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Residents of Merkinch and South Kessock in Inverness 'plunged into crisis' by Covid-19 coronavirus lockdown according to report from Merkinch Partnership and University of the Highlands and Islands

By Val Sweeney

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The loss of face-to-face services had a hugely negative impact for many in Merkinch and South Kessock the report's authors said.
The loss of face-to-face services had a hugely negative impact for many in Merkinch and South Kessock the report's authors said.

When the first coronavirus lockdown was introduced in March 2020, the community of Merkinch and South Kessock was totally unprepared for such an unprecedented and unexpected event.

Many were scared and felt their lives had been turned upside down.

As the Courier has reported, the story of the pandemic’s impact on the community is outlined in a new report compiled by Merkinch Partnership and the Centre for Remote and Sustainable Communities at Inverness College.

It concludes people in the community have experienced high levels of challenges, problems, inequalities and disadvantage.

The report states: “All of the face-to-face support normally available to local people ceased, basically overnight, and people were plunged into a crisis which they were neither prepared for nor equipped to deal with.

“At a time when people desperately needed support and access to services, they found themselves in a situation where support and advice could only be accessed by phone or by going online.

“This was a real challenge for a community which depends on face-to-face contact in all areas of their lives – housing support, engaging with health professionals, attending local community projects, looking for work, claiming benefits, taking part in education and organising community meetings and events.

“Many people in Merkinch and South Kessock do not have access to digital devices or do not have the skills to get online.

“Many people also have mobile phone contracts with very low data levels and minutes, hence their ability to make phone calls or to get online on their phones is restricted.”

Other issues included paying the rent and spending more money on food and fuel as they had to stay at home for longer, needing face-to-face contact for mental health and also concerns about physical health.

School children were very aware about their mental health and this was also confirmed by teachers’ concerns about pupils, including cases of suicide attempts and anxieties about returning to school once lockdown was over.

The report continued: “Adults consistently talked about stress, anxiety and fear of the pandemic.

“Isolation, feeling bored and depressed are particular issues, with the terms ‘anxiety’ and ‘depression’ being used generally and as a self-diagnosis.

“There are situations of diagnosed existing mental health issues that have got worse.

“The impacts on physical health raised in the research were around not being able to see a GP, people feeling that they had put on weight and that they had disrupted sleep patterns.

“In a few cases recovering alcoholics or drug users felt they had gone backwards.”

Community projects operating in Merkinch rallied to provide lifeline services for those without the skills, resources or resilience to deal with the crisis of pandemic.

The report states: “Although our efforts were not always as well co-ordinated as they could have been and partnership working could have been more effective and collaborative, we did manage to provide much-needed and much-appreciated support, albeit remotely by phone for the majority of the time.”

A range of community organisations collaborated to provide support such as delivery of food parcels and prescriptions, helping people to get online, making welfare phone calls, giving advice on lockdown rules, cash payments for gas and electricity, pastoral care, art packs for children, checking on neighbours and giving out food treats to locals.

The report continues: “The activities provided by the community organisations, the services put in place by statutory agencies, the increase in Universal Credit and the fact that the three local corner shops remained open throughout the lockdowns meant that local people were able to access a wide range of support, information and advice which was a lifeline for them in a crisis situation. This helped them to keep their heads above water and survive.

“What we need now is a plan for the future, how do we help people to recover from the last 16 months, how can we help people to not only get back on their feet but to move forward with their lives and thrive, not just survive?

“This is the next challenge for the Merkinch and South Kessock community and one which starts with this research project.”

Related story: Study details impact of pandemic on Inverness communities

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