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How the Roma community in Govanhill built a peer approach to removing barriers

Benjamin Kritikos, exploring why there’s such a pressing need for local solutions powered by the people most affected by them, spoke with people from Community Renewal Trust Rom Romeha (‘For Roma, By Roma’), to find out how they are tackling health inequalities and improving the quality of life for the neighbourhoods Roma community.

A group of women from the Roma community around a table at a workshop in Govanhill

A recent  independent review of health and health inequalities in Scotland made for sobering reading. Scotland currently has the lowest average life expectancy at birth of all UK countries – one of the lowest in western Europe. And the differences between the most and least affluent is stark – the health gap between the most deprived 20 percent and the next most deprived 20 percent is often greater than between any two other adjacent groups.

Inequality even exists between the different communities including here in Govanhill. The Roma community in particular can face cultural, as well as structural, barriers to health and wellbeing. 

With health institutions and the government working at the scale of the wider determinants of health, there’s a pressing need for local solutions to these health inequalities, powered by the people most affected by them.

I spoke to Nikola Krugova and Ann Hyde from Community Renewal Trust Rom Romeha (meaning ‘For Roma, By Roma’) about two of their programs aimed at tackling health inequalities and improving quality of life in the neighbourhood’s Roma community. 

Community Renewal Trust have been working with the Roma community in Govanhill for over a decade, supporting them in areas of community development, youth activities, employment and health and wellbeing.

Nikola told me about the weekly Women’s Wellbeing group she runs out of their office on Calder Street:  “Before we started, many of the women wouldn’t even want to come and meet me at the office, I would have to go and meet them somewhere close to their flat. Some of the ladies have jobs but weren’t confident using public transport.” 

The weekly meetings, which have been running for two years, cultivate a friendly and informal atmosphere that puts the power back into the hands of the women attending. Every week, the organisers ask the women what they’d like to do, arranging outings and activities like visiting museums in the city centre or walking the women through available childcare services and how to access them.

Ann says that it was a matter of boosting the women’s confidence to take part in the social life of Govanhill, to get them feeling a sense of ownership and connection to what the city has to offer. 

She points to the demonstrable impact that these groups have had on the lives of Roma women: “There are women who wouldn’t go outside Govanhill, wouldn’t use public transport, who are now using public transport and travelling forty minutes – because they’re working. It’s setting women free to an extent, getting them out of Govanhill, realising that there are alternatives, getting them used to public transport to take advantage of employment opportunities.”

The effect has been to improve the women’s quality of life, their mental health and their ability to access child-friendly spaces outside of the home. As well as the Women’s Wellbeing group, the team also runs a peer education program jointly with NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde (NHSGGC), which aims to address the barriers of access to healthcare that many in the Roma community face – especially women. The team believe that tackling inequalities for Roma people living in Govanhill starts with making sure they’re informed. 

The group runs for eight weeks, with each week hosting a guest speaker providing information about a different area of NHSGGC and the services it provides. This covers everything from maternity services, dental services and registering with a GP, to patients’ rights including the ability to make a complaint, and hospital admissions. The lively sessions “explain the whole primary healthcare system” in Glasgow, according to Ann Hyde – a big task for an eight-week program.

Nikola and Ann tell me that they’re looking forward to assessing the results as the group reconvenes in September, when they’ll also have the original peer education group members give individual presentations to the new group, sharing what they’ve learned and starting the whole process again. 

With NHS Scotland facing unprecedented challenges to its delivery of health services, community-based solutions like Rom Romeha’s Women’s Wellbeing and Peer Education programs are a vital lifeline for underserved communities like Govanhill’s Roma residents. 

While the long term results are yet to be seen, there’s no doubt that making sure people feel confident accessing the services, benefits and simple neighbourliness available is a crucial first step.