As part of Age Scotland’s Speaking Up for Our Age project marking 75 years of older people’s groups and organisations in Scotland, Milan Social Welfare Organisation in Edinburgh organised a special event for members, staff and supporters to celebrate their history and their work today.
Milan means friendly meeting place and started in 1991 providing day care, educational and social activities and information advice for older members of the Bangladeshi, Indian, Mauritian and Pakistani communities in Edinburgh and Lothians. The word is common to the languages of all four communities. Over the years the charity has grown to also provide company and support to older people who are housebound and isolated, and a space for informal carers to have some quality time outwith their caring role.
Mrs Farooq is one of the founders of Milan. Born in India before partition, Mrs Farooq moved to Edinburgh in 1968 to join her husband who was an automobile engineer working with Ford. In the late 1980s she helped to set up Shakti Women’s Aid to support black and minority ethnic women and children experiencing domestic abuse and also started a number of Asian women’s groups in the city with support from the Council’s Community Education Service and other voluntary organisations in the city.
“We started women’s groups in community centres, in the Southside of Edinburgh and Leith Walk, and by managing those women’s groups we realised that there were older people who had nowhere to go. The parents were living with the families of the women we were working with. The name Milan means place for a meeting. We thought that there is a need for Milan – where the older people can meet. At first it was for one day, then we made it three days. The Tuesday and Wednesday groups are mixed groups but the Thursday group is especially for very old people and people who are vulnerable, who use wheelchairs, and need more comfort and patience. It is a very good idea to have this group on Thursdays.”
Part of the success of Milan is that from the very beginning the charity welcomed older people from across the Bangladeshi, Indian, Mauritian and Pakistani communities. Mr Choudhry first joined the Milan Thursday lunch club three years ago on the recommendation of his sister, and now attends three days a week. As well as being able to eat a hot nutritious meal, he enjoys the varied activities, the games, the information talks on keeping healthy, the group walks and the trips, but the biggest difference he finds is the company. “We open our hearts and listen to each other”, he explains. Before attending the lunch club Mr Choudhry sat in the house focussing on his troubles and feeling stressed. One of the recent additions to group activities is a garden plot where members are enjoying growing vegetables and herbs such as coriander for cooking.
Older members who are unable to attend events and outings are not left out either, thanks to Mrs Mirza, a Milan member and volunteer. For the past 15 years Mrs Mirza has been writing about Milan’s activities for the charity’s newsletter which is distributed regularly to members. It all started with a request to write about the holidays to Bradford and Liverpool organised by Milan. Mrs Mirza speaks several languages and writes in English, Urdu and Hindi languages and enjoys putting her skills to use so that as many members as possible can keep up with the news at Milan and remain connected to the charity when they are unable to join in some of the events. “I live alone. I have nothing to do, just watching television all the time. It’s better to come here and talk with friends. Milan is a part of my life.”
All members are full of praise for the staff and volunteers. The main challenge the charity faces is their need for better premises so that they can expand, open up spaces to people on the waiting list and run activities every weekday.
Milan has so much to be proud of and celebrate and members, volunteers and staff did so in style on 30th August 2018 at their Speaking Up for Our Age event. There was a history display and quiz, music, dance, tasty food including Lentil Dahl (the popular dish from the 1990s) and a minute’s silence in memory of past members.
To find out more about MILAN, visit their wbeiste or call 0131 475 2307.