Lewisham is an area of Southeast London enriched by its ethnic and religious diversity. Unfortunately even in this bustling borough, its most vulnerable members can sometimes feel isolated and overlooked.
ESOL and lifeskills at St Margaret’s
Our project – a lifeline and support for people who have no other contacts in their community.
Our outreach project working in partnership with AFRIL (Action for Refugees in Lewisham) assists asylum seekers, refugees and vulnerable migrants in building new lives in Lewisham through compassion, advice, sharing stories and improving English skills. Many face huge barriers as they try to rebuild their lives in an unfamiliar culture – not having any friends because they are unable to speak English, living in fear because they have been viewed with suspicion and living on the poverty line. Many have said they have no friends outside of the people they’ve met at our class and do not know who to turn to for help.
Our weekly meetings include refreshments and a crèche, so that parents – many of them single mothers coping on their own - can have a much needed break and are able to socialise. We also help a number of much older people in their 60s and even 80s. We employ two ESOL trained teachers to help them learn and improve their English skills, make trips to local libraries to learn about resources for learning that they can access and have speakers who give advice about healthy eating and exercise.
Plans for the future
In future we would like to have some days out as many of our families do not have the resources to explore their new city on their own, and we are planning to include more speakers in our sessions to help with budgeting and parenting skills.
Meetings are held in the crypt – a community space at St Margaret's Church in Lee, and are staffed by local volunteers. There have been so many positive outcomes to the sessions. Friendships have developed and people have felt part of a community. The sessions provide intergenerational benefits as well. Many of our volunteers are retired people using the their skills as teachers, lawyers and health visitors.
About the students in our group
Many of the people who have sought help from us are asylum seekers who live on £5 per week. Some are refugees and some are migrants who have gotten lost in the system, failing to access any services. Many live in hostels. They are given places at school for their children and can access health care but many don’t because of their fear and inability to communicate. We give out food and clothing and help with bus fares.
Having to start again
We are currently helping people from countries including Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Sri Lanka, China, Pakistan, Iran and Albania. They are aware that they come from places in the world, which are viewed with suspicion, and they feel quite fearful. Some of them have been professionals in their own countries but are now in poverty and sitting in basic English classes so they can find ways to rebuild their lives and hopes.
We feel that this project has helped build and strengthen our community. It has brought out the many strengths of our community in Lee/Lewisham and there has been much mutual sharing - we’ve had many opportunities to laugh and there have been tears. We have heard first hand of feelings of insecurity and worries about friends and loved ones still left behind in difficult situations. We've also seen our students grow in confidence and they have expressed their gratitude in many ways.
Diversity, friendship and hope
Cross cultural friendships are a delight to see. On a typical morning we see much camaraderie. You'd never guess that the nations we represent are fighting each other on the global stage when you see Chinese ladies, Nigerians, Syrians and Americans all chatting together about hair styles or chocolate biscuits.
We have been raising funds through personal donations and events. Our funding for this session of classes comes to the end at the end of May. Please help us to raise £4,000, which will take us up to Christmas 2017.
Donations will pay for ESOL teachers, dictionaries, books, registered helpers in the crèche, heating and lighting in the crypt and outings. All of which, as a church and charitable organisation, we are struggling to provide on our own. In this past year this project has benefited around 150 people ( including families of students who have been given items, food and money).