By Suzanne Crimin, Oxfam Scotland Future Skills Project Coordinator

IT’S an awful way to feel: completely alone. But for many people across the country, it’s the daily reality. And days like today, International Day of Families, can be particularly tough.

The project I run for Oxfam Scotland works with women living in and around Glasgow who are from marginalised backgrounds and who are either living in poverty or at risk of falling into it.

Some of the women have lived here all their lives, while others have arrived more recently after fleeing war and persecution. Of course, many of them have money worries and some are anxious about their immigration status, but a uniting theme has undoubtedly been loneliness. Most of the women lack any sort of support network and describe trying to access a baffling and often seemingly hostile support system, whilst living in communities they don’t fully understand or feel part of.

Oxfam’s Future Skills project is trying to help this initially small group of women overcome their isolation and build their skills and confidence through a mixture of volunteering placements in our shops, group workshops and one-to-one coaching. We hope it will support the women move closer to a life free from poverty, though we recognise wider change – like improving the quality of work and rewarding unpaid care – is needed too.

One woman told me that before starting the project she felt like she wasn’t seen by anybody; her neighbours never said “hello” and she could go for days without speaking to anyone at all. She said it was like being invisible. She says the best thing about being involved in Future Skills is that people smile at her when she walks in the door; they’re pleased she is there. People see her.

Sometimes the Oxfam shop staff have become like substitute families for women who have no-one else. Recently, one woman had to move into a new flat, but didn’t have any furniture to put in it. The friends she’d made through the Oxfam shop immediately stepped in – doing a ring around, finding furniture and then helping her move in.

But there’s really no substitute for having your own family around you.

More than half of the women on the project are from refugee backgrounds and are often particularly isolated. Some are here with their children but many are completely alone. Some of them have children but have been separated from them. I don’t ask how.

Having the people they love around them would undoubtedly make a huge difference to their lives and give them more confidence to engage with their new communities. One woman has been lucky enough to be reunited recently with her husband. Like many refugees, in the panic to escape they’d been separated and he’d ended up stuck in Sudan for years, while she was here, alone, with their small child.

She doesn’t have to tell me the difference having her husband here has made: I can see it, even just in the way she moves. She stands that little bit taller, that little bit straighter. Things aren’t magically perfect, but she now has someone she loves by her side.

There are multiple barriers to many of the refugee women on our project being reunited with their loved ones. Some are administrative. Some are political. All are heart-breaking.

Right now, Scottish MP Angus MacNeil is bringing forward a new UK law which would enable more refugee families to be brought back together. In March, this proposed law received initial backing from 129 MPs and awill now be scrutinised further. I hope all MPs will today – on International Day of Families – be reflecting on their chance to help alleviate the enforced loneliness of others.