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Hastings Refugee Buddy Project Training & Support Day September 2018

Felicity Laurence, Chair, and Alex Kempton, Media and Communications Lead for Hastings Community of Sanctuary

Our recent training day was a real marker for this project; a little over one year on from its very first day of information and induction in summer 2017, we have now arrived at a point where more than thirty people were committed enough to spend an entire day focussed upon what we have learned and next steps for this project. Among those attending were both experienced buddies already very active out ‘in the field’, and new buddies just signed up, so that this was an excellent opportunity for exchange of ideas and for the new buddies to get a real sense of what the project is and how it works. Also present was Jane Grimshaw from Hastings Supports Refugees , representatives from Hastings Community of Sanctuary, as well as some of the Council Officers responsible for the families being befriended by the project, ensuring a collective and holistic setting for the training.

The whole day had been constructed by Rossana Leal, the founder and director of the project, as a response to feedback given by buddies – who contributed beforehand on themes of highlights, what challenges have arisen, and what we might usefully pay attention to improving – so that this was truly ‘bottom-up’ in its conception. The feedback comments were exhibited on the wall, so that they could be understood as integral to the programme and content of this training day.

One of the challenges reported by many buddies was the trickiness of helping people improve their English in informal conversation, not at all as straightforward as might at first be imagined. So Kathy Briscoe accordingly gave us a very useful session, complete with plenty of interactive participation, about engaging people in conversation in ways that encourage and promote English speaking -using games, a ‘fun’ oriented approach, taking things along to talk about in particular ways which she explained. Kathy is now setting up a monthly drop-in group session to continue working with these ideas and ‘tips’ about furthering people’s ability in English, beyond the formal ESOL classes they receive – this being crucially important in their journey to settling into life and community here.

The ‘what we could do better’ category of buddy feedback offered many suggestions, including more clarity on our roles and the workings of the project, and getting Loomio (the private communication method for buddies) working better for everyone. So the day included a good session on using Loomio (one particularly valuable suggestion is that everyone always dates their posts): and a detailed account from Rossana of the structure of the project and the roles of everyone within it, including the roles of the official caseworker team explained by them in person. Many aspects of the structure now in place have evolved through trial and error, constant feedback and a huge amount of discussion over the past year. This is now all summarised and clearly set out in the Volunteer Handbook, which was launched and distributed at the event.

The third section of the feedback concerned highlights experienced by buddies. These were many; the theme of warm relationships with the Syrian families came up repeatedly, and of building trust and friendship. Another recurrent theme was that of food! Sharing food and gathering together around a meal has proved to be both an important way of making these relationships, and also an outcome of these growing friendships. Here are several of the highlights indicating the variety of activities happening in our buddying.

Some of the family coming to my daughter’s birthday party and everyone having a great time.

Seeing a young man settle and grow in confidence, chatting and meeting new friends at boxing/football.

They [the family] were all engaged, humorous, enthusiastic and lovely to be around!

Being welcomed by families into their home, getting to know the whole family and seeing them enjoying living in this town. Learning about their culture etc. Meeting their friends too!

Seeing quite a number of Syrians zipping around Hastings on bikes!

There were invaluable sessions on establishing viable boundaries in our work with refugees, led by Fawzia Bheekun from the Refugee Council, and in how to deal with the trauma that some of us are finding is now becoming a little more evident as people start to talk about their experiences. We learned about the possible symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and how we might spot these, and then help people in dealing with these – signposting them to professional help, contributing to the stable environment which research has shown is a crucial factor in healing trauma, other specific things we might do, and very importantly yet other actions which we must avoid to preclude doing any harm. This session was led by Annie Ralph of LOSRAS.

Throughout the day there was a constant interweaving of audience participation and information given in the various talks. And at the end of the day, a wonderful surprise – many of the families had gathered in a nearby room where they had been working with a team of puppet-makers, and we met the families and saw the beautiful work the children had been doing in creating these puppets. There followed a concluding social gathering with our new fellow citizens, and in an atmosphere of real friendship and warmth, and as the children ran around joyously noisy, as children do, the real meaning of our work, and the steps we have already taken for this work, were clear.

We also live-tweeted the whole day from our Twitter Account @HastSanctuary. Be sure to follow us for updates, news and more live-tweeting!