The things we have to say!
Since the beginning of the academic year, in September, we have now welcomed over 400 different individuals to our drop-in sessions. Often catering to the very newly arrived, these classes provide an important way in for those who are feeling lost and alone in a new city.
Many of those who first joined our drop-ins are now in our ESOL classes, others have gone on to study at local colleges, while still others have left Birmingham altogether and, we can only hope, have found a warm welcome and the possibility to begin to put down roots elsewhere.
A recent review of the drop-ins with both students and tutors revealed very clearly the ideas and ethos of this part of what we do. Their primary purpose is to make people feel welcome, creating a space of friendship and safety. The drop-ins are intentionally informal, prioritising having fun and building the confidence to have a go in an alien language and culture.
They are, of course, also part of our ESOL provision and as such learning language remains a part of their purpose: prioritising speaking and listening skills and the survival language which enables people to begin to access this strange world in which they find themselves. The students themselves want to come and meet one another, to make friends and build community, but they also come highly motivated to learn and integrate into life in the UK. They want to be able to access services, they want to study and to work, they want to give something back to a country they are learning to call home and to which they are intensely grateful for the safety and freedom it offers them.
Asylum seekers who arrive in this country have to wait six months, and often in practice much longer, before being able to access college places to learn English. Even when they do get into college, funding cuts and other pressures on the further education sector mean that asylum seekers and refugees are often only offered very limited tuition. Refugee Action are leading a campaign “let Refugees Learn” which calls for better provision of English tuition for the newly arrived. To support their campaign, please sign the petition here: http://www.refugee-action.org.uk/campaigns/let_refugees_learn/ The All Party Parliamentary Report “Refugees Welcome?” published recently also includes a recommendation of better access to language classes.
In the meantime, we will continue to do the best we can to provide a safe space where those who arrive, whatever their language level, can find a place where they can practice and learn the language, where they can build friendships with others and where they can know that they are very welcome.