When Covid-19 hit, Savannah Development Foundation was a much-needed touchpoint for Black and minoritised ethnic groups in Bristol – and it’s helping the communities to heal as they get back to normal life.
The group’s monthly meetings focus on health, jobs and emotional well-being.
“We want to bring these communities together to share the experiences they had during the Covid period and how they’ve come out of it,” says trustee and chair Tokunbo Beyioku.
The team did a lot of education work around the Covid vaccine and answered people’s questions on Zoom and, more recently, in their monthly meetings.
“It’s been a way of sharing information, skills and knowledge. Some people, especially those from the African diaspora, tend to think of vaccinations as something that’s only done in childhood.
"So the whole idea of getting more than one dose of a vaccine is a lot for people to take in. They had questions about side effects and whether it’s been tested.
"Covid has thrown a big challenge and while some families are still dealing with loss, others have managed to heal,” says Tokunbo.
Savannah’s work is very much led by what the community needs and asks for – and that can vary by gender and age.
“We pick up topics and get a sense of where the elders and young people are,” says Tokunbo.
“While Covid is the main focus, along with community connection, a lot of people are saying they don’t want to hear any more about it now.
“There are other health issues people are keen to talk about. When we run a mixed group, men tend to be quiet or make light of what is serious, but a lot more will come out in a men’s only group, especially if they’re middle-aged or older.
“Young people – in the 18 to 25 group - will often talk about their aspirations. They feel like they’ve lost two years of their lives and they want to make up for it. A lot feel like they’re still not able to do what they want and they lament the loss of independence and liberty.”
Trustee and secretary Dr. Solomon Fubara sees a lot of communication across the generations, with so much respect for each other’s opinions. “Young people appreciate sitting with elders and airing their views,” he says.
“Respect is one key issue in the community, so if the elders say something the younger group don’t agree with they’ll still listen to the other point of view.”
People look forward to coming to the group and there will often be guest speakers to talk about health, nutrition or job advice.
It’s also a place people can turn to when they’re feeling isolated, excluded or in need of practical help, which is what happened recently when a refugee family from Sudan who’d recently arrived in Bristol were in what Tokunbo describes as “a really dire situation”.
“They were new to Bristol and their teenage son came to see us. He would say: ‘Everything is wrong’ and it was really difficult to calm him down,” she says.
“You get a sense that there’s a lot of grief and it’s like peeling an onion, finding out what happened to the family and what’s going on at home.
“After a few chit-chats in the park with our project co-ordinator we were able to refer him to mental health services and then we could signpost the family so they could get the benefits they were eligible for.
"It sounds quite extreme, but that family were refugees and they’d been through several moves to different cities and they arrived in Bristol totally unprepared. They felt so alienated and didn’t know where to start rebuilding their lives.”
Volunteers supported them, providing help with translation and they also connected them to Bristol’s large Sudanese community.
Now the teenage boy who originally came in to ask for help is giving back by becoming a volunteer.
There’s no doubt it’s rewarding work which benefits the community.
“I always get a bubble of excitement when I see the various generations all sitting together in a room, with different ethnic groups,” says Tokunbo. “It’s always fascinating to listen in.”
But, as Solomon says, it’s the funding that keeps Savannah going.
“I play The Health Lottery and I always talk about the benefit it’s creating in the community,” he says.
“That funding allows us to bring in a coordinator, volunteers, various speakers and to run workshops.”
“It provides the opportunity and the means to help people,” says Tokunbo.
“That’s the essence of what it’s about. You’re helping us to do something tangible, not just in words but in deeds. Every little helps and that money opens doors.”
Savannah Development Foundation Factfile
A two-year project for people of all ages from Black and minoritised ethnic communities living in Ashley Wards, Bristol
Improving social connections and bringing the community together, sharing information about health and wellbeing and dispelling fears
Grant of £24,076.00 from funds raised through The Health Lottery
Find out more here