Asylum seekers are not allowed to work and can sometimes wait as long as 10 years for a decision on their case. Many have skills they are keen to use, and part of our Lottery funding is focused on giving our members the opportunity to use these skills in volunteering. This provides them with the opportunity to give something back, gain a sense of purpose, integrate, and use the time they spend waiting for a decision in a useful way. It also helps alleviate stress and provides a focus other than worrying about the outcome of their cases. Many members start off volunteering at the drop-in and help us to run our services. We now have more asylum seekers helping us than ever before, and are able to offer more training and team building events to help encourage our members to get involved. A recent team building event at Hollywood Bowl was greatly enjoyed by all!
Some have gained enough confidence to represent us in the community, even speaking on behalf of our organisation. One of our asylum seeker volunteers recently spoke about her experiences to the crowds at the LoveInternational rally organised by De Montfort University. The Journeys Festival International, organised by a partner organisation, Artreach, has also provided opportunities for our members to get more widely involved. This festival celebrates the creative talent of exceptional refugee and asylum seeker artists, and sharing refugee experiences through great art and culture. One lady worked in collaboration with Leicester Print Workshop, exploring the theme of Welcome to produce poster design, which was used in the Container exhibition. Other members participated in the Coffee Shop Conversations talking to members of the public. About six of our members from the local refugee and asylum seeker community have been invited to take part in the newly formed ROOTS Advisory Group, and have contributed to the redesign of the Journeys Festival International website to make it more accessible and clear for those that know English as an additional language.
As well as volunteering with us, we also encourage our members to volunteer beyond LCoS and with the new funding, we have been able to work more closely with partner organisations to help asylum seekers prepare for work, should they be granted leave to remain. We have built a strong partnership with the Red Cross, who regularly offer courses to improve future prospects for employment. Under this partnership, we host the courses at our drop-in centre at Holy Cross and have developed a new texting service to alert our members. This arrangement has been highly successful and our members have benefited from courses on Life Skills, Wellbeing, Volunteering through Voluntary Action Leicestershire, Interview Skills, CV Writing and First Aid. We also help our members develop relationships with other organisations and provide references and support whenever required. At our suggestion, one young Arabic speaker started to volunteer with Leicester City Council, welcoming refugees from Syria and helping them to settle. He even went to the airport with LCC representatives at 4am in the morning, so probably didn’t get much sleep that night! This young man was granted ‘leave to remain’ and has been offered a permanent job by the Council. He now visits us in a professional capacity, introducing new people to our services. Another young woman started to volunteer with the Refugee Service at the Red Cross and now that her leave to remain has been granted, she too, has been offered a job as a case worker. We see her quite regularly at Leicester City of Sanctuary and work with her, supporting clients together. Others are volunteering at the LASS (Leicestershire Aids Support Services), Welcome Project (a partner organisation), as breast feeding supporters, in local churches and beyond.
Recent Developments and Highlights from the year…
A creative writing project, run in collaboration with Writing East Midlands. The project offered a creative response to the growing refugee crisis and featured the professional writer Jess Green and facilitator Alex Plasatis. Working with asylum seeker volunteer translators from our drop-in, the team delivered a 12 week creative writing workshop for people and communities who have arrived as a result of the recent population upheavals. When the project was first proposed, I have to admit, we were a little sceptical of how the leaders would manage to engage our people in creative writing, given that so many still have quite basic English. However, in the spirit of adventure and trying new things we agreed, and were subsequently shown just how wrong we were to make assumptions about what our people are capable of and would enjoy! Thanks to the great skill of both Jess and Alex, the creative writing project was one of the biggest highlights of the year! 15-20 people took part each week, translating existing poetry, writing their own material and sharing their output, which has included some very powerful poetry. There were many spin-offs to this project, including the opportunity for participants perform their work at two local theatres.
The football team – Thanks to the tireless energies of Phil, the volunteer who set up our football team, we now have around 35 regular players and a very professional-looking team. Leicester City Football Club (LCFC) have provided amazing support, including coaching sessions, some kit, and a visit to King Power Stadium to watch a match. LCFC also organised a tournament, giving our lads the opportunity to play against a refugee team from Hull, and I’m proud to say we won 3-0.
Cooking project – this has developed throughout the year, offering our members the opportunity to teach others how to prepare a meal from their home country. More recently we have focused on developing basic cooking skills using ingredients one might get from a food bank. Participants work in teams, with a list of ingredients, and have to come up with a meal idea using the things they have been given. The resulting dishes are judged by Linton, our celebrated drop-in chef. As part of our Stepping Stones project, we have engaged with around 40 different organisations during the course of the year, and have enjoyed 12 trips, including a day trip to London, a private screening of ‘Cool Runnings’ at local Phoenix cinema for 25 people, salsa dancing and a meal out in a Turkish restaurant.
This year has been fantastic, we have been able to do so much including building many partnerships & relationships with the local community. We are confident that many projects and partnerships will continue when the funding comes to an end, providing a lasting legacy. Thank you People’s Project, Stepping Stones been a brilliant opportunity for us…