The Diamond Jubilee Room at the City Chambers is a little slice of Edinburgh’s history; an elegant, wood paneled room lined with grand portraits of previous Lord Provosts. Those watchful stares can be a little disconcerting, especially when meeting new people for the first EaRN Away Day on the 9th of March. I was a bit nervous as everyone got tea or coffee and found a seat, unsure of what to expect from the morning ahead but eager to get started in my new position as an Equalities Ambassador.

Right away we got into the introductions, which while always useful still manage make me feel like I’m a contestant on a game show: ‘Hi I’m Kirstin, I’m an Ambassador from Edinburgh, and my specialty today is Movie Trivia.’ Included in our group were the employees of Volunteer Edinburgh who work for EaRN, some of my fellow Equalities Ambassadors, as well as public sector members including representatives of the Edinburgh City Council, Fire & Rescue, and Police Scotland.

Something happened at this point that seemed a perfect small-scale example of what EaRN could achieve: questions were raised about the evacuation process in the case of fire, as nobody was sure where the fire evacuation plan was located. With two wheelchairs and a mobility scooter several floors above ground level, it’s obviously not as simple as following the emergency exit signs. Once the question was raised, the information began to flow: Ian, one of our Ambassadors, mentioned there was most likely a refuge area somewhere on the floor. Pamela, the representative from the City of Edinburgh Council (who was the most familiar with the building) left to ascertain what that procedure was. She returned with the location of the refuge area, and also assured us that steps would be taken to better signpost the location in the future. The need for change (albeit small) was highlighted, and that information was passed to those in a position to do something about it.

First up on the agenda, David (from ECAS and the Edinburgh Partnership) spoke about the origins of EaRN. He explained how it grew out of its predecessors, through to the impact of the Equality and Rights Act 2010 and the void left after previous Council-led organizations ran their course. He highlighted the importance of adding poverty to the other groups protected under the act, and about the need for change within the Public Sector, but also of the difficulty faced to those gathering direct and accurate information about what the specific problems are. It was clear he thought that we Ambassadors could be the answer to this, a valuable link between the people of Edinburgh and the Public Sector.

After this, we split into sub-groups to discuss how and why we’d each come to be a part of EaRN, and what we hoped could be achieved. Given that so many of us were coming at this from different angles and areas of interest, we all seemed to be there with the same general purpose: communication. On the side of the Public Sector representatives, it was about getting the information. This might seem like a no-brainer – listen, right? But as Steven from Fire & Rescue pointed out in my sub-group, the sheer number of organizations within Edinburgh alone is overwhelming, and trying to figure out where to start is a daunting task. How do you know what changes need to be made when the people who need those changes might not even be able to access ‘normal’ means of communication? That’s something to think about for us, an organization focused on all of the protected groups: there are so many voices; it’s so easy to drown each other out. Kenny, another Ambassador, pointed out how angry and frustrating it is to be ignored by those in power – but also how easy it is to be overlooked. I felt for him, I’ve been there, feeling like nobody is listening and all you want it basic rights and respect. We need to connect the right people together, so that the people calling for change can be put in touch with those best able to help affect that change.

Throughout the larger group it was echoes of the same, all sides eager to try and make our city better for everyone. So that led us to our first brainstorming session. It had been previously decided that EaRN would set up some sort of Drop-In Session, but the details were completely undecided. Playing a bit of musical chairs and switching up our sub-groups, we started thinking through the different approaches that could be taken, as well as any potential problems like geography, timing and representation. There were a lot of good ideas formed, and I don’t envy those that have to narrow it down to make the final decision on the format!

After that, we moved on to the exciting business of the official EaRN Launch Event in May. Again, we discussed option on the format and content, on what was important to focus on and what kinds of things we could include to spread awareness and get people involved.

And just like that, our meeting was almost over. Too many ideas to share meant that we were running short on time, and barely managed to nibble on some sandwiches and chat a little before leaving – with the ice well and truly broken.
All in all, I think it was a productive first meet up, especially given many of us were unacquainted before we started. I found it interesting to see how much enthusiasm there was on both sides to get EaRN out there and working. There is certainly so much room for improvement and a real need for change in this city, but the first step clearly needs to be communication, and we’re definitely on our way toward bridging the gap.

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