Extra efforts to reach the vulnerable

Minority groups are being given special help within their communities.
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The Independent Online

Every group in society suffers when a neighbourhood is hit by neglect, and none more than the most vulnerable – older people, people with disabilities, lone parents, black and minority ethnic residents and disaffected teenagers.

Every group in society suffers when a neighbourhood is hit by neglect, and none more than the most vulnerable – older people, people with disabilities, lone parents, black and minority ethnic residents and disaffected teenagers.

These are the groups of people least likely to move away, and most affected if they stay put. Often with limited resources, they have to learn to cope with high crime, poor housing, low-achieving schools, indifferent health services and poor job prospects. With such a concentration of need, the Neighbourhood Renewal Unit is making a point of reaching out to touch these groups.

Even in an apparently solid middle-class area such as Brighton, the vulnerable are apparent. East Brighton New Deal for Communities is working with a variety of other agencies to overcome pockets of deprivation in four estates, where income is low, unemployment is high, and health and mortality statistics are worrying.

Graham Maunders, the Project Director for East Brighton, says, "Like in a lot of areas, we are finding extremes emerging. People think of Brighton as a comfortable place, but there is considerable deprivation and a lack of inclusion in some parts. People are under a lot of pressure."

The four east Brighton estates suffer from all the problems associated with poorly used open space – abandoned cars, graffiti, rubbish and vandalism. Fear of crime and poor local facilities impact on the elderly and lone parents alike.

The NDC has responded with the introduction of neighbourhood wardens and "community building" schemes. The project has paid for a police sergeant and six constables to patrol the area, a scheme so successful it is to be adopted as part of the police authority's mainstream budget in future. Crime and vandalism rates are dropping. "The real proof is how the community feels about itself – people certainly say it is quieter," Mr Maunders says.

The NDC has targeted disaffected young people with more off-street activities. Older people, too, are being reached – an older persons' co-ordinator has been appointed and will shortly begin work liaising with services for the elderly on the ground. A "cyber seniors" project to familiarise retired citizens with the internet has been a runaway success.

An equalities panel has been appointed to consider issues for the small ethnic minority population in the area, and an equalities officer has begun work. For lone parents, projects are being set up with family centres and there are plans to set up an outreach service to help lone parents towards jobs, benefits and better health care.

Transport, too, is a key facility that can have a big impact on vulnerable groups. The NDC is reviewing bus routes through the area and may suggest changes that will benefit the community as a whole.

In Nottingham, which has a large ethnic minority community, New Deal for Communities partners have worked hard on race-equality projects in order to involve and benefit everyone living in the area. Byron Currie, a Race Equality Officer, has worked on organising events to encourage participation by Asian women and, more generally, among ethnic minority small businesses.

Since the atrocities of the attacks on New York and Washington, incidents of racial harassment in the Radford area of Nottingham have doubled. The NDC itself is working with a racist-incident reporting centre, along with the police and victim support organisations, which from this month will be heavily promoted in schools and businesses.

Involving Asian women has been a particular emphasis for those working on the Nottingham project. "It can be very hard to create a dialogue with some Asian women, particularly from south Asia. Fortunately there was one such woman on the staff, which has made outreach work possible," Mr Currie said.

Using a creche, makeovers and manicures as attractions, south Asian women have been encouraged to get involved with the planning and promotion of NDC programmes to revitalise the community as a whole. One Saturday morning, over 70 people attended a special women's event – a resounding success. Two of the women subsequently became NDC board members.

"Locally, fear of crime is the number one issue, followed by education and the poor physical environment," said Mr Currie. "By encouraging networking among communities and organisations, we are keeping our action plan relevant. The outcome should be better services for all."

"For example, most Asians felt that the National Health Service provision was geared towards Europeans – not Asians and Africans. In partnership with the local primary care trust, we are looking at improvements, including traditional and alternative medicine and better facilities for specific problems that affect some communities, such as sickle cell anaemia."

Money has also been given to local primary schools to appoint African and Asian school assistants, to raise levels of achievement. "Every NDC area has its own particular range of problems. It is up to each one to decide how best to reach out to the vulnerable people in their midst," says the NRU's Sian Jones.