In 2012, ASHA started to run regular English classes for asylum seekers, using trainees on the Trinity Cert TESOL teaching course at Keele University. This was set up by Godefroid Seminega and Barbara James.
Asylum seekers started queuing outside as early as 7 am for this ‘first come first served’ class, and it soon became apparent that a system was required. Now, there are two classes a week with a limited number, a waiting list, and a team of volunteer one to one tutors working with the literacy cases and those awaiting classes. At the time that the Keele University/ASHA classes started, the word that ASHA existed spread, and many more service users came through the door, which was what we always wanted. This was particularly important for men, as the women’s group was already up, running and successful at that time.
ASHA and Keele University Language Centre pride themselves on the amazing relationships and community spirit they have built through the English programme regular classes. Students at Keele gain skills and attributes from their contact with asylum seekers, and asylum seekers respond well to students teaching them, as they are aware they are “helping” the students to teach.
On Friday mornings (and at other times too) the centre is busy with one to one tutors trying to find a ‘space’ to teach and help people learn English through conversation. There are so many different needs – holding a conversation in a shop to filling out a form for a schoolchild – that there is endless work required to meet the English asylum seekers need to fit into British society.
Diane Selby’s English Class January – March 2018
In January I started with a small group of 3 students. The numbers have fluctuated from week to week but recently I have been teaching 8-10 students and I have been especially pleased to welcome a number of women and several babies! Of the 10 students who came on the last week (21stMarch) there were 5 men, 5 women and 3 babies.
The students vary in their command of English but the more able ones are able to support the others and it is wonderful to see them all gain in confidence over time. I am sure that some of them will be able to progress to the classes run by the Keele students by next September.
Each week I give the students opportunities to speak and listen (often to an audio tape) as well as engage in reading and writing activities. They especially enjoy role play; for example, practicing buying a rail ticket or asking for fruit and vegetables at a market stall. They are especially happy to ‘buy’ fresh ingredients to take home. As the last week was just before Easter they all had some mini Easter Eggs as a treat! We always try to have a laugh and end with a game – they never seem to tire of playing Bingo!
On one occasion I teamed up with Margaret and we taught our two groups together which was very successful. In recent weeks Sue, another volunteer, has joined me. This has been very beneficial as many of the students need individual support, especially with reading and writing.
It has been a joy and a privilege to work with these enthusiastic, charming and optimistic young people and I look forward to joining them again after the Easter break.
You Learn Festival
BSU’s Youlearn offered ASHA two action-packed learning days. Project workers, Neil Seepujak and Matt Pointon, commented “Following on from our work with the U3A, we wanted to see if we could link up with other hard-to-reach learners. We know how difficult the transition to life in the UK is and how precarious the situations refugees are in, so we wanted to listen and to provide learning that would be of help.”
The day began with ESOL classes on points of grammar, delivered by Project Worker Matt Pointon, who is an experienced ESOL teacher. Neil then delivered sessions on IT including using government websites, rights at work and the reasons to join a trade union.
After a wonderful lunch cooked by service users, encompassing diverse world cuisines, there were lighter sessions on discovering the history of the Potteries, and days out you can enjoy from Stoke-on-Trent.
Commenting Matt said, “It was really uplifting being able to work with the ASHA service users, some of whom I have no doubt will make valuable contributions to the trade union movement in the future.”
ASHA believes that it is important that our volunteers are remunerated for their work. This is why ASHA pays towards the cost of their travelling to the Centre from outlying neighbourhoods as well as a small lunch allowance.
We believe that volunteering for ASHA or attending the Women and Children’s clubs may for many be a crucial first step towards becoming integrated in their local community.