It’s been a long time since we’ve posted a blog on our website. Like everyone else, we have been dealing with all the challenges that Covid 19 has brought: working from home, learning to zoom, adapting everything we do to what has become ‘the new normal’.
Our work has changed considerably. Between March and August last year, no visits to Dungavel were permitted at all. A brief opening up in September meant that our staff could make a few visits under strict Covid rules. But as a result of an outbreak at the centre, and then a further national lockdown, visits were once again closed and have yet to re-open.
Even when they do, challenges will remain for SDV. Dungavel’s isolated location means that we usually visit people detained there in groups, in shared cars. This is a model of visiting that is unlikely to be possible for some time to come.
As we reported in our last blog, early in the pandemic many people were released from detention, and the numbers detained remain low. We believe there are still only between 20 and 30 people in Dungavel, and with no visits possible, they are even more isolated than usual. From the beginning of the pandemic, our staff kept in touch with people detained there, calling them weekly and providing practical assistance where needed. We have also been developing systems to enable our visitors to support people by phone. This is a big change for our volunteers, who are not used to providing one to one support. But in December, a small team started making weekly calls, taking over from staff, and they are rising to the challenge admirably, as we knew they would. Plans for the future include recruiting new volunteers and providing training on working with interpreters, so that we can speak to more people in detention.
Our Life After Detention group has been unable to meet in person since March and initially they found this very difficult. The group is a source of peer support for the members and also a space for creative activity, and somewhere to get advice and signposting about any problems they have encountered. Losing this weekly meeting was difficult. However, our staff worked hard to stay in touch with the group by phone and offered assistance in connecting people with sources of support during the lockdown. Over the months we have been able to move to a weekly online meeting which, while not the same as meeting in person, helps people to stay in touch. The group has always been led by its members and our plans for the future include working with them to decide where they want to take it next.
Throughout all this we have continued to work in partnership with other organisations, campaigning on detention reform. We meet regularly with our colleagues at AVID and Detention Forum monitoring what is happening in detention centres. Increasingly we are turning our attention to the new forms of detention that we are seeing in the former army barracks that the Home Office is now using to accommodate asylum seekers.
We’re also keeping busy on social media with the help of our fantastic team of social media volunteers, so make sure you follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
So, while we’ve not been very busy on this blog in the last year, we have been busy. We’ve tried to provide the same level of service to people in and after detention, just in a different way.
But keep an eye out for future blogs – there might just be one later in the month on the latest detention statistics. Watch this space!