Nicky Wilson: Why former coalfields communities need extra support to pull through

People living in Scotland’s former mining towns and villages across Scotland are used to pulling together in tough times. But despite a strong community spirit that helped people get through the closure of the country’s mines and the decline in the industrial economy over many decades, residents of coalfields areas – along with others – are clearly facing a massive new issue in the shape of coronavirus.
Ten per cent of Scots live in former pithead communities. Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/GettyTen per cent of Scots live in former pithead communities. Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty
Ten per cent of Scots live in former pithead communities. Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty

Covid-19 is having a big impact on people’s health, wellbeing and finances as lockdown continues and many are unable to work. The issues caused by the pandemic have hit many former mining areas particularly hard as such communities are often already suffering from deprivation and poor health. Underlying problems have been exacerbated by coronavirus and this unfortunate situation is likely to continue for some time.

Research carried out for us by consultancy Social Value Lab found that mining communities account for around 10 per cent of the Scottish population and endure higher than average unemployment. Just under a third of coalfields neighbourhoods are in the most deprived 20 per cent of Scotland and just over a fifth of children live in low-income families.

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Our Coalfields Regeneration Trust (CRT) team has been inundated with phone calls requesting funding to help people through this awful pandemic. We have identified more than 50 coalfields communities in Scotland that have little or no access to shopping or other services, and as many residents are elderly and/or vulnerable a lot of people are unable to go out.

We are offering various forms of support and decided to launch a short-term fund to help areas across Scotland – the Coalfields Emergency Response Fund. The grants of between £100 and £1,000 are designed to support the hard-working community organisations and volunteers out there to keep them operating during this crisis as they continue helping those in most need.

This grant support covers a range of activities and services to help the young, elderly and most vulnerable. Initiatives include: Lock Down Fitness; We are Together, which involves paying volunteers’ expenses and carrying out leaflet drop-offs to inform people how they can stay connected; Covid-19 Outreach to buy food, especially for those who have been told to self-isolate for 12 weeks, as well as gloves and hand sanitiser; and Crafting for Kids, particularly for households without wifi or families who want their children using less technology.

The Coalfields Community Response Fund is just one of our initiatives to help people get through the current crisis. We recently partnered with another charity, Glasgow Caring City, to get soap to people in mining communities. This collaboration led to more than 10,000 SoapAid packages being delivered to coalfields areas – well above our expectations and another example of the level of support required. The initiative prioritised such groups as frontline volunteers, NHS workers, children being looked after and police officers.

To try to build optimism and highlight that a range of support is available we’re also keeping in touch with our communities on our social media channels and asking people to post any good news stories. Using the #CoalfieldsCommunitySpirit hashtag we’re inviting groups to talk about the positive things happening in their areas to help others cope with the trials and tribulations of coronavirus.

We will continue to do what we can to help our coalfields communities support themselves and stay resilient during this time. But it’s also vital to plan ahead to identify what support will be needed as they come out of this crisis.

The wider economy is being damaged by the scale of the fall-out from coronavirus. Mining areas will find it harder than many others to get back on their feet as we emerge from lockdown and return to some form of normality. We are in discussions with the communities we work with to ensure we put together a package of initiatives relevant to their long-term needs. And we are calling on politicians and policy makers to recognise the specific requirements of coalfields areas and put appropriate measures in place.

Nicky Wilson is chair of the Coalfields Regeneration Trust in Scotland.

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