Coming from Somalia, where an entire village raises a child, moving to a tower block was a scary and isolating experience for Samira Musse.
The Barton Hill mum and campaigner is now taking part in a project to help support families struggling with isolation, cramped living conditions and lack of resources to find strength in unity to tackle the problems they face.
Like most parents in the area, she relies on local parks to give her children a chance to play outside yet says existing facilities are not fit-for-purpose.
A £200,000 pot of community infrastructure levy money – paid by developers for local infrastructure – was set aside in July 2019 by Bristol City Council to improve play facilities in Barton Hill.
The community was consulted on where improvements were needed and how communal areas could be made suitable for children of all age groups, while also offering space for parents to socialise. But work on this is yet to begin.
Working alongside paediatrician Dr Tom Allport from the University of Bristol, Samira is seeking to highlight the neglect and challenges faced in the area and bring families together to form a mutual support system.
For her, a top priority is improving communal areas so that children who live in tower blocks without gardens have a safe environment in which to play and socialise.
Speaking about her own experience, Samira says: “Being Somali, the whole village raises your children with you, so coming to a place where you don’t know anyone in big tower blocks that separate you, in a small space – it’s very scary and strange.
“I experienced war; my father was killed in a war – it’s traumatising. Seeing people dying and then you come to another place; that trauma needs to be sorted.”
She says that for children arriving in Britain after experiencing war or trauma, the challenges are doubled.
Together with friends Hodan Shirwa and Nura Mohamoud, Samira formed the Barton Hill Activity Club in 2019 to provide activities and learning opportunities in the area. The Find Your Village project is an expansion of this work of bringing families together.
Tom says the project aims to bring together the best of African and Western ways of bringing up children.
“Coming to Bristol and working in the multi-cultural inner city, it’s been striking that migration, particularly from a culture where it takes a village to raise a child, may be really challenging for families,” he explains.
“If you live in a connected community, and you’ve got a problem with one particular government agency, there will always be someone with experience who can tell you how to sort it out or go with you.
“But when you’re isolated, living in our fragmented society, after often a difficult or traumatic journey to get here, it’s so much harder to find a solution.”
Tom continues: “In an African village, kids go out and play with each other almost as soon as they can walk. The older children look after the younger ones, and any adult who sees a child lost, not going home when they should, or in need of help will come to their assistance. Children born here to migrant families, often with poor housing, few resources, and a local environment that feels unsafe, may miss out on opportunities to play and interact.
“This is likely to have serious long-term effects on the development and wellbeing of those children, leading to difficulties with education, employment and risk of crime.”
The project wants to encourage all families to ‘find their village’ and make connections with people around them so that parents can de-stress and solve problems together.
Main photo by Freya Allport