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.
Meet and Travel Together aims to reduce stress and anxiety for asylum seekers needing to make their way to Waterside Court in Kirkstall, Leeds, for a Home Office Interview, an asylum case hearing at Phoenix House in Thornbury, Bradford, or a biometric scan at one of the post offices in Leeds. For our service users, these are unknown destinations in an unknown city, using unfamiliar systems of transport. All too often, language creates yet another barrier, and they find themselves lost and unable to ask for help or directions. The day they are about to face already has the potential to be overwhelming, frightening, emotionally charged, and mentally and physically draining. Meeting them at Leeds Rail or Coach Stations, or Bradford Interchange, our volunteers act as guides and travel companions for their journey, providing some relief and moral support. It is also our goal to help familiarize our service users with the public transport system, so we use buses instead of personal cars or taxis.
A small amount of time with a huge amount of meaning
“Thanks so much for being there for me when I felt stuck at the railway station not knowing what to do and time was running out very fast. It made my day so much better”
Mariam arrived in the UK with her husband and three children seeking asylum from a violent and war-torn life. Very soon after arriving, her husband, the only English speaker in the family, then left her and the children to return home. Moved from her arrival point in the South to West Yorkshire then told to move again a few weeks later to the North-East, she was alone in a strange world with three children to tend to. Then she received a letter to come to Leeds for her Home Office Interview. She had never been there before. Where should she go when she got there? How would she reach her destination? And what should she do when she arrived?
A fellow asylum seeker who speaks Mariam’s language and is a volunteer with Meet and Travel Together agreed to meet Mariam at Leeds Rail Station and accompany her to Waterside Court, and was even kind enough to meet her again after the appointment to take her and her children back to the train station. Though they only spent a short time together, our volunteer’s effort greatly allayed Mariam’s fear and anxiety, and helped to keep an eye on her children during the travel.
Coordinator for Meet and Travel Together
We have a good relationship together – and I probably gain as much out of the friendship as he does – maybe more! Thanks for making the link, and thank you LASSN for giving me such a rewarding activity in retirement.
Peter, volunteer befriender, January 2013
For many years LASSN has produced a Directory of Services in Leeds for Asylum Seekers and refugees – see Directory
We’d like to turn the directory into an online resource. Having updated our website to use WordPres we now have the capabilities we need. The problem is that we need someone with the know-how to transform the directory from the old paper/Access Database version into a searchable/printable online directory.
If you can help with this then please get in touch.
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 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.