The organisation that tackles racial or religious discrimination in Dorset says they’ve handled no direct complaints from Shaftesbury. And Dorset Race Equality’s Chief Officer says that Shaftesbury people have been supportive of Syrian families settling in the town.
Nathalie Sherring was speaking at a forum for equality and diversity at the Heritage Suite on Bell Street, last month. Although the Poole and Bournemouth communities are more diverse, Nathalie said North Dorset appears to be receptive to new residents. “People from North Dorset are extremely welcoming and straightaway they have rallied around the Syrian families and provided lots of support in various forms that we haven’t seen in Bournemouth and Poole,” Natalie said.
Dorset Race Equality arranges these forums in different towns to assess which groups may need support in each place. “For the North Dorset area it would be the Eastern European community. There are a lot of Polish people around Shaftesbury and Gillingham but we might come across individuals from other ethnicities that we were not aware of. We’re here to raise awareness of the support we can provide people.”
Nathalie’s organisation will support people who have been subjected to racist comments. Some victims don’t want to make a formal complaint because they are not used to the more accessible style of policing that we have in the UK.
But Nathalie says there doesn’t appear to be a problem with racial abuse here. “We’re not really aware of that in Shaftesbury,” she said. But she added the caveat that this may be because people are not reporting incidents.
“Somebody saying ‘speak English’ or ‘go back to your own country’ is not acceptable. It is considered a hate incident and we need to have those reported. If we don’t know what’s happening in Shaftesbury then we will say that that there is no problem. If we start seeing more incidents on a regular basis we can work with our colleagues in the police and the local authority to monitor the situation.”
Nathalie says that events can help encourage understanding. “We’ve held multicultural lunches. When you bring people together around food, barriers diminish quite substantially.”
Dorset Race Equality can also help people who wish to find friendship and support from fellow ex-pats. The organisation has an extensive database of groups and nationalities. “We’ve got 35 different community groups. They are all volunteers but they are willing to support each other and they are very giving,” said Nathalie. “It’s often just a case of making a phone call and saying ‘we have a new Romanian family – can you link up with them, tell us what they need and how long they are here for?’ We will see what we can do for them,” she said.
And Nathalie says that her team can make sense of rules and red tape that British-born residents understand intuitively. “We deal with how to access GPs, dentists, hospitals. We can explain what a Citizens Advice Bureau is or even how to buy a house. We would support them with these practical aspects because the English system is different from other countries.”
Nathalie’s team answer many questions related to education. “The school system is very different. In most other countries there is not a uniform. Some countries don’t have nursery schools. We get families referred to Children’s Centres and they ask us, ‘what are they going to do?’ If they don’t understand, they don’t go.” Sometimes volunteers can be assigned to accompany people. “They might need you to hold their hand and go with them for their first visit to the Children Centre, to break the ice,” said Nathalie.
No date has been set for the group’s next Shaftesbury forum. If you need to contact Nathalie’s team you can find their details on DorsetREC.org.uk.