Focus on engaging with the local community and harnessing their good will
A key role for Leicester City of Sanctuary is working with the local community to raise awareness, dispel myths and help create a culture of welcome for asylum seekers and refugees in our city and beyond. So often, we receive offers from local people and community groups wanting to help, and Lottery funding through the People’s Project has given us the resources to tap into this goodwill.
Some of the funding from the People’s Project has been used to set up a LCoS football team. We have around 20 young men who play regularly on a Saturday morning, mainly from Sudan and Eritrea. Ibrahim, who fled the civil war in Darfur, expressed his appreciation: "The weekly kickabout is the highlight of my week. Thank you City of Sanctuary for helping us out by paying for the pitch."
The team feel proud of the success of Leicester City Football Club and follow them closely. An exciting recent development has been a project with Leicester City Football Club (LCFC), Premier League Champions, to help young asylum seekers and refugees integrate into the local community through football. LCFC is keen to work with us, and sends two coaches to our training session to help the players develop their skills. We hope that our players will soon be in a position to enter, and even win tournaments now that they have benefitted from the reigning champions!
Firefighters at Central Fire Station of Leicestershire Fire and Rescue Service gave us a great afternoon out on a recent visit to build community relations and hear about their work. A group of 20 members and volunteers we were greeted by Fire Officer Adam, who responded to lots of questions from both the children and adults. We able to explore a fire appliance, even sitting inside, there was a race to see who could be dressed for action in under a minute in response to a fire alert, and finally, the most exciting part - spraying water from the fire appliance!
The local police are also keen to establish good relationships with the refugee community and have been to visit our drop in. Dedicated neighbourhood officers in plain clothes now come regularly to our centre to encourage people to report problems such as hate crime and to help our members view the police as helpful rather than threatening. The officers have been well received, and are integrating well. They are keen to join in with our activities, even having a go at embroidering butterflies with our craft group….
Neighbourhood Officer Steve working hard to develop his sewing skills…
An important part of awareness-raising is working with schools to educate young people. In June, a team of asylum seekers came together with Artist Ali from Leicester Art Zone and 13 children from Glebelands Primary School in a joint art project to celebrate a wonderful achievement – Glebelands Primary school is the first in Leicestershire to become a ‘School of Sanctuary’. Together the group created a collage with figures representing school children welcoming people from different countries which will be displayed at Glebelands school as a permanent record of their achievement.
In September we had a visit by year 11 students from the Jameah Girls Academy. They wanted to see the work we do at our drop-in and to find out what we think about how migrants are portrayed in the media. Inspired by what they saw, the students organised a collection of toiletries at school and visited us again to hand these out to asylum seekers. As part of our schools work, we have also given talks at Bridge Primary School, Leicester College and English Martyrs.
One memorable day out started with awareness talk to villagers in Billesden. Keen to help the refugee community, they organised an outing for families with children to visit their village. We are also very grateful to the Rotary Club of Leicester Novus who asked a group of asylum seeker volunteers of LCoS to join them on a boat trip on the Grand Union Canal. The trip was so successful and so much enjoyed that Leicester Novus have decided to do it again so that some new asylum seeker volunteers can benefit.
During Refugee Week, a group of asylum seekers and refugees from LCoS were invited on a tour of BBC Radio Leicester with Assistant Editor Kamlesh Purohit, who told us a bit about the history of the radio station and the workings of the BBC. The tour included a ‘live’ interview with co-ordinator Mick Walker and an asylum seeker, Jafor, who told his story on air. Fired up by their tour, our members were able to secure places on a project to develop their broadcasting skills.
Jafor giving an interview at Radio Leicester
We have established relations with Hamilton Church, which provides Hope Café, a place for women to come to practise speaking English and settle into the community, and the Muslim charity One Nation is providing a weekly hot meal for asylum seekers which we are promoting. An awareness raising talk at Stoneygate Baptist Church resulted in an invitation to our members to join their coffee mornings and a very kind donation of cricket whites to a member volunteer looking for cricket kit.
Our Facebook page has grown from 34 likes to 947 likes and we have received donations of wool, craft supplies, material for our dress making class, pushchairs and other useful items from members of the local community. We even have a therapist who comes in regularly to give free hand massage to our members to help relieve stress. Thank you Leicester for your wonderful support….