We watched in horror earlier this year as families just like our own were forced to flee warn-torn Ukraine with nothing but a suitcase in tow. Since then, more than 9,000 Ukrainians have arrived in Scotland.
Settling in and building a new life in a foreign country can be tough. Getting used to a different climate, language, culture and set of traditions without the support network of friends, family and colleagues can be a confusing, lonely and isolating experience for the refugees, asylum seekers and other migrants who arrive in Scotland.
Edinburgh Leisure is a charity committed to creating opportunities for people in Edinburgh to keep active and well. Each year our Active Communities programme uses the power of physical activity and sport to support around 10,000 people affected by health conditions, disabilities, inequalities and poverty to improve their health and wellbeing. A combination of our Active Communities programme, city-wide venues and dedicated staff mean that we are uniquely placed to make relocated people feel welcome in our capital city.
While physical activity is by no means a magic wand that will make their problems disappear, we believe that getting active can have a hugely positive impact on their lives. Improving health and mental wellbeing, incorporating some routine into their week in a period of instability, boosting confidence and self-esteem, reducing loneliness and isolation, and helping them to integrate into their new communities are just some of the benefits that being active can bring them.
Since 2016 we have delivered our Relocated People Access programme in partnership with the City of Edinburgh Council’s Migration and Refugee Team. Through the project, we give relocated people access cards, which allows them free use of our facilities for six months while they are settling into their new city. We are now supporting around 2,000 people from countries around the world including Ukraine, Afghanistan and Syria.
More recently we have also started providing children who are new to the city with free use of our facilities, places on our children’s sports coaching programmes and places on our holiday sports camps over the summer to help them enjoy the active childhood they deserve.
Sport has a wonderful way of bringing people together like nothing else can. When children are swimming in one of our pools or playing football with new friends, it doesn’t matter where they are from, what religion they are, or what colour their skin is. For a short time, we hope that they can forget about their troubles and just have fun getting active.
We have worked with Dnipro Kids to provide opportunities for Ukrainian children. Jacqui McAlpine, who works with the charity, told us:
“Our kids have loved every moment of getting active with Edinburgh Leisure, whether it has been at one of the holiday camps over the summer or at Aquadash at the Royal Commonwealth Pool. The facilities are great and the staff have been amazing with them. The whole experience has helped develop their confidence in an environment which could have been challenging for them given the language barrier. However, it has taught them that language is no barrier with staff who genuinely care for them.”
We are proud to stand with relocated people in Edinburgh and hope that we can continue to build a supportive, friendly, and welcoming community for them to be part of.
If you would like further information on how we support relocated people in Edinburgh, please contact Phil Trodden at [email protected]
Phil Trodden is Edinburgh Leisure’s Community Development Officer for Equalities