By Arun Bector, Project Manager - BME Housing Consortium (Wolverhampton)

In this blog, Arun talks about his experiences so far of planning BME Housing Consortium’s COVID-19 Community Innovation Grant funded event. This piece has had minimal edits to help keep the content genuine and as the writer intended.

At the BME Housing Consortium, we have always worked with vulnerable communities and individuals to identify and prioritise their housing, health and social care needs. We establish projects and services that meet their needs across housing, mental health, drug misuse, learning disabilities, multimedia, science, furniture re-cycling and up-cycling.

Our audiences and participants include ‘BME’ Communities (South Asian, African Caribbean), people with mental health, learning disabilities, autism, recovering from drug/alcohol misuse, Refugees, Asylum Seekers and Migrant communities, Independent Adults, General Public.

Prior to the pandemic, Council austerity cuts had already significantly reduced community services for vulnerable individuals and communities, and consequently our contracts, income and staffing.

COVID-19 caused us even further reductions, with some of our programmes significantly slowing or stopping altogether, whilst demand has increased, especially amongst disproportionately affected groups (e.g. BME communities). Venues, where we delivered our work programmes, have closed and there has been no face-to-face contact, which is essential when working with vulnerable individuals and groups. Using Zoom, Teams, etc. is difficult because many of our clients do not have access to Wi-Fi, computers and smartphones. A second wave and further lockdowns will impact us even further.

Since lockdown in March 2020, our clients have been reluctant to leave their homes because of the fear of the virus. Several have withdrawn from our activities and we are seeing increasing rates of isolation, anxiety and depression amongst others. Some clients bought into conspiracy theories, misinformation, anti-vaxing, etc. as a coping strategy, deciding COVID-19 is a hoax and stopping wearing PPE. This puts themselves and others at risk of infection. 

We have used the BSA’s COVID-19 Community Innovation Grant funding to develop the “SARS WARS” Family Activity Pack. We hope this will enable us to respond to these consequences of COVID-19 and pilot a new and innovative model of community engagement so we can continue to work with clients whilst they are socially isolating at home.

The “SARS WARS” project will explain the scientific facts of COVID-19 through a range of positive, compelling and entertaining Virus related activities, quizzes, puzzles and creative “making” and “learning” experiences. These include making art, and model interpretations of viruses showcased at a Science Fair with winning prizes. The whole family can get involved in a fun, practical and exciting way and take a science journey through the pandemic as it is happening in real time, especially children who will start to engage in practical science.

The Family Activity Pack will be delivered directly to participants homes across Wolverhampton, where they will get involved in science activities in their own homes, remaining safe from the risk of being infected or infecting others. We will also deliver “Mobile Science Sessions” through our “ROVER” exhibition vehicle, which can be parked in local areas to make it easier for participants to engage with us.

Through this project, we want to inspire diverse audiences and widen participation in science, especially from communities disproportionately affected by COVID-19. We want to make science more inclusive, practical and relevant to what is happening around us and establish a “Science Community” to keep audiences engaged in future science learning opportunities.

Should another lockdown happen, participants would continue their involvement through the “SARS WARS” Family Activity Pack whilst remaining safe in their own homes. In this case, we would stay in contact via phone or social media to support participants throughout the project.

So far everything has gone well, although there have been some surprises. Notably, a number of participants stated they do not trust anything the Government is saying.  They won’t take a vaccine and favour conspiracy theories about COVID-19 rather than scientific facts. This presents a unique challenge for us that we will try to address through this project.

Overall, there is an overwhelming interest in learning about COVID-19. Because I have a history of delivering community science projects, participants trust what I say simply because it is based in science fact. This has already enabled me to challenge some of the conspiracy theories. They may not completely believe me, but they do listen and think about what I say, which is why they ask questions and why they will get involved in the project.

What are ‘Community science inspirations’ blogs about?  

Earlier this year, the British Science Association (BSA) partnered with UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) to provide grants up to £2,000 for community organisations to run activities and projects between 1 September – 30 November 2020.  

The mission of the ‘COVID-19 Community Innovation Grant’ scheme was to support community groups to explore and trial new, alternative ways of running science-related activities for audiences under-represented in science in the wake of COVID-19.  

Over the next month, we will be sharing blogs written by grant recipients to inspire prospective British Science Week 2021 applicants, demonstrating how community science engagement can be done despite uncertainty.   

For more ‘Community science inspirations’ blogs, visit here.

Apply for British Science Week 2021 Community funding!
Applications for British Science Week 2021 Community Grants are NOW OPEN- offering £500 to £2,000 grants for community groups that work directly with audiences who are traditionally under-represented and currently not engaged in science activity. The deadline for applications is 5 pm, Monday 9 November 2020.