Students and Refugees Together

25 June 2018

Students and Refugees Together (START) began in 2001, and supports refugees to feel more connected to their new home.

Last year, they started a new project - The START steering group – funded by People’s Health Trust. The project aims to give refugees more ownership and a greater say within their community and the organisation.

Susie Dent, from START, said: “New refugees can often feel isolated and disconnected from communities, but the settled refugee community in Plymouth are becoming more confident, and there is a strong will from settled refugees to get involved and support new arrivals in Plymouth.

“With the project, members have more control; they decide on the activities and support each other. The idea is to provide relaxed, informal sessions that promote socialising and foster a sense of community.”

START’s Cultural Kitchen, which runs fortnightly in Plymouth city centre, is one of these activities. The Cultural Kitchen sees volunteers go to a local kitchen and serve food for anywhere between 80 and 150 people. The volunteers – primarily refugees and people seeking asylum – design the menus, prepare the food together and serve it to one another as well as to the wider community.

Jumeyi, a staff member at START, said: “It’s a space for refugees and people seeking asylum and it’s a space for the wider community. People are eating and sharing, preparing food together from all around the world.

“Food is about sharing. They’re proud of their culture, proud of their countries and they value their cuisine. There’s a commonality across cultures; the way food is prepared, cooked and shared. It is a vehicle for conversation and for building bridges in communities.

“It’s been really successful - more and more people are coming along to the Cultural Kitchen, and are starting to arrive earlier than previously so they can socialise and make new friends.

“There are also a number of activities, including table tennis, chess and arts and crafts. It’s a less formal way to get to know people, to make friends and to get to know the community, which is really important.”

START are also piloting a Conversation Club, which takes place during the Cultural Kitchen events. The Conversation Club offers an informal space for refugees and people seeking asylum to practise their English; the Cultural Kitchen is the ideal setting for this, given the mix of English-speakers and non-English speakers who regularly attend. By speaking English in a less formal environment, START have seen those learning make real strides with their language development.

The Cultural Kitchen provides new opportunities not just for refugees and people seeking asylum, but for the wider community too.

Jumeyi said, “It is vital for wider local community integration. So many people come along who have never spoken to or met a refugee before. Awareness rises about refugees, about refugee and asylum matters and the issues they face.

“For example, recently, some young people from Plymouth came down – youth workers brought them along to the Cultural Kitchen. They had never met these people before and it was a completely new experience for them.”

START also runs a local allotment project, which is staffed one day a week to support members; they usually have 20 to 30 attendees each week. The space is communal, and used to grow vegetables and herbs both for individuals as well as for the Cultural Kitchen.

Many of those who use the allotment regularly have been given their own smaller, personal plot.

“It’s a quieter space, for thinking, and a chance to be outdoors. Like cooking, it’s such a familiar activity. A lot of people grew vegetables at home, or had entire farms. Often it is they who teach us”, Jumeyi said.

During term time, START also runs a volunteer-led Women’s Creative Group. It is open to women as well as pre-school children, who are given a space to play together. They offer activities in blocks, such as sewing or arts and crafts. They have recently had a theatre group working with the Creative Group, not using language to communicate, but instead acting back the women’s stories. This broader form of expression helps members open up, more readily share and reflect.

The activities START facilitate are shaped by the members. They have a Forum, presently made up of 12 men and women. They support START to arrange and coordinate activities, give advice on services and work to make them more relevant both to attendees and to the community.

 

To learn more about Students and Refugees Together (START)’s work, you can visit the website here.

Projects like Students and Refugees Together (START) are funded by People’s Health Trust through The Health Lottery.

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