I’m particularly pleased that through the pandemic we were actually helping more people build for the future with improved education and employment services than we had pre-lockdown. And just a few weeks ago, the first Saturday group language classes, run in collaboration with Ruskin College, started in our office. These were so oversubscribed that we had to add extra classes the following week.
Building on our growth and learning over the coming year
We were wonderfully supported by the generosity of the Oxfordshire public and many institutions, trusts, schools, churches. Now, as we plan for a post-Covid world, our aim – indeed our commitment, as endorsed in April by our board – is to build on our recent growth and learning over the coming year. In such a hostile political environment, it is important that we strengthen our work to help individual clients fight for their rights and get legal status. We expect to extend this work, while continuing to offer practical assistance to those struggling while their cases are heard.
We are deeply concerned about plans announced by the Home Office to create even more of a two-tier asylum system, treating those people who arrive on their own and not through an official programme as illegal. We are working hard to raise concerns, helping refugees raise their voices and linking with other organisations across the country to resist these plans. We describe this in more detail below.
As well as growing our own teaching work, we plan to do more to take refugee voices into schools. We are also hearing from refugee families that they and their children need more support to understand, adjust to and thrive in our education system. We are already getting more laptops out to those who most need connectivity and are now planning to respond to this need more extensively, helped by research carried out by one of our education volunteers. For those preparing or ready to work, our improving links with local employers, including universities, will offer more opportunities.
The first six months of our new programme supporting refugee community organisations has enabled us to benefit more than ten organisations and hundreds of people, both in terms of immediate practical assistance and longer-term plans. These include extra Saturday schools for refugee children and adults, sports clubs for young men, family cultural activities, and groups of women developing their own businesses. We see this way of working as being even more important and effective this year as we can mix with groups face-to-face rather than just with group leaders online.
I’m really pleased with our collaborative work with the City Council, Oxfordshire Homelessness Movement, Aspire, some of the University’s Colleges, Ruskin College, St Edward’s School, Magdalen College School, The Story Museum, Sanctuary Hosting, the Oxford Food Hub (formerly the Oxford Food Bank), BlackRock and many other organisations, notably Refugee Resource with whom we work very closely. One part of our joint planning is to explore the viability of shared premises with Refugee Resource in 2022.
Refugee voices at the heart of what we do
We continue to value the work of our volunteers and want to rebuild and reinvigorate the strength of this work post-Covid. But perhaps the most fundamental of all our plans is to do more to put refugee voices at the heart of what we do. We do now have strong feedback systems and our clients rate our services very positively, but we want to go further and look hard at how we better give voice to people with lived experience to shape all that we do and how we do it.
We have really valued your support in 2020/21 and hope you will continue to engage with us this year.
Director of Asylum Welcome