We are always looking for new volunteers to join our Befriending, English at Home, Grace Hosting and Press Gang projects. The Befriending project is in particular need of mature men to support older male refugees. English at Home consists mostly of female volunteers who support female refugees.
Two match-ups today! Very satisfying indeed. The first was with a sister and brother-in-law in Beeston who have similar levels of English. Again we spent a lovely 45 minutes drinking tea, eating biscuits (this is becoming a definite perk of the job!) and chatting. The volunteer’s family are from a neighbouring country so there was plenty to talk about and they were so grateful to be starting their English lessons. As asylum seekers they have stressful lives. The sister in particular really struggles with the constant stress and uncertainty of her family’s asylum case as well as bringing up three young children in a new country (with unpredictable weather!). She told me when I first met her that she would really enjoy English lessons because she would have just one thing to focus her mind on for a short time each week. She is such a ‘people person’ and really wants to be able to chat with neighbours, other mums and people at bus stops etc. but is afraid that her English isn’t good enough yet.
Then later on in the day it was off to Harehills for another match-up. I met the volunteer about a mile away, near her house, so it was nice to walk up together and have a good chat. It was quite a contrast to this morning. This family have refugee status and a nice council house with a lovely garden of veg and flowers. They are settled, with the husband working and older kids happy in school. There was such a different atmosphere here, all the usual stresses of work and young kids and school runs but it felt so much more relaxed than the home this morning. Yet again we had a lovely chat, as well as playing peekaboo with initially shy but very cute children, and also managed to fit in a little teaching, sharing English and Pashto words for the different nuts we were eating. By the time we left the student was really happy to be starting her lessons again, the volunteer was happy that she had got to know the student and her needs a little, and I was happy that they were ready to start. We had a good chat about teaching methods and resources on the walk back. It was a late finish for me and a long wait at the bus stop, all made more than worth it by reflecting on how vital English at Home is to our students and how incredible the commitment of our volunteers is.
Also – met loads of great new volunteers this week.
What amazing volunteers we have. Shirley has been a volunteer befriender with us for 10 years. In that time she has supported 11 asylum seekers and is still befriending today.
I’m preparing for LASSN agm on 12th October. This year is our 10th anniversary of becoming a registered charity. As I look at the list of volunteers who have worked with us over the years it makes me realise how supportive and generous people are. We have had over 1,000 people volunteer. Vivien volunteered for 9 years and supported 12 families. Sarah started befriended people in 2003 and today is involved in the Grace hosting project providing a bed in her own home for destitute asylum seekers. Irmgard started in 2004 and has taught English to 8 different people. She still teaches three of them. Jackie was involved in setting up LASSN in 1999 and is still a trustee.
Thank you to everyone who has helped LASSN over the years and who has made life better for asylum seekers and refugees in Leeds.
Peter Richardson, Director
I had a fascinating meeting with Mary at Refugee Action Leeds today. I had also been aware that they were involved in Assisted Voluntary Return but learning the detail of the project was really interesting. I think it’s a shame that so many people are sceptical about AVR as this is a great scheme that is suitable for many people. I realised this several years ago when I helped a woman who had actually never intended coming to the UK in the first place (she thought she was being taken to her capital city), was terribly homesick and who had reached the end of the legal process a long time previously.
At the end of the day I went to review a student whose teacher had left a little while ago and wanted a new one. It seemed after several knocks and a phone call that there was no one in, so I walked down the street feeling slightly confused only to have my call returned and find that they were in after all. I had been a little early and I think they had been eating their tea! The student had made great progress and was keen to be matched with another teacher. I then got talking to her husband, who it turned out would also really benefit from a teacher. So I assessed him as well (note to self – always carry spare assessment pack!). He was a much higher level so will need to be taught separately.
I did my first match-up today, what a lovely and satisfying experience! This was part of a new idea started by Dave – matching male volunteers with a husband and wife. I met the volunteer outside and we had a quick chat, mainly about how tricky the flat was to find! We were warmly welcomed into the flat and spent a really nice 45 minutes chatting, drinking tea and getting to know each other a bit. As ever, neither student thought that their English was any good. However to me and the volunteer, an experienced ESOL teacher, they actually both have a lot of ability, just little confidence. Again, I was so inspired by a wonderful, committed EaH volunteer happy to travel from a different town and devote his free time to people in need.
I’m settling in well as English at Home Manager and really enjoying it, especially getting to meet and speak to some of the amazing English at Home volunteers.
I come from a work background of ESOL teaching and public/voluntary sector administration and a volunteer background of project management, volunteer coordinating and campaigning so I’ll certainly be using all of my experience in this job.
I’ve been an ESOL teacher in Further Education in Leeds and Dewsbury for 10 years so have seen time and time again how beneficial language learning is to people in terms of confidence, ability to cope with everyday life, integration, access to further study and access to work or better work.
I am completely passionate about English language learning being available to all. I have seen first hand how changes in government policy regarding ESOL over the last decade have led to an increasing number of isolated and vulnerable learners being unable to access college provision, which has been utterly heartbreaking and only serves to highlight the importance of English at Home.
I am also passionate about the rights of asylum seekers and refugees and ensuring that public and media prejudice against them is dispelled. Several years of campaigning with Leeds No Borders and befriending numerous asylum seekers and new refugees gave me a deep understanding of the isolation, vulnerability, poverty, trauma, health problems, barriers and disempowerment that so many people experience.
I’m really looking forward to reviewing and developing English at Home over the coming months, to training a new group of volunteers and to meeting all of the tutors and students.
I met my first volunteer today. She had already been trained and was ready to be matched up to a student. I was completely inspired by her. She works full time but is so willing to take several hours out of her week to prepare and teach a student. This really made me reflect on how wonderful and committed the EaH volunteers are, and also how brave. I remember myself how I felt going to a stranger’s home for the first time, someone from a completely different place and culture. Of course it was fine, but it is quite a step to take.
I called LeedsCityCollege today to enquire about an EaH student’s application. It was quite illuminating! They have merged their ESOL application process across the whole college. This is a good thing and will save a lot of multiple applications and student confusion. However, this process seemed to be being managed by one (rather stressed) administrator. Also, there were 3000 applications in. This did not include students returning from last year. Some of these will be duplicates or people who no longer need ESOL, but this is still an enormous number.
No matter how much the government cuts ESOL, the need just increases every year. Sadly, my next thought was this – I wonder how many of these will come along to their initial interview and find out that they can’t afford the fees? This year ESOL is free for people on ‘active benefits’ (Job Seekers Allowance and Employment and Support Allowance) only. Firstly this definition is appalling, as if people on other benefits are doing nothing all day rather than looking after children and elderly relatives, struggling in poverty, suffering complex health problems etc. Secondly, yet again the amount of needy, vulnerable people turned away by college ESOL departments will increase this year.
It was my first day at LASSN today, mostly shadowing Dave. Our second visit was to a student who has had 11 lessons so far. We reviewed her progress. I was astounded. In reading and writing particularly she had leapt ahead. From my college teaching perspective, this might have taken her 6 months or even a year in a class. To see so much progress in just 3 months was truly incredible. Her language and confidence have also increased so much now that she is able to manage most of her own affairs – calls to utility companies, conversations with her housing provider etc. – which had been done with the caseworker before. This has given her much more independence and saves a lot of time.