisure and exercise as well as social interaction. Many identified the health and wellbeing benefits of using these spaces. Some older people particularly referred to a desire to be in the fresh air, especially if they lived in flats and had no access to outside space of their own.
“I like nature and walking in the park. It lifts my mood.”
“Walking is good for my health and I feel relaxed.”
“It’s an important space for me because I live on the fourth floor and I feel isolated.
‘I can get fresh air in the green space and feel relaxed. It’s the only place where I meet other women living on the estate.”
Implications for COVID-19 recovery
This research was conducted before the COVID-19 pandemic. The COVID-19 pandemic and resulting social distancing measures have added increasing pressures to already stretched communities and community services.
There are additional implications for older members of ethnic minority communities; death rates from COVID-19 in England have been highest amongst Black, Asian and ethnic minority communities.
Our findings highlight the importance of local voluntary organisations working with minority ethnic groups. Specialist funding and support are vital for these organisations to continue their work within communities.
“Eighty percent of our work is based at Kosmos [the centre] but we also go for walks in parks, days out to the theatre and museums etc.”
“They come to us and we signpost to the most appropriate organisation. They do not go anywhere else because of the language barriers. Sometimes they will go to their GP for advice.”
Given the impact of COVID-19 on minority ethnic groups, it is clear that local voluntary organisations need to be engaged in the rebuilding of communities.
This work provided an important snapshot into the lives of older Bangladeshi people living in Camden and should inspire and challenges us all to do more work addressing inequalities within BAME communities in Camden. It will also inform our approach to ongoing discussions with Camden Council and other partners about ‘Building Equal Foundations’.
In particular, we will continue to advocate for funding and support for the vital efforts of those organisations working with minority ethnic groups to be able to continue their work within their communities. And will be clear that this needs to go beyond funding for ‘inclusive services’, and should provide targeted support for minority ethnic and equalities organisations who are best placed to reach and engage with different groups in society.
Read the MICRA report here: https://www.ambitionforageing.org.uk/ageinginplace