By Sarah Firth, Families & Community Coordinator & Independent social worker
Asylum Welcome’s Resettlement Programme currently works alongside 14 families providing 12 months of intensive support to adults and children who have arrived to settle in Oxford city via the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (ARAP) and the UK Resettlement Scheme (UKRS) programmes from countries including Afghanistan, Syria, Pakistan and Eritrea.
The Asylum Welcome resettlement team, supported by a dedicated core team of volunteers, is working alongside the families to ensure they are welcomed and supported with housing, access to health care, employment, English classes, family support and welfare benefits. Additionally, the service offers family days, trips, and a new women’s group, collaborating with local community organisations to deliver creative workshops and skill building opportunities in local spaces with local people.
In October half-term the staff team and volunteers organised a full day of events and hosted a social lunch with entertainment, for families, and the local community. The day began with informal English classes for adults facilitated by Aspire, while the children enjoyed a treasure hunt, face painting, junk modelling, and worked together to produce fabric art using a variety of techniques and media. Their finished banner is now on display in the reception centre to welcome visitors to the organisation.
Lunch was provided by our Magdalen Road neighbour Taste Tibet, and we were joined by community members, housing providers, mentors and local art group East Oxford Portraits. Families were able to sit for mini family portraits to take home. The Oxford Commas, a local Oxford University choir joined us during lunch, singing acapella, a perfect show of contemporary and classic songs.
Catherine, Volunteer, Resettlement Program
The Old School Hall. Bright balloons on the wall, circular tables laid out with colourful paper and paints, scissors and glitter tubes, coloured tissue paper flowers, wooden train track on the floor, face painting in one corner, music making on an electric keyboard in another and outside, autumn sunshine. Families begin to arrive and gradually 20 or so bright-eyed chattering children (aged from a few months to 13 years) spill into the hall. Some early arrivals are already exploring what they can do. This was the scene at the start of an Asylum Welcome Family Day. These days aim to support displaced families as they come to terms with the change in their lives. The children let off steam and have fun, maybe they make new friends while the adults have an English class in another room and also maybe make friends. And at midday, WOW again, everyone comes together and sits down to a delicious hot Middle Eastern lunch – families, volunteers, and AW staff – all followed by a spirited concert of close harmony singing given by students at Oxford University.
Magic for Smiles, a local charity founded by Jamie Balfour Paul aka Jamie Jibberish gave the children lots of fun and laughter in the afternoon, using well practiced tricks!
Wahid, Support Worker, Resettlement Program
The whole day was amazing. Everyone looked really happy. These community family days are an important and enjoyable part of the project, bringing everyone together. My personal favourite was the newspaper magic trick, no idea how Jamie Jibberish did that! Big thanks to all who came and shared food and song with us.
For the children, who have spent periods of time in cramped hotel accommodation prior to moving to long term housing in Oxford, this was a chance to enjoy being in the moment with new friends, making new memories. My work alongside families is framed by a child-centred approach which oversees the wellbeing and development of the child during the resettlement process. Using strength-based practice facilitates collaborative, holistic family support, built on principles of agency and self-determination.
While traditional resettlement programmes aim to assist with practical tasks, we also recognise the longer-term benefits of embedding community development models of practice into Asylum Welcome`s resettlement work.
Our families tell us that group and community participation are important aspects of integration which promote cohesion and a sense of settlement and belonging. An understanding of how services must work to reach out and develop robust community collaboration is central to the values of Asylum Welcome. From a service evaluation perspective, we know that by investing in community development work, the need to access first-tier support services in the future is reduced. If the measure of resettlement success is independence, then community engagement and development models can be seen as key to quality service delivery, and longevity of family wellbeing.
David, Volunteer, Resettlement Programme
I was one of the volunteers helping with art and craft for children at the Family Day. Here are some things that particularly struck me:
- how creative children are and how brilliant at improvisation. I worry about what ideas to offer, whether we have enough of the right materials and so on, and it’s good to have a plan, but children soon subvert it, blossom out and do their own thing
- the sense of collective purpose: everyone being so willing to help out and jump in wherever help was needed
- how so many things: play, art, music, good food and working together, transcend language, background and culture.
Thank you to everyone involved: clients, staff and volunteers, and to Magdalen Road Church for the use of their building and playground. It was a privilege and a pleasure to be with you.
By focusing on the strength of community, the Family and Community Day highlights collective experiences as platforms on which to grow and thrive. Many of the family cohort come from accomplished academic and/or professional backgrounds, collectively holding a variety of qualifications, experiences, and skills. The Resettlement Program aims to recognise and value each family’s background, as well as their participation in community life in Oxford. We challenge political and public discourse which use immigration status and history as a defining tool, often accompanied by `othering` narratives.
“The family day event was brilliant; it makes all the families come together and show union. Such events make the women more powerful to fight with all difficulties and learn more about the different culture. They create new motivations for their lives.”
Marwa Age 8
“The most interesting part was the magician because I have only seen this on TV before, but not in real life. It was unbelievable that the magician did those tricks.”
Whilst it is important to acknowledge trauma and vulnerability in family support planning and delivery, equally relevant is the recognition that Westernised approaches to therapeutic interventions are often not meaningful or culturally competent methods of practice. We know that people, family, community, sharing food, green space, and co-creating a larger social network act to mitigate against the impact of trauma and isolation. Developing community engagement practice, using the everyday, helps to redefine previous adverse experiences.
I am looking forward to joining with the family cohort and women`s group respectively, to co plan future events. Watch this space!