Heart of a community

The ‘Everyone Together’ project supported by VIP Sports and Arts Academy is a two-year project hosting regular social groups for the whole community in the Fallside area, a local housing estate in Bellshill ward in North Lanarkshire.

Initially the project was focused on young people, but as the community centre sat in the heart of the housing estate, it became a community hub. The project supports a range of activities for local residents including sports activities for young people, and a ‘chin wag’ group for 50+, which includes fitness, cooking and knitting sessions. There is also an intergenerational cooking group where both cookery classes for young people and older people come together; events have included a ‘Come Dine With Me’ evening and a ‘VIP Bake Off’.

In March, due to the pandemic and lockdown restrictions, the project completely closed down but opened again on 1 September with the clubs that could safely return. However, some of the older members didn’t feel comfortable coming back, so the project ran all their sessions online, doing cookery courses online and reaching out online to nursing homes. As well as the chin wag, the project organised? bingo nights, quiz nights and movie nights. The project also delivered activity packs throughout the pandemic to keep their residents entertained such as easter eggs at Easter (with one of the coordinators dressed as the Easter Bunny), crossword puzzles, baking themed packs, and outdoors themed packs in the summer with plant pots and seeds.

The project also posts online with activities to keep them going. The project’s Buddy scheme had developed before lockdown with young people buddying up with older people to keep them company, reading stories and doing crosswords and colouring with them. This has continued in lockdown online as the young members have also been delivering shopping and supplies as their buddy needs them.

Technology proved to be a slight challenge for the project, as Gail, the project coordinator couldn’t use a computer before lockdown. She has since been on five computer courses, enabling her to help move all the activities online. The project also bought a second phone, and provided ten laptops to people who didn’t have them so they could join in the online events. Young members actually went to people’s houses and while staying socially distanced talked them through how to set it up for themselves, with the support of older people’s families. By addressing this digital exclusion, all members are still engaged either online or coming in when they were able to.

More recently, the project had to close again due to COVID restrictions, and are continuing to find ways to keep people connected following the guidance, such as delivering gifts and food parcels dressed as Mrs Claus and her elf on the shelf and holding the Christmas get together via Zoom during the festive period.

They also organised food parcels to every family for Christmas as a lot of their families need support with food, which the project usually provides with a cooking session leading into a Christmas dinner.

Gail Smith, project coordinator said, “It’s been a really challenging time, but our motto is ‘walk in, and dream out’, and we’ve just tried to keep everyone spirits high and their dreams in their hearts.

She continued, “I’ve been out from 8am to 8pm because people just wanted to talk, and if that’s what they need, then that’s what I’ll do. The team is brilliant, and they’ve really shown what it is to be a community. Yes, 2020 has been a terrible year, but it’s also been a year for building memories and building bonds. There’s so much we used to take for granted, which we’ll never do again.”

VIP Sports and Arts Academy is funded through the Trust's Active Communities programme, with money raised by The Health Lottery Scotland.

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