January 1982. It was a day of icy cold and blizzards. It was the day the Sentinel chose to be out and about in Wester Hailes to see some of FISH’s neighbourhood workers in action and meet just a few of the residents who relied on them. The weather may have been terrible but the conditions created a perfect illustration of how vitally important the help provided by this small team of dedicated workers was to the community they served. Every one of the people visited was over 75 years old and, because of the weather, stuck in their homes unable to venture out, vulnerable and isolated.
Here’s a sample of the stories the Sentinel recounted from that day:
>>> Mr Turton was living in only one room of his house and the temperature had dropped so low in his kitchen that the pipes had frozen and he had no water. FISH’s Jane Straiton got on the case right away reporting the problem to the Council’s Maintenance Department and then, because they were unable to deal with it immediately, arranged for his neighbour to provide him with water in the meantime.
>>> Mr and Mrs Murray had requested a visit and were delighted that Jane had been able to call despite the snow. Mrs Murray was bedridden and told the Sentinel “It is great to see a nice friendly face when Jane pops in. It’s nice to know somebody cares”.
>>> Ann Dow visited Mrs Dodds who said how much she’d enjoyed the Christmas party organised by the Dumbryden Association of Tenants. She had hurt her hips after a fall in her house resulting in a lengthy stay in hospital followed by a period of convalescence at home which meant that she hadn’t been out for nearly a year. Ann had organised a car to pick Mrs D up, take her to the party and bring her home afterwards.
These may have been only small acts in themselves but were exactly the help and support the elderly residents wanted and needed – the sort of one-to-one contacts and personal kindnesses that overstretched authorities with the whole of Edinburgh to cover couldn’t begin to replicate.
However, the sad irony was that at the very time the article was written, FISH was facing the possible loss of the grant funding it had been receiving from Lothian Regional Council because of large cuts in government expenditure. Last week we suggested that FISH exemplified much of what is now being touted as answers to society’s percieved ills. It’s true that communities are capable of doing a lot for themselves but then, as now, only if their individual local projects and initiatives receive adequate support. Make funding cuts too deep, try and stretch the resources that are left beyond realistic limits and any chance of a “Big Society” will be lost and many areas will remain blighted for years to come.