We’ve all been the new person. The new person at school, at college, the new person at work, maybe the new person in town, but safe in the knowledge that you have some sort of support waiting for you at home, where all your possessions are and most of all it is safe. Now imagine that all of that is taken away and you have left your entire life behind, often with just the clothes on your back. Everything that documents who you are, your driving licence, passport, birth certificate, vanished, and with that, any identify that could help you fit into your new life in this new place. And imagine that you didn’t arrive in this new place in a blink of an eye, but had to spend months, maybe years, traveling across dusty lands, in all weathers and temperatures, sometimes with shelter other times without. Sometimes putting your trust, and your life in the hands of people that only see you as a financial commodity. Traveling across lands where the citizens on the streets and the state make you unwelcome. Then imagine that you’re thirteen.
That story can be told by a lot of the young unaccompanied asylum seekers and refugees that attend the Freedom Youth Club at the Centre Project in Leicester. Freedom is a twice weekly youth club that offers the chance of something stable in the lives of these young people, where they can come and be part of a community. Freedom Youth Club is a break from the isolation that faces many unaccompanied young people arriving in their mid-teen years and are separated from parents or customary care givers.
Tackling loneliness and social isolation
“When I first came to Leicester, I was living with my brother, and didn’t know anyone else.” Khalid, 20, from Sudan, has been in the UK for nearly 3 years. “After one week I was lucky to meet Suliman and Nasser, who told me about the Freedom Club. This club has really helped people like me. If we have any problems, we come to the youth club first.”
Tackling loneliness and social isolation is one of the biggest challenges we are facing in society at the moment. Many people across different sections of society experience loneliness or isolation at various times in their lives, and it’s clear that loneliness can affect anyone, regardless of a person’s age or the area they live in. Feeling lonely can have quite a significant effect on our health and wellbeing. This is magnified if you have already had to face a lot in your short life to arrive in the UK.
Mohammed, 19 also from Sudan, didn’t find the Freedom club in the first five months of his arrival in Leicester. “I was always at home, or I would go to the Leicester market. I’d walk around the city, it’s like you are new in this country, so you don’t have any friends and you don’t know about anywhere where you can go, so you just stay at home bored, but after meeting these guys it really helped”.
Becoming part of a community
The Freedom club is run by a small team of part time youth workers and volunteers. These people help the young people integrate into the club, but also the city. Helping them improve their English, filling out forms, or reading letters. They even help with school homework. Apart from the classic youth work side of things at the club, nurturing, listening, advising and preparing them for adulthood, the Freedom club works with outside organisations that come in and run workshops. These workshops give the young people a chance to try something new, perhaps find a new talent or show off one that hasn’t been seen in a while. The Freedom Club has recently held graffiti workshops, a running club, fire safety and crime prevention sessions that give the young people an insight into issues that a native teenager may be familiar with. But for someone experiencing a new culture, environment and society for the first time, these things would be a mystery to them.
Leicestershire Cares staff support the freedom project and are building links between the group and the business community. In addition through our Voices project we are hoping to develop opportunities for the young people to voice and share their experiences and learning so the system of support offered to asylum seeking young people can be improved.
“I have one special memory of the Freedom Club was the last trip I went on here. We went to the Seaside, Skegness, and it was a good day spent with friends. Good food, we went for a swim, and went on a roller coaster. That day will stay in my memory.” Mohammed
Taking the young people on trips is a chance for the young people to see and experience something new as well as an opportunity to mix outside of their usual friendship group.
“We have members within the group who would only stick to their friendship group or only interact with other young people from their country of origin or religion.” Cara Perry is the lead youth worker at the Freedom Club. “By the end of the day the group felt more cohesive and young people were interacting with each other regardless of friendship groups, language barriers or religion. On the way home the young people were showcasing the different music they listened to. We felt that this was important as they were comfortable enough to share their culture with us and give us a window into their interests and beliefs”.
How could a business help unaccompanied asylum seekers and refugees?
Leicestershire Cares has years of experience in building partnerships between business and community groups and could help your organisation or business connect with the Freedom Youth Club.
They are always looking for volunteers. Someone that is happy to chat, listen, play pool, maybe cook some food. A regular face that the young people can get to know and learn from, whether that is learning about Leicester and Leicestershire, learning about life, or learning the language.
“If the British people could connect with the refugees that would be helpful. It’s hard to find a native people to talk to, and that is the one of the biggest problems. Suliman, started coming to the Freedom Youth Club when he was 13, now he is 19 and has started volunteering as a youth worker there. “You need a native who speaks perfect English so you can learn from them. It would be better if more British people want to make friends with us, otherwise we are not going to improve.”
Volunteering doesn’t just have to benefit the young people, it can also be a great way to help reduce loneliness for the volunteer, and the volunteer can bring their own skills and passion to the table. If they are arty, they could run a painting workshop, if they love to dance, they could run a salsa session. Other areas of knowledge that can help the young people, are in housing benefits, access to education, independent living and employment.
Other ways businesses can support the Freedom Youth Club is to host work tours, this is a fantastic opportunity for young people to see what different industries and careers exists, and what the office and work environment is like. These opportunities help to broaden their horizons and gives them a wider context of what is out there and what their futures in the UK could be.
Businesses could also fund more trips for the young people or donate any games equipment that might be gathering dust in the corner of the office, like foosball or pool table, instruments, a video console or a tv.
The Freedom club provides an opportunity for young people to meet other people and be part of the community.
There is a social drop-in session for 13-19 year olds, targeting mainly unaccompanied asylum seeking young people and refugees on Tuesdays and Fridays at 5.00pm to 8.00pm.
For more information about how Leicestershire Cares works with the Freedom Youth Club, or how your organisation or business could support unaccompanied asylum seekers and refugees, contact Jacob Brown: firstname.lastname@example.org