Our Welcome Wednesday session for young refugees and asylum seekers has grown since 2015 when it started into a community hub, a one stop shop for young people to find community, get support and build trusted relationships with professionals, and each other.

Despite the challenges of lockdown, in 2021, we have going from strength to strength, working in partnership to deliver the best support possible for young people. 

Challenges young people face

Young people come to us after long journeys. Having left war torn countries as children, they have journeys across the world that can take them from a month, to even three years, before they arrive in the UK. 

When they arrive, they are often alone, unaccompanied, housed with strangers and trying to go to school and learn in a different country. They might not have been to school for a number of years - many are not literate. 

We often see mental health needs increasing post-migrating. Young people have been in survival mode, thinking only about making it through. When they get here, they are more safe, so they have some spaces to process and that is often when trauma surfaces. It is also when uncertainty creeps in again, as the immigration process takes a long time. 

There often is an initial excitement, an eagerness to learn English and make friends, try new things and celebrate. However, over the first year, we see mental health issues increase and they start to struggle when the support they are receiving isn't what they expected. Living in uncertainty whether you are safe and able to stay here takes an enormous emotional toll.

At Welcome Wednesday, they find people who are open, eager to listen and learn, share information and resources and facilitate a safe and supportive space. It's often the only place where young people can go to just to be themselves, socialise, have fun with others who they have lots in common with.  

Increased difficulties due to the pandemic

Many of the young people in the group now arrived in the UK during the pandemic. After terrifying journeys, sometimes not even knowing where in Europe they would arrive, they arrived in a country in lockdown, not being able to go to college or start to learn English through ESOL classes. With lessons moving online, even vulnerable children went to school, but received online lessons, making it so much more difficult to connect and leading to social isolation. 

We saw demand for in person contact increase significantly and we delivered sessions at The Station in person from July 2020, in accordance with government guidance. 

For a young person who arrived last November, and was placed in a flat on his own, it meant that in his trauma assessment, he talked about Welcome Wednesday being his "happy place". 

For young people who were denied asylum, they haven't been able to process their situation or get the adequate support they need. Others for whom the government is disputing their age, they are placed in hotels on their own. 

Having a safe place to connect with others is crucial, especially in this trying time. 

Celebrating culture - Eid Feast

This year our Eid Feast celebration was a breakthrough. It was the first indoor session we could have, being at the end of May, the end of lockdown. 

We worked with young people and got them involved and excited about planning a meal which was truly for them. We worked with The Mazi Project to show our love through sharing food and booking. Young people chose the menu themselves and the amazing Kurdish Iran chef brought to life their expectations. 

We sat on cushions and throws and connected through the power of food. Young people saw how much we tried to bring a little bit of home and their culture to the youth club and they really appreciated it. We've seen since that our relationships have improved, young people trust us more now we have put in the effort to show them how much we care about their culture and their identity, that they don't have to leave that behind, we can re-create a bit of it here. 

Working in partnership 

The Station and the Welcome Wednesday group have become a hub for young refugees and asylum seekers. That is why we work in partnership to offer a variety of support, and ensure relationships are being built. 

Refugee Council

We work with Helen Peden, Children's Adviser from the Refugee Council who gives advice to young people on their immigration cases. During the pandemic, this work has been very difficult to do, as in lockdowns, supporting young people who speak little English by phone and video calls has been extremely difficult. 

Basement Studios 

Creativity and music is a universal language and Basement Studios have been crucial to providing activities which connect young people. Using drumming and guitar lessons, these activities enable us to transcend language barriers. 

We often have 10 young people of 10 different nationalities together, doing a drumming workshop, connecting with each other, expressing themselves, having a break from the pressures of their day to day life in the UK. 

Bristol Refugee Rights

Bristol Refugee Rights chair a young people's forum quarterly for professionals who work with asylum seeking young people. Having this wider network of other organisations is crucial for us, sharing knowledge and making sure young people get the best support possible.

This is one way young people find out about Welcome Wednesday and get referred to us. News also spreads by word of mouth, by young people talking to newly arrived friends and letting them know they can access support. We have had instances of newly arrived unaccompanies asylum seekers coming to The Station, sometimes in crisis. 

Our staff also access specialist training from Bristol Refugee Rights, as young people's needs are specific and complex.

Empowering young people to get their voices heard

There are numerous opportunities for young people to participate and share their experiences with decision makers and other organisations. We support young people to take part and build their confidence. Often it is the first time that these young people have been asked to speak to people with power, so support is crucial in order to do this. 

Young people from Welcome Wednesday took part in a roundtable discussion with Thangam Debbonaire, Bristol West MP and Shadow Leader of the House of Commons, talking about how the pandemic has affected them. We also engaged young people in Bristol's Mayoral Youth Hustings where they talked to mayoral candidates. In the Bristol Youth Consult, they helped shape the issues which will be discussed as priorities for young people at the Youth Voice Conference in November. 

Young leaders' group

There is enthusiasm in the group to learn new skills and lead. In partnership with Bristol Refugee Rights, we are now running leadership training for young people, looking at campaigning and how they can engage others in making a difference. 

We are exploring cultural differences and how young people can get involved, have freedom to have a voice and talk about things, encouraging them to speak up and make change happen. 

Young women's group

Welcome Wednesday has always been a predominantely young men's group. The perilous journeys young people face when coming to the UK means young men are more likely to make this journey. However, we want to create a space for every young person; we now have a group of young women who we have brought together to talk and socialise, with each other and trusted youth workers. Our first sessions have been a success, with relationships being built in this dedicated, culturally appropriate space.

The work we do day in, day out with young asylum seekers and refugees is crucial. When young people face such complex challenges, youth work and building relationships provides them with a life line.

We are one of the very few professionals in these young people's lives who focus on the positive skills and contribution they can make to our society, and empowering them to be their best selves.

REFER A YOUNG PERSON  

 

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