Summary: Urban and countryside walks for newly arrived students and refugees
Where: Plymouth, UK
Initiated by: START: Students and Refugees Together
Website: www.studentsandrefugeestogether.com; @STARTplymouth
START based in Plymouth and Cornwall supports the orientation and settlement of refugees in the city and their transition ‘from people in need, to self-reliant contributors to their local communities’. The START model of working brings together students on placements from professional programmes such as social work and occupational therapy with refugees and people seeking asylum, all of whom might be new to Plymouth. The ambition is to support an environment where people can use and develop skills, develop new connections and ultimately build more cohesive communities.
‘STARTWalking’ is an initiative that involves a series of walks (roughly quarterly) undertaken by staff, students and refugees, giving all a chance to get to know both the city's green spaces and the nearby countryside. As well as its proximity to Cornwall and Dartmoor, Plymouth has a very dramatic coastal location. The programme introduces the walkers to this beautiful resource, getting to know the character and history of the landscape, building their confidence in getting around, and hopefully helps them develop a sense of attachment to their new home. It is also an opportunity to make new friends within the refugee community and outside, exchange experiences and sometimes share memories of home countries.
START Walking has produced a guidebook highlighting nine walks in and around the city. It provides practical information on transport, information on historical heritage and the local wildlife that can be enjoyed during the walk. This beautifully illustrated booklet can be used as a resource for individuals, friends and groups – newcomers and old-timers in the city!
Where: Manchester, UK
Collaborators: Refugee Action, Groundwork, and local operators
Refugee Action’s Wellbeing Cycling Club was set up in 2008 in partnership with the Cycling Touring Club (CTC) and funded through the Big Lottery Fund’s Target Wellbeing. Between 2013 and 2015, the Wellbeing Cycling Club provided cycling training to over 400 asylum seekers and refugees throughout Greater Manchester. For a few hours a week, keen learner and experienced cyclists took part in park-based and on-road cycling activities, including training on safety, control, and the Highway Code.
Cycling classes were targeted at different age and gender groups, and advertised through word-of-mouth, posters, and staff working at centres such as the Boaz Trust, Revive, and the British Red Cross. The formal cycling training sessions were supplemented by ongoing individual advice from social work students on placement from Manchester and Salford Universities. Though it focused on cycling, this additional encouragement aimed at addressing wider issues in relation to stress and wellbeing in a broader life context.
Evaluation of the project was built into all stages, partly through the keeping of ‘cycling diaries’ by 47 participants. Two thirds of respondents reported an improvement in their stress management, 83% reported feeling happier after having taken part, and all appreciated learning new skills. Some groups built a sense of community among participants, and an increase in confidence allowed them to explore their neighbourhood more freely. For some, cycling became their favourite means of getting around. Sadly, the specific funding stream ran out in 2015, bringing an end to the project, and the bikes were donated to a local community project who could continue its good work.
What: Post trauma mental health support through gardening
Where: London, UK
Collaborators: South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust (Slam), Maudsley Charity, and horticultural project Roots and Shoots.
For 10 years the project has provided therapeutic gardening and psychotherapy to refugees and asylum seekers suffering from mental health problems such as depression, anxiety and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Many who use the service have been affected by trafficking, torture, violence and rape, and have been referred by mental health services at the Southwark PTSD trauma unit. Prior experience that clients have in gardening varies: some are very experienced, whereas others are complete novices.
Gemma Eke, a clinical psychologist from Slam, explains how many of their service users with PTSD are in need of routine in their lives, and that involvement in a facilitated gardening project can help to provide this. Initially, clients attend a 10-week course in a group, wherein they are taught skills to manage their mental health, after which they are invited to return for a weekly gardening session. According to Gemma Eke, gardening as a tool for psychotherapy not only helps clients to ‘concentrate better’ and ‘to be present’, but also develops social relationships and trust. Asylum seekers who take part in the project often refer to powerful metaphors in relation to gardening and recovery. As one participant said: “When I see the corn growing I think, although my life has been demolished, I can still grow again.”
Summary: Weekly football sessions for asylum seekers, refugees and local youth
Where: Sheffield, UK
Collaborators: FURD, U-Mix Centre, Sheffield
Football Unites, Racism Divides (FURD) hosts weekly football sessions at the U-Mix Centre in Sheffield for asylum seekers and refugees, and local youth more broadly, to promote social inclusion and understanding between different communities. FURD believes that “football, as the world’s most popular sport, can help break down barriers created by ignorance or prejudice, and bring together people from different backgrounds to play, watch and enjoy the game”.
Wednesday U-Mix sessions gather a diverse mixture of users: younger and older experienced players and beginners (though, sadly, efforts to attract women haven’t worked out yet). Around 15 people usually turn up and join in. According to one of the regular members of the group, Wednesday sessions are a great way for newcomers to establish a network of friends in Sheffield and learn about other events and activities going on in the city. Football exercises allow refugees and asylum seekers to undertake a structured physical activity outdoors — irrespective of the weather. Playing football provides a helpful escape from everyday worries. After a game, all participants are welcome to lunch — a friendly way to continue informal discussions, about football and beyond, and develop new friendships and connections.
Summary: A dedicated orientation programme for newly arrived Syrian refugees
Where: London, UK
Collaborators: Refugee Action and local partners
Orientation takes place during the arrivals week and is carried out after staff and volunteers at Refugee Action have provided refugees with the essentials (tenancy, housing benefits, job-seeking appointments, GP registration, Home Office, basic utilities). Firstly, local tours are given. These involve walking with newcomers around their immediate area and showing them local shops, markets, supermarkets, discount stores, local parks, mosques/churches, post offices, payment points (to collect benefits before a bank account has been set up), and transport links.
James Peto from Refugee Action feels that parks are important but sometimes difficult to find; therefore, he makes a point of including these in the tours. On the first trip, there is usually an element of teaching newcomers to London about transport systems, currency, money saving, safeguarding, and road safety. James explains: “We want this to be a friendly experience and try to take them to at least some places that speak Arabic and may seem more familiar to them so they are encouraged to explore by themselves as opposed to feeling daunted by the foreign environment.”
The second orientation is for the wider area. In London, volunteers and staff at Refugee Action take clients to Shepherd’s Bush Market, where there are several Syrian shops and restaurants. Specific itineraries will reflect discussion between Refugee Action staff members and the refugees who participate in the projects.