The strength of partnerships – including work to improve refugee settlement services hampered by the pandemic – was key to unlocking support for five London-led research projects newly announced by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC).
Establishing connections to external organizations can help multiply the impact universities make, said health sciences professor Abe Oudshoorn who leads one of the successful grants and is a co-applicant on a second.
“Partnered research allows us to answer the real-world questions that service providers face day-to-day,” Oudshoorn said. “This community-university working relationship creates the best context for timely and relevant knowledge creation.”
Oudshoorn should know. His research and advocacy through Western’s Centre for Research on Health Equity and Social Inclusion relies heavily on community engagement to ensure housing stability for vulnerable populations.
Working with colleagues Susana Caxaj and Sarah Benbow, and social science professor Victoria Esses, Oudshoorn has partnered with London’s Cross Cultural Learner Centre (CCLC) to better understand how the pandemic has affected the settlement process for government-assisted refugees across the city.
SSHRC provided the team with nearly $24,000 to support their efforts through the Partnership Engage Grants.
Settlement is a difficult process at the best of times, Oudshoorn said, noting Syrian families who arrived in London in 2016 had already been displaced by war, were arriving in a country where they didn’t speak the language and often had few possessions and little money.
CCLC staff would meet newcomers at the airport to assist them with their transition, including helping them find hotels or shelter until support workers could find them more stable housing.
“In a pandemic, all of this changes,” Oudshoorn said.
“Families arrived in March when no in-person contact was occurring, everything was closed and few Canadian announcements were being made in Arabic. This meant deep isolation, confusion and despair.”
The project team hopes to highlight the ways the CCLC overcame these barriers to determine the best ways of improving settlement services – including through virtual supports – whether we’re in a pandemic or not.
“For us, success means that the difficult experiences of these families who settled right as the pandemic occurred will not be in vain as we’ll learn from this to enhance settlement experiences in the future,” Oudshoorn said.
“Success will also be if settlement providers across the country take up our work to enhance what they can provide to those arriving anywhere from coast-to-coast-to-coast.”
The following projects also received Partnership Engage Grants from SSHRC:
Arts & humanities professor Yasaman Rafat and Marc Joanisse from social science are partnering with Syngli Inc. to understand how handwriting and typewriting may help or hinder second-language learning.
Health sciences professors Deanna Befus and Abe Oudshoorn, and Stephanie Baird, from King’s University College, are partnering with the Urban League of London and the Crouch Neighbourhood Resource Centre to address differential impacts of COVID-19 on low-income neighbourhoods, while improving long-term community development activities.
Barbara Cunningham, Danielle Glista, Janis Cardy and Sheila Moodie– all from health sciences – are working with the Thames Valley Children’s Centre and The Hanen Centre to better understand parents’ experiences with virtual training that supports child language and social communication development.
Sawako Akai and Mitsume Fukui from Huron University College, and Aleksandra Zecevic from Western’s Faculty of Health Sciences, are partnering with Momiji Health Care Society on a project that examines intergenerational virtual visiting to reduce isolation of residents at a Japanese retirement home in Ontario
Derek Silva, of King’s University College, is also a co-applicant on a project led by Carleton University and is conducting a case study on risk tolerance at a crossfit gym during COVID-19.
Western researchers earn SSHRC Insight Grants, April 2020