By Rohini Sharma Joshi
Edinburgh, 17 May 2018
Remember BT’s iconic TV campaign featuring the late Bob Hoskins? BT’s message was that the brand brought people together - by providing the means for them to talk to each other.
And it was such a successful campaign because, at its heart, was a universal truth that talking to each other is good for people.
In 2018 we don’t just have BT providing a way to talk to each other. We have scores of landline and satellite telephone companies, we all have mobiles for conversations and messaging. We have Skype and FaceTime and social media.
But what if you are an ethnic minority older person with little or no English who has had few opportunities to engage with technology? You still can’t talk to people and perhaps you are even more lonely because everyone else is so connected.
That’s why we put talking and listening to Scotland’s older ethnic minority people at the centre of everything we do - so that we can build and support the services that they tell us they need and want.
Last month we launched the new Scottish Ethnic Minority Older People Forum at the Scottish Parliament* and last week our founding members had their first opportunity to actively participate in creating change in Scotland.
17 members of the Forum participated in a round the table review of the Scottish Government’s draft strategy Tackling social isolation and loneliness and building stronger social connections. We started with coffee and biscuits, talked, shared and put forward ideas and finished two hours later with a relaxed lunch.
When the new Scottish Ethnic Minority Older People Forum was launched, Sandra White MSP and Convener of the Cross Party Group on Older People, Age & Ageing was at The Scottish Parliament to lend her support. She said: “I believe that this new Forum will be instrumental in bringing together people and research resources, which will in turn empower Scotland’s ethnic minority older people to vocalise their needs and bring about the changes in service provision which will make a very real difference to their health and wellbeing. If we are to function as a equal society, we need to hear the voices of all our older people, irrespective of their background”.
Her words were ringing in my ears as I heard voice after voice from Scotland’s ethnic minority older people, telling their stories of loneliness and isolation within their communities and what they thought needed to be done to address the problems. Sometimes the stories were about their own personal pain, but often the Forum members were talking about the ways in which they were reaching out to others, setting up inclusive activities, phoning people to encourage them to come to drop in centres and sometimes going in the car to pick them up. They were the voices of professional people and homemakers with lifetimes of experience. And they were voices of resilience, of compassion and of determination to do what they could to help build better connections and strengthen the communities in which they lived.
It was so good to talk.
And it was so helpful to listen.
*The Scottish Ethnic Minority Older People Forum has been set up by The Older People Services Project, a service developed and managed by Trust, Hanover (Scotland) and Bield Housing Associations and is funded by the Big Lottery Fund.