Offering alternative therapies

There are one or two [GPs] here that are very open, that listen to us because apart from counselling we offer alternative help as well. For example, there is acupuncture going on next door. We do head massage. And we work with the Health Agency to give full body massage and stuff like that. We give a lot that never existed before. People move. Because before it is about looking at harm reduction. Looking at people using drugs and how to use drugs the best way without doing yourself harm. I know a lot of people don’t agree with that. But, well, harm reduction is the best way forward. That’s why we have needles that we give to people as well. We have needle exchanging here, and condoms and stuff like that.

The alternative therapy, particularly head massage, is quite soothing. It gives people just a little bit of time out. I mean it is unfortunate we can’t do it everyday, but those who take time out to attend our therapy can relax, makes them feel better, takes the urge to take drug. It helps them cope with the problems they encounter when they are coming off drugs. But it is all done on our own backs. We had to bend the rules, and look at it our selves. We decided to look at alternative therapies. We are meant here to look at drug use. But we decided it is not just about looking at drug use, but you have to do practical things as well. Practical things like offering therapies like that. Practical things like turning people to hospital. We do things like that. That actually was not in our Service Level Agreement at all. But, we have actually told the funders that this works, and that it should now be part of the Service Level Agreement. And they are now funding it. And, in fact, it has expanded as well. Because we start to look outside Wester Hailes, and it is time to go round and tell other organisations, say social work and doctors, job centres about the new things, all the therapies that we are using in our work.

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Drug prescription for harm reduction

We tried to speak with GPs, tried to convince them that people on drugs can be given prescriptions. And so they can look at harm reduction. So that as soon as they get drug prescription either methadone or hydrocodine or valium or whatever it may be, is it easier to monitor for drug use. And therefore it is easier to bring them off drugs than somebody who is a hardened drug user. And all GPs then wouldn’t see that at all. Until when one or two of them became quite enlightened and listened to what we are saying and start to prescribe.

The argument we put forward, as to why we thought a person fit that prescription convinced GPs. And it wasn’t just about saying it is saving you money. But, it does help the economy as well. Because when people are chaotic drug users and before being put on a prescription, they would be possibly breaking into houses, murdering people, doing robberies, and stuff like that, just to get money to buy drugs. I think all my colleagues including myself we are quite open to new ideas. For example, we are the ones who encouraged GPs to prescribe. In those days, we can go along with a client and speak to the GP and say look: I don’t think this person will benefit from being in that prescription. Nowadays, GPs tend to do that on their own and they don’t listen to us. So if you took that person away and gave them drug prescription that will stop a majority of people from offending. So it could have a snowball effect on the rest of their life as well. And the police endorsed that as well. They were saying, yes really the rate of offending in Wester Hailes is now going down. This is behind the fact that people are getting prescription.

The unfortunate thing about our success was that some of the GPs actually over prescribed.  There were queues on open surgeries, 50 to 60 people waiting to get a prescription. One of the GPs suffered from it, for over prescription and got struck off. Because he was prescribing far too much. Nowadays GP are more aware, have more training about drug abuse. But also there are guidelines set for them that can stop on the level you want to prescribe.

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Community centres for people in boxes

When I first came to Wester Hailes, there were very, very few facilities for any body at all. People were staying in boxes, small housing compartments and not having any thing to do with their lives at all. I mean going back to that song, I don’t know if you know about it, but it has been repeated over and over again. It is a folk song: [singing]. I realised then, that, that was stupid, that there was something wrong to build houses that way. And it was good, don’t get me wrong, to the extent that it gave houses to homeless people. But the whole concept of sticking people into these high rise flats, people would stay into a flat not knowing their neighbours. Never spoken to their neighbours for years. I found that really, really quite hard to handle.

When the community centres grew up in the area that was a different ball game altogether. That was quite good. There was a lot of community activity. A lot of people spent a lot of time working for, with other people. All the community centres use to have social nights on Friday and Saturday nights. A disco on a Friday night for kids, and Saturday night for adults. That was good. It brought a sense of belonging. That unfortunately was long gone. It does not exist at all nowadays. They use to have a fun run every year. It was well, well organised and people use to come out and participate. It was a gala day. People had to work to a sense of achievement to run in the fun run. It doesn’t happen nowadays.

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Canoeing with my idea

The Canoe Club – the idea is now 7 years old. One of the first things I do was to become a volunteer on the boat. And they were talking about building their own canoes and teaching people how to use them. So I use my contacts within the Scottish Canoeing Association. I did the paper work for it. They had the idea to build a set of boats, kayaks. So I got their insurance for them. Told them how they would have to store them, where around here is best to store them. And they decided for year not to do it and said to me that they wouldn’t use it at all. Em, they went to Prospect [Housing Association] across the road and met their Community Officer. And between the Union [Canal] and themselves, they turned my idea into their idea and they now have a container in the Calders, where they filled with kayaks, which they have to replace because they’ve not done them properly. And now there is canoeing being done by the Union [Canal] and instruction done when people want to use it. I mean I was a fully qualified canoeing instructor and boat master. Em, never involved me at all, which I think is wrong. But I know why they are excluding me, because I did not want them to take control over me. They are doing a canoeing club, which if you look at the paper work it has got my signature on it, but they’ve not involved me. They are charging local community people full price to use it rather than a discounted price, which I think is wrong. And so that’s why.

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‘Green Flag’ gardening

The education department want healthier schools. The European Union gave an idea to governments in general that, if schools had a garden area that they can grow vegetables they can teach the kids about growing vegetables, plants, bugs, bees, you know. So they introduce the green flag. There are three levels to it. The first level is a certificate that you are showing the keenness to progress. And you get plaque at the second level, which is normally your second year. And by the third year you get a green flag. And once you’ve got the green flag it is yours. They can’t take it away from you.

So, some of the parents; myself, another parent Stewart and another got together and we worked with a teacher to build pond. We worked with the kids and get them a vegetable plot growing potatoes, lettuce, cabbage, raspberries, strawberries, various bits and pieces, a pond. Got it all set up. Got the kids involved. When the kids see you push a wheelbarrow, they got involved in filling it, and pushing and getting interested and involved. It promotes the thought of healthy food as something you could grow quite easily and also it taught some kids where do food came from. I mean, you ask an awful lot of kids of a certain age where does an apple come from, they gonna say a shop. And now the kids at Calders know that apples come from a tree. That carrots come out of the ground, not from a plastic bag. It sounds so vain and so stupid, but a lot of kids didn’t know where these came from, and now a lot knows. And the council are happy for us to use the grounds. No hassle came from them.

So most of the schools around here do not promote these green flag gardens. It promotes healthy living; parents are involved in their child’s work. So they are involved in their child’s education. They are learning a skill, they are also able to teach their children about food and what they’ve done, and so it passes skills to different ages of people. The nursery uses most of the produce. They use it to make jam, and chutneys. Use it for the kids’ lunches. They have their own kitchen and so they could use potatoes for chips, for tatties, for mash. So, if the school could have or use a big enough area they could actually sell it to parents and make money for the school.  Or make things to sell at fairs. and this idea [of the green flag] is a brilliant idea for schools,  GP surgeries,  for places like these even to push for because it makes them eco-friendly and can use it, especially for big companies, to get tax breaks and it’s good to get plants. What annoys Stewart and I, is that the number of parents that like the idea, but don’t want to work, is lot.

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Got my signature, but says it’s their idea

They’ve got Quarry Park, where they do periodic programmes. Em, I use to be on the Steering Group for that, but came out of it because I was giving ideas out, they don’t use them at all. Then six months later, they will use the activities and put green spaces name on it and I have done all on it. I mean, I am not a vain person. But to take it and put your own name on it, well, I just got fed up of giving ideas. And I said you know what? I don’t mind doing the leg work.  I don’t mind planning things, but don’t tell me you are not going to use them, then six weeks, six months down the line you push out this event, which is clearly the same piece of paper sitting in my hand, which has got my name on it. My signature all over it and you say it is your idea when clearly it is not. So I get the email sent to me, but I don’t really attend the meetings as I think it is pointless for me go.

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Playing active together

There is lot of things that folks do around here. And it seems that they are trying to do bad all the time, but they are not. There are a lot of kids hanging around here, around street corners doing nothing because there is no parks, no community centres. No activities for kids to get involved in, activities specifically focussed at where they want to be. I mean the amount of sports activities that are aimed at kids that they can afford, is next to non-existent. I mean the WHEC do a sterling job, but they can only take so many. Em, football pitches have been allowed to go to waste and nobody is using them. So you get groups of young kids, say 17/18, hanging about.  But there is stacks and stacks of spaces down here. There is not really a community centre as such. The Health Agency shut by 7. The Youth Agency shut when they feel like it.  Nobody is standing up to say; well kids need something to do from 5 o’clock to 8 o’clock every night of the week.

So WHALE, we’ve got street arts, which is once a week. And kids can do spray painting, street dancing, drama, wherever with kids, where they are in the streets and it is working well. But Whale is teaching kids how to do spray painting or street dance. They asked the kids what they want to do. They asked a group of kids up the road there, just near the football pitch what they wanted. And they said they wanted the astro turf, or something sorted for the base as it is all been burnt, ripped up and it really needs sorted. It needs redeveloped and the older kids, sort of 17 to 20, did it up, did the work and then helped look after it. And, so now there are folks helping to look for funding to put the astro turf and stuff like that. The kids up the road wanted a street park, and that’s in the Calders and that’s being looked into. We went to the Council and the Council said: “Well there’s a plan for the park any way. We will start building in it”. That will get the kids active. It is amazing how getting the kids active can do to kids’ imagination. I mean it promotes mental and physical health. Also it forces kids without realising it to make friends. So they learn to talk to one another. They learn to play together. And if you can play together then you can work together.

So, then that should make school slightly easier but also makes them active. So you’ve got this big push for eradicating obesity thing in children at the moment. But the way to do that, is provide activities or things to do that promote fitness without actually taking them in it. I mean schools promote free foods so the kids will come home with a bag of fruit on a Friday. Em, the meals have been changed so they get a balanced diet at school now. So they get a varied diet on a four weekly rota. So everyday is different over a week. You have kids going on the activities, without realising it, keeping fit. The exercises are fun. And as they go out and have fun and exercise, it gives the parents peace to do what they need to do and relax, which then makes your brain better, mentally fit and less stress, and if you want to, walk into the park with your kids or walk to pick them up. If that’s the only exercise you do two or three days a week, you are starting to promote healthy exercise among parents who otherwise might have not went outside their door. And I have always said if you can bring kids to anything; a building, a group, an event, you will bring adults. If you can entice the kids and make them engage, then the parents can start to do it. It builds confidence among parents. So you’ve got to engage kids first because the adults will come along. But that is one agency out of seven in the local area that could do a similar thing. But it means doing like the football pitch up the road or building an outdoor basketball pitch built. But they are not even thinking about it that, that place is derelict and kids play in it. But however, clean it, get adults to manage it and the kids will use it. Get something such as basketball, whatever put in it. Then get them to do something in it, and take them off the streets. And adults can teach the kids. But it doesn’t seem to be that. So people just go away, shut their windows if kids are hanging around and leave them to it. So the kids get a bad name. Some end up in jail or drugs or prison or whatever. So it is bit like the bullying. So you get to intervene at an early stage.

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Mocking with footie

My son is bullied at school, and now a lot is done to take violence out of school, which is great. My son is six years old, and imaging him turning around when he is bullied and say: please stop! I don’t like it! If anybody has lived anywhere at all, you know the kicking [bullying] is just going to get worse. Emm, kids need to be shown what happens. Em, the schools in Edinburgh run a programme, I am not sure if they still do it. But they used to have it long ago, where the older kids use to go round and taught the younger kids, about the behaviour you should have to promote non-bullying activities. But it seems to have vanished. Parents don’t want to get involved because they don’t want to be accused of favouritism. Em, I am ready to do it because if my son was harassed or being bullied, I am not willing to step aside and say nothing. The police don’t go in schools as they used to talk about bullying or things like that. They go in, but to talk about road safety, and cycling proficiency and things like that. Well, they need to come and sort out where the kids are suffering – they suffer from bullying, they suffer from peer pressure at and out of school. You need to talk to kids at there level, to understand what you are talking.

So, what I do is just take my time, just take out some time and get my son, who is being bullied, to play football with a group of other kids – Polish kids. You see, what you do is, made yourself understood by just mocking about in football. You learn how to speak whatever language they speak because you might not understand them fully or you might not understand them. So you can converse between yourself and make yourself understood. So you start learning a different language. You start breaking down the barriers, whether be it [skin] colour, race, religion, whatever. So it is a slow process but that is the best way to do it [combat bullying and break barriers]. That’s how I learn so much. I mean we have Chinese, Japanese, Indians, everybody. There are so many different nationalities around me. But, now kids don’t have that opportunity to learn about this racism bullying.

I mean it is so easy to do. We had cones set up. Patrick and I were just running around and kicking round the cones, which was fine, and the Polish boys were watching. And I said: “Do you want a shot? The cones are there and if you want to show me how skilful you are, then join in”. But the boys said: “We want to play for a team”. I was like: “Well you’ve got to start to show me how you do that in training. So let’s go”. And the boys do it once. And I said: “That is not actually good, but I will show you what to do”. He is like, “well, I can’t do that”. And I said: “Well, have you tried?”. And he said, “No!”. And I said: “Well you as might well try. You might do it ten times and not get it, but the eleventh time you will do”. And they done it three or four times.  And I said: “Enough of that and let’s just play football. Some body go in goals. I will be a defender and you try to pass me and score”. And they said: “This is fun”. And I said: “That is what sports is meant to be”.

And Patrick fell, and the youngest one came running over to him saying: “Are you alright, are you alright, alright”. And he [the Polish boy] was like screaming. And I said: “Look he is fine. He has got low muscle tone, he has got learning difficulties, he gets tired and sometimes he just collapses because he is tired. He is fine”. Well, they were all saying to Patrick: “You are cool. We want to play with you more often”. And I said: “Well if you want to play with my son, that’s the problem he’s got, that what he needs. Don’t make fun of him. Because he won’t tell me that you’ve made fun of him, but I will tell”. I said: “He won’t make fun of you. But you look after him. But you trust me if something happens to him, I will be able to tell. So there is no need to bully each other. If he does not know how to do something, you show him how to do it. Be patient. And he might as well as get it. And I said might have to show Patrick what he has to do ten thousand times and he might not get it. But he might just surprise us and be really, really be good at it”. So they learn that in any situation you have to be patient. That people bullying at school is not really fair and I am saying you don’t bully at school.

And guess what? I saw them after that at the shopping centre at the weekend with their mum and dad. And they said: “That’s Patrick’s dad”, and they came running to me. And their dad was surprised. And their mum said: “I have never seen them running to any body else other than a Polish person before in my life”. And that’s one barrier broken down. And I looked at their dad and said: “As for you, why not come and kick about with us and kids? And he said: “I don’t play football, and can’t be bothered”. And I said: “If I can be bothered, then you are being bothered”. And he said: “Yes, why should Brian do all the work, I will come along”. Well, that’s two dads and a group of kids that have managed to break a barrier down.  So it sounds complicated, but it is easy to do.

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‘Staycation’ & The ‘imo formula’

The issue of holiday is another big area of spending in my own household. So naturally, holiday is important in my family. So what we do is that because she [my partner] works in the hospitality trade, she is able to get rebates if we do holiday within the UK. So we now consider where our car is able to go, so that we avoid hiring a car for the holiday. So sometimes if we have decided to go on holidays, we look at it, say three or four or five days. Once we get it, we look at how far we can go. Can we go as far as London? Or, maybe Newcastle? Or, any where around. You see, once you are able to do that, then there is less pressure on going on foreign trips.

But, to us, foreign holiday trips to me, as an African, is supposed to be cheaper. For example, if we want o go on foreign holiday to the US, for me I have to look at staying with someone – say a family member or someone that I know. And when you stay with family you are not going to be buying food morning, afternoon and evening. You understand. So, if we at all have to do a foreign trip, then we have to plan a year ahead. So this year now, we are going to America in October. It is my younger sister’s 40th birthday and normally we will all be with her in Ohio. But, it is also my younger brother’s daughter’s birthday is in September. The wife’s birthday is in September. So we use the upper [other] weekend for both birthdays, I will fly from there to New York. We will all be around to do one birthday in New York. Then after the birthday, we will move back to Ohio.

So there are many ways people like me devise to get by. In Nigeria, there is a formula they call the ‘imo formula’. Let me tell you what it is: if a man wants to eat ‘garri’ eh, and he wants to use beans cake to treat it, but he cannot afford beans cake to do so, what he does is soak the ‘garri’. Then, go as near as where they are frying the beans cake and just start to eat his ‘garri’. So he gets some impression, satisfaction that he is eating the beans cake with his ‘garri’.

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Eliminate waste, shop everyday

Because cost has gone up, you tend not to waste food any more. You tend to buy things that you know your household will consume. You don’t go buying things they won’t consume, they don’t need. For me, you see, my boy is not going to accept the fact that there is a squeeze in my finances. So you need to watch whatever you buy. So what we do? Me, an African, and my partner is Scottish, you see, this cultural backgrounds bring some issues because what she eats is different from what I eat. So, as much as possible, we try to fuse what I eat with what they eat to eliminate waste, ok? So things like milk, we use to buy large 2 litre ones, and we found out that I am the only one that takes milk. The rest of the family does not. My son for example can only have milk shake that is banana or strawberry flavoured. So to get him to have milk is not on the cards. I am the only one that takes milk. So we buy the big one for everybody. So what I use to do is: I check the date and start drinking cups of milk when I don’t even need to. So what I now do is, buy powdered milk. So, if there is any situation where they need milk, then we can mix the powdered milk and use it. This reduces unnecessary waste. In the past, we will not do this. If the date is past, we will just throw the milk away.

So, our bread too and all the other things we eat. We decide it is better to go to the shop everyday and buy bread than for it to past its use-by date, and waste it. So whatever we are eating, we make sure there is no wastage. You know, especially when you have children. In the past my son will say: “I like this”. But, when provided to him, he will say: “No, I will like something else”. So now, we give him chance to choose before we prepare any food for him. You do so by giving a list of options until he is sure of what he wants or says this is what I want. So because of the squeeze people are becoming more frugal in the way they spend. And things are more expensive than in the past.

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