Ashley Smith-Hammond

Don’t assume you already know the demography of Scotland's local communities. They could surprise you. Make sure you cast the widest possible net – proactively reach out to diverse communities to learn from and tell their stories.

A story just before Christmas about Syrian families on the Isle of Bute got me thinking. The received wisdom on Scotland’s ethnic diversity was that communities cluster around Glasgow and Edinburgh, while Bute is an island off the west coast of Scotland. Demographic figures for Argyll and Bute are overwhelmingly white – 2% Asian or ‘other’ in 2011. However, just because a community is outside the Central Belt (even one that’s majority ‘White – Scottish’ in Census parlance) it doesn’t mean that there aren’t meaningful communities of ethnically diverse people living there.

Scotland welcomes refugees

The story of Bute’s Syrian community is simply that at the end of 2015, at the start of the Syrian refugee crisis, a small number of families were offered asylum on the island. Elements of the press at the time tried to spin the story in a negative direction – ungrateful migrants, unhappy locals – but community members worked to correct this narrative in stories like this one from the Herald in 2016 and this one from Al Jazeera in 2017. The trend had apparently continued late into 2017 with the Christmas stories I spotted, including positive profiles of integration and new babies being born.

black and white photo of protesters with a sign that says 'open your minds open your hearts'
Photo by Alasdaire Hickson (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Lest we forget as other things move into the news cycle, the Syrian refugee crisis is still an issue and to date almost 12m people have been displaced.

It made me think how it’s worth digging into your local networks and population statistics to understand what populations of people are local to you and consider how you could be serving them better. I wouldn’t have guessed that in the third most sparsely populated Local Authority and in a community of about 6,000 people there would be a unique Syrian community with its own story, entirely unique to that place.

Ethnic diversity in Aberdeen

This, in turn, reminded me of a conversation I had had with a representative of BEMIS (the national Ethnic Minorities-led umbrella body) who drew my attention to a vibrant community of people from Nepal centred in Aberdeen. It was a community I hadn’t the first clue existed but it appears to be well organised with two different organisations – Nepalese Himalayan Association Scotland (NHAS) and Organisation for Nepalese Culture and Welfare (ONCW).

picture of a waterfall in Craigieburn Gardens
Dawa’s Sherpa garden in the Scottish Borders. Photo: Craigieburn Gardens – Moffat by James Johnstone (CC BY 2.0)

It’s another case of a very specific community group thriving in an unexpected area. The city mix is made up of 4.3% of people who identify as Asian (compared with 2.3% in Scotland overall). Some swift googling found stories of a local researcher with Nepalese ties making a contribution to effective farming techniques in Nepal, a local restaurant named after the height of Everest, a visit from the Nepalese President in 2009 and a recent Scotland-Nepal Friendship event. For more on Nepalese communities in the UK, the Centre for Nepal Studies UK has a useful summary, but without much to say about the population in Scotland.

Don’t assume

All of this is to say don’t assume you already know the demography of local communities. They could surprise you. Plus, if you work with a touring organisation or across a wide geographic area then these are the kinds of stories it’s worth looking for to make sure you cast the widest possible net by proactively reaching out to diverse communities to learn and tell their stories.

If you’re trying to make sense of the demographic profile of local communities you should start with the Census (it’s got a fun interactive map) and the Scottish Government have useful pages of policy information and a summary of their work around the One Scotland anti-discrimination initiative. If you need any help making sense of population data or the cultural context, we are here to help.

It’s also always excellent practice to reach out to local community groups (like the Nepalese groups noted above), the Scottish Refugee Council or BEMIS who all take a particular interest in Scotland’s ethnic communities.

Read more on Scotland’s diverse population

Main image credit: You're welcome in Scotland too by Ilias Bartolini (CC BY-SA 2.0)