We’ve seen the power of communities, now let’s invest in them. The pandemic has shown us what local communities can achieve when they are properly resourced. Grassroots organisations have been the lifeblood of their neighbourhoods, providing essential services, food, and human connection. As we rebuild our economy, we must learn from this experience by investing in community organisations and ensuring that local people are given a greater say in the decisions that affect them.

Today marks the beginning of Challenge Poverty Week in Scotland. We all want to live in a society where everyone has enough. And yet, we have gotten so used to hearing that there is a rising tide of poverty, that we’ve become numb to it. Many of us don’t stop to think about what this actually means for people. They don’t imagine what it feels like not to be able to eat decent food, or the constant pressure that comes from worrying about every single household bill.

As the last few months have seen a wave of unemployment and people’s incomes have plummeted, many will now know what it means to live in poverty for the first time.

That feeling you’re going under is one I’ve known all too well. At the age of 15 I was made homeless. I lived in temporary accommodation with 13 other people before eventually moving into a housing association house.

I went to college for three months but covering the costs meant I fell into rent arrears. As much as I’m desperate to learn, I won’t do anything to sacrifice the house over my head.

I’m 40 now and have spent most of my years since then in work, but often in low paid jobs that didn’t offer enough hours to keep my head above water. For five months last year I was unemployed and reliant on Universal Credit, which provides barely enough to get by. I struggled to cover my energy meter, feed myself properly and pay for the internet connection anyone needs now to take part if society. I had to borrow from friends.

I come from Ferguslie, an area that has sadly become synonymous with deprivation in the media. Seeing so many of my neighbours and former classmates contend with similar challenges to me has really motivated me to change things.

Rent here is seven or eight per cent higher than the national average and the majority of jobs are low paid with zero hours contracts. Poverty creates so many problems.

But during this pandemic, we have witnessed a small transformation in our community, implementing organic local solutions to local problems. We’ve been able to combat poverty in ways we hadn’t thought of before.

I’ve been employed by the Strengthening Communities Fund via the Tannahill Centre to support our local group, Darkwood Crew. From the first week of lockdown we set

up a hotline for anyone who needed help. Since then we’ve run regular community markets where people can come and take whatever food

and household goods they need.

We delivered food parcels to every single household to avoid any stigma that might be associated with

needing help.

In addition to material poverty, years of neglect of our local environment have added to poor mental health, isolation and loneliness. Many of us feel excluded, abandoned and powerlessness.

We’ve had great success tackling isolation through our “Bingo Bus”. Each night, we visit a new street in the vehicle we use to deliver food in the day. Attendees get a free goodie bag and a bingo page to play for free. People started to dress up and decorate the street for it (all socially distanced, of course). It has really us allowed to connect the whole community and find out about people’s needs. It feels like being part of a family.

We were delighted when one woman told us she didn’t need us to pick up her proscription anymore because her neighbour had offered to do it after seeing each other for the Bingo Bus. That’s exactly what we’re here for.

One of our volunteers, Barry, has suffered from long-term depression, but has found the chance to help others has got him out of bed in the morning. He’s known as Bingo Bus Barry now and children will affectionately run after him in the street.

Very little of our activities were planned, we’ve just responded to the needs in our community as they

have arisen – an approach that isn’t possible when you don’t live here.

Despite coronavirus exacerbating poverty and its related problems in the area, it’s forced us all to think and work differently. For our community, and many others, it has allowed us to feel truly empowered to organise ourselves and identify effective solutions to often historic and complex challenges. We must learn from this experience.

It’s good to see the Scottish Government talk about building a wellbeing economy. That has to

mean tackling poverty by creating decent, secure, well-paid jobs, and ensuring social security payments provide enough for people to live

a full life. But it must also mean

long-term investment in grassroots organisations so local people

are empowered to find their

own solutions.

Terry McTernan is part of the Darkwood Crew community group

in Ferguslie.