Naina Minhas, Director, Networking Key Services
Networking Key Services (NKS) works with the South Asian community in Edinburgh. It is funded through the UK Shared Prosperity Fund to deliver a community needs assessment, outreach work and training workshops. NKS has recently been awarded additional funding to extend their digital inclusion work. This article from Director Naina Minhas summarises the challenges faced by the South Asian community and the way in which NKS seeks to address these in a way that is inclusive, participative and empowering.
It is estimated that South Asians make up 6% of the total population in Edinburgh. South Asian communities in Edinburgh experience health and socio-economic inequalities, exacerbated during and following the pandemic. They struggle with complex problems such as unemployment, domestic violence, and poor access to services. A recent survey by NKS carried out with 115 people revealed that 76% had deteriorating socio-economic circumstances and low mental health status following the pandemic.
NKS has an excellent track record of intensively engaging with the South Asian community over 30 years. This longevity means a strong trusting relationship with the local ethnic minority communities as well as having the confidence of partner organisations. The NKS staff team are from the heart of the communities and understand the challenges and barriers for South Asian communities very well.
A community-led approach is at the core of all NKS activities. This means involving the community in management and governance, design and delivery of services, creating community champions’ and enabling continuous improvement through participant feedback. In places, NKS facilitates rather than leads the work - for example in the Carers Forum where forum members influence service provision through group advocacy, and the support groups where group members share advice and peer mentoring between themselves.
NKS has not been without challenges in terms of reaching communities and developing meaningful collaborations with them. The cultural norms within the South Asian communities are such that women have less opportunities to social inclusion than men. Religious and cultural factors restrict women’s ability to seek personal development. The culture of extended families makes it complicated for women with young children to come out and get engaged in personal development activities. Community workers often work through a range of family hierarchies to reach out to young women in the family.
Moreover, economic inequalities for South Asians make their day-to-day life difficult which impacts priorities. Men work in casual jobs that entail long hours. The routine of women revolves around men’s lifestyle which can restrict their freedom and flexibility. Through outreach work, NKS found that many families included males silently struggling to deal with their health conditions at home.
Men had no support and were not coming forward with their problems or issues. In South Asian communities, as the head of the family, men are supposed to be in control. They can’t be seen as vulnerable. The experienced NKS workers identified the gaps and began to talk to men when conducting home visits.
After several negotiations and communication sessions, men expressed a need for ‘men only’ social group. NKS is now encouraging male volunteers, and last year set up a mixed group of men and women. Working with men has made it easier and more accessible to engage with women too and provide services to families overall.
NKS is open to all those with protected characteristics who present themselves to access NKS services. The organisation's main strategy to be open and accessible to all is through holding information sessions and seeking to de-stigmatise hidden issues in communities.