Sunday, March 16, 2014

Week 3: Starting at Circle in Edinburgh, Scotland

3rd week away + 1st week at Circle
March 10th - 16th

A note: This post ended up being much longer than I'd expected, as I gave thorough descriptions of some of the programs I'll be participating in while volunteering at Circle. I imagine future posts will be shorter, as I'll have already introduced many of Circle's projects here. But, wordiness aside, here's a recap first week in Scotland with pictures I took over the weekend scattered throughout.
A view of Edinburgh from the peak of Arthur's Seat.
Monday, 3/10:
On Monday, Norma and I left David and Irene's house in Fife early in the morning so we could get to the Circle main offices in Edinburgh by 9:00. There I met Janet, a project manager for several of Circle's programs, who will be my supervisor over the next eight weeks while I'm volunteering. 

Janet took me around to meet all the staff who work at the main offices on West Pilton Park, around 35 in all. She then took me to the Haven project, where I'll spend most of my time, and was introduced to the team of family support workers (Julie, Pete, Natasha, and Alex), a student social worker based at Haven (Maxine), and three other student social workers based at West Pilton Park (Fergus, Won, and Frances). I must have met a good 45 people that day, but they were all incredibly friendly and welcoming. That's the way it is at Circle, everyone's helpful, nice, and oh-so-hardworking. They really do a great job here, and I'm so excited to get to see how everything works over the next two months. As Janet keeps saying, while I may be a volunteer, she wants me to get as much out of this experience as possible, to understand why Circle does what it does, and to feel like my time is used in a meaningful way, relevant to what I might do later on in life - not to be stapling or photocopying. I sincerely appreciate how much Janet looks out for me and my best interest, so I can enjoy this time to the fullest.

After all the introductions, I dove in to observing one of Haven's weekly programs, Baby Massage. It's exactly what it sounds like, parents and carers coming in to learn various baby massage techniques from Circle workers, and it was as cute as you'd imagine. In this session, we learned a few techniques, and then the parents fed their babies and talked about parenting and childcare. I'm glad to have seen that final session in the series. 

I then went back to the office, and met Maura, the Operations Manager, who I'll be staying with. It was great to finally meet her, after so many emails back and forth, and she and her family are just lovely. In fact, Maura's neutral facial expression is a smile. She and husband, Mark, are also great cooks, if I do say so myself.

After my first day, I had a hard time believing I'd been so nervous to begin my time at Circle. I had nothing to be worried about, everyone is just so nice.
Maura, my host in Edinburgh, nearly getting blown away at the top of Arthur's Seat.
How Maura kept up her brisk pace is beyond me, the wind almost pushed me off the cliff.
Tuesday, 3/11:
I had the wrong time for Pregnancy Cafe, a group where parents-to-be are supported throughout their pregnancy and share a meal every week, so arrived an hour early to Haven. What did I do while waiting? Garden, of course! Won (one of the social work students on placement at Circle) and I spent a good 45 minutes watering the community garden, and talked to one of the dads who helps run it. We then looked after a couple three year olds while their mothers were at Pregnancy Cafe and sampled some of the soup they'd made together. Two thumbs up.

I went back to West Pilton Park (the main office) and did some administrative work for Janet, helping to organize some of the case files. It took a bit of figuring out to understand what I was looking at, but I soon got the hang of how they work. 

Around 2pm, Janet told me I could take the rest of the afternoon off, as it was such a nice day and I hadn't yet gotten to know the city. So, Frances, Fergus, and Won (the social work students) gave me directions on which buses to take and what to see, and I was on my way to Princes Street, the main high street downtown. I didn't do anything all that exciting once I got there, but simply looked around and took in all the spires and old architecture. Edinburgh is a gorgeous city, and if you've never been to the United Kingdom, I'd highly recommend it. It's great for walking or bussing around. And, if you do decide to take the bus, I have to hand it to the Lothian bus system. Their plaid seats are some of the most comfortable public transport seats I've ever had the pleasure of sitting on. Though it is a little odd to watch the CCTV surveillance video of the double decker bus playing on a screen in front of you to watch. But the comfy seats make up for it. 

But back to my wandering around, I found a few pairs of tights on offer (aka on sale - I should really make a dictionary of Britishisms), looked at the Edinburgh Castle from afar, and generally felt a little out of place being able to walk more than three blocks without seeing a Starbucks*. (*At this writing, I've discovered about four Starbucks within five blocks of Princes St., though the prices are exorbitant. When converted, a plain latte is around $5! I think Seattleites, in honor of being from the home of Starbucks and the coffee capital of the world, should be allowed to use Seattle prices overseas. Just my two cents, though. Howard Schultz, we'll be in touch.) Instead of Starbucks, I went to an Italian restaurant for some late lunch and tried their toffee popcorn ice cream. Exactly as it sounds, toffee ice cream with pieces of popcorn in it giving a popcorn essence. Strange, since the popcorn is no longer crunchy, but but actually pretty good.
Holyrood Palace, the Queen's residence in Edinburgh, below. Maybe she can afford Starbucks?
Wednesday, 3/12:
Colin, one of the administrators/IT aficionado, helped me to set up my work email address and gave me a work cell phone. Janet gave me my own desk (very exciting), amongst some of the Kinship Care and Harbour social workers. Yes, I'm getting a little British with my spellings. But only sometimes. It comes with the territory. 

I went along with the social work students, Frances, Fergus, and Won, to a meeting at NEDAC, the North Edinburgh Drug and Alcohol Center, where we learned about the services offered there. The social work students have invited me to come along on any of their visits to social services in the area Edinburgh, as we are all familiarizing ourselves with what services are available here. They'll then keep these services in mind as they begin to work with families, in the event that they need to make a referral to one of said services, later on. 

Back at the Haven project, I observed Nursery PEEP (Parents Early Education Partnership), a group for preschoolers and their parents/carers. Over the past few weeks, they've had a space theme, so we made rockets, using paper squares to write the kids' names, crayon-drawn flames, and star stickers for the sky. The kids were great, and we had to keep reminding the parents not to do the projects for the kids, but only help when needed! They just got so into the fun.
A particularly fancy building on the Royal Mile.
Thursday, 3/13:
In the morning, I went to Dad's Community group, a program run by Haven, yet taking place at the Pilton Youth and Children's Project. This group meets every week for two hours, and dads come to learn cooking skills. We made home-made chicken nuggets, fish fingers, tomato relish, a salad, and a healthy cake. I sampled everything but the fish fingers (just because I made them myself doesn't mean I'll start eating fish!) and it was all delicious.

In the afternoon, I observed ISSEP (Inter School Social Education Project), a program that takes places in West Pilton Park, where 5th/6th Form students mentor Primary 1 students one to one, on a weekly basis. They can do homework, go on the computer, draw, bake, etc. together. ISSEP takes place every afternoon for about an hour and half, and there are about 24 pairings of students, four or five of which come in each day. It's a great idea, and all the students seem to really enjoy themselves, being able to build up this relationship over the course of the year. We did some coloring pages that day, and I hung it up over my desk, along with some postcards I got in Iceland!

After work, I met up with Frances and Won at the University of Edinburgh's Student Union, housed in Teviot's Library. It's not so much a student union at night (I was picturing the offices of clubs, like what we'd have in the U.S.), but more of a social gathering place and pub, that just so happened to be surrounded by some very old books. That I'm certain nobody reads. I met a lot of their fellow social work classmates, including one Californian, though I couldn't tell at first because she'd adopted so many Scottish sayings and a bit of their lilt. They were all really nice. 
Edinburgh Castle, from Princes Street.
Friday, 3/14:
In the morning, I sat in on a parenting class session, in a series called Raising Children With Confidence. The curriculum offers six or eight sessions on various topics, from baby brain development and resiliency, to the learning of empathy and the role of love in parenting. The classes are taught in such a way that it's not the social workers just talking at the parents/carers with a lecture, but rather very participatory, and every new idea is opened up as a discussion amongst everyone. It's a great course, and I'm looking forward to going the next few weeks! Even though I don't plan to be a parent for a good 10-15 years, I still find it highly relevant as someone who regularly works with kids on a variety of ways, and wants to develop the way they do so.

Afterwards, I went along with Jemma, one of the social workers in the Kinship Care project, to meet three kids in a family she works with at the Yard. The Yard is an indoor/outdoor play area for kids with disabilities and has a multitude of fun areas and activities, such as go-carting, dress up, arts and crafts, soft play, a boat swing accessible for wheelchair users, a sensory room, a kitchen with raise/lower-able counters, a boat swing accessible for wheelchairs, and soft play, amongst others. The Yard recently received a huge makeover sponsored by one of those TV makeover programs, and it's really beautiful. The kids had so much fun trying out all the areas and activities, and were so sweet. I hope to be able to go back with them another time.
Spires and clocks and daffodils, oh my! Outside the Scottish National Gallery cafe.
Saturday, 3/15:
As the internet connection had been down at Maura and Mark's house, I caught up on Skype with a couple friends, my parents, and Thomas. And Freddie, our dog, too! I just had to see the results of his first professional grooming. Pretty impressive. I barely left the house but to go along with Maura, her daughter, and a boy they look after every other Saturday, on a couple errands. We continued to watch the TV show Broadchurch, starring David Tennant, who also happens to be a patron of Circle. 
Windy fields while walking up Arthur's Seat.
Sunday, 3/16:
Maura took me around to some of Edinburgh's sights, including a walk up Arthur's Seat. It was so windy, that once we neared the peak, I had to sit down on some rocks every few feet so I didn't feel as though I'd get knocked over. Once at the top, we walked to a field, and the breeze was so strong we were able to do complete trust falls into the wind. Maura, who likes to walk up Arthur's Seat every week or so, said she'd never before seen it this windy! 

We also drove along the Royal Mile, between Holyrood Palace (where the Queen stays in Edinburgh, at the base of Arthur's Seat, near the Parliament building) and Edinburgh Castle. We parked the car and met her daughter, a student in Glasgow, at the Scottish National Gallery, which, like just about every museum in Scotland, is free. We walked around the gallery for a little while, looked at (arguably, according to Maura, an Irish woman) Scotland's most famous painting, and had a snack in the gallery's basement cafe, which looks out at the park facing Princes St. A very nice afternoon, even if I did look touristy wearing my borrowed sneakers out in public, something dad warned me was very touristy, as Brits don't wear sneakers (aka trainers or runners) outside of exercise. 
Arthur's Seat
There you have it, my first week in Edinburgh, just five times longer than I'd expected. Hope all is well wherever you're reading this from, and as always, feel free to leave me a comment or message, if you'd like!

(All photos taken March 16, 2014)

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