Working Together WORKS! Providing a coordinated approach to services for refugees and asylum seekers across Greater Manchester

April 9, 2024
Step Change
MERL, Step Change learning partner
Posted by
MERL, Step Change learning partner

An essential part of the Step Change consortium is the delivery of ten place-based ‘hubs’ across Greater Manchester to provide a joined-up and collaborative ecosystem of support for refugees and people seeking asylum across the region.

Refugees and asylum seekers across Greater Manchester have common needs however the type of asylum accommodation, especially hotels, impacts the type of support hubs offer. For instance, areas without hotel accommodation for those in the asylum process tend to see more families and therefore the hub can represent the needs of families rather than single adults at the start of their asylum journey, and vice versa.  

Step Change consortium members operate hubs in Bolton, Bury, Leigh, Manchester, Oldham, Rochdale, Salford, Tameside, Wigan and Stockport. 

These organisations come together, learning and supporting each other to provide better services for refugees and asylum seekers. Step Change Learning Partner, Merl’s research consultant, Anna Beesley, visited Manchester - some hubs and their bi-monthly meeting - to explore together - how collaborative working supports hub delivery.

Here’s what emerged:

  • Working together provides social, emotional and practical support: Working as a partnership supports individual hub services in multifaceted ways. This is especially true in contexts where demand outstrips supply and work is forced to be reactive.
  • Local and Regional partnerships are important: Relationships within individual boroughs and regionally impact hub service delivery. Hub relationships with local councils are especially valuable. Ways of communicating and building relationships with council members were learnt from each other. 
  • Keeping it local is best: Whilst the consortium has strengthened relationships with services across Greater Manchester (GM), having support services for asylum seekers and refugees within each borough is the ideal.

>> Read the full report here

But what exactly is a ‘hub’? 

“It's essential to have other organisations in the area working together in one place...sometimes people find it very difficult when you refer them...especially when it comes to mental health it's like, "no I don't want to go, I don't know where to find them, I don't know what to say to them" but having them at the hub it's so easy for people.” Hub Coordinator

Hubs act as welcoming centres of connection for new arrivals to Greater Manchester. A place close enough to walk to, somewhere to eat together, chat, laugh and learn about other services in the area. In order to respond to the different needs and services available in the boroughs, the hub models look and work differently in each borough. Each hub operates based on the needs, organisational resources, and the network of other services in the specific borough. However, all of the hubs fit into one of the three types of hub models: 

  • ‘Local provider’ in which one of the Step Change partner organisations, rooted in that borough, acts as the hub offering services the majority of the week.
  • ‘Coordinated services approach’ in which multiple support organisations come together to offer different aspects of the hub in coordination. This could be at two or more physical locations or online. 
  • ‘One day a week drop in’ in which a Step Change partner organisation [in this case British Red Cross] delivers a ‘fly-in service’ housed in a local community building in a particular borough. 

The hubs are unique to their locality, context and lead organisation’s identity. Each of these models is depicted within particular boroughs: 

It is not effective or appropriate to have one standardised model. With that in mind, the consortium developed a core minimum offer which the hubs aim to provide: 

  • A welcoming point of contact for asylum seekers, refugees and vulnerable migrants in the locality at least 2 days per week, so they can access support as early as possible;
  • An initial assessment of needs, including vulnerability; 
  • Casework provision at a minimum of 2 days per week;
  • As far as possible, provide a ‘support package’ that may include:
  • Immigration advice, housing support and advice, and orientation support
  • Provision of skills development including English language and employability
  • Where the Hub is not able to provide one or more of the above services, they will signpost and make referrals to relevant organisations including consortium partners, other voluntary sector organisations and statutory services.  
  • A social space to allow opportunities to meet others and make new connections locally
  • Opportunities to access local activities including sport, well-being, arts etc.

Many hubs go beyond this offer. Hot food facilitates relationship building and is often provided: 

“Cooking is an essential part of the hub, some [people] are homeless, some only come to have a hot meal, lots of families can't afford to cook every day - even without a chef I would cook. People would be disappointed if I said, ‘Sorry there is no food'." Hub Coordinator

What do people visiting the hub say?

[The hub] is like a home. They are welcoming, provide us with advice and support… they are a beacon of hope. The service is also free. (Female, 25-39 years) 
[The hub] staff are very welcoming. They will offer you hot food and a food parcel as they work on your case. (Female, 40-59 years)
I meet new community members each time I come to [the hub] drop-in. I am always happy to meet new people. They make me laugh, and my stress goes away. (Female, 40-59 years)
Very positive, they give me a power. They push me to new life. They supported me to make changes that I needed. I was (in) a dangerous situation, they show me that I had choices. (Female, 40-59 years)
Helped with mental health, gave me confidence to communicate. I feel different going here, I am lost confident at other services. (Male, 40-59 years) 

At a time where peoples’ right to seek safety in the UK are being stripped, and there is a strong rhetoric of unwelcome, it is crucial to be able to provide a model of support that not only meets peoples’ needs but also is a place that is welcoming and embedded in the communities where they live in order to support people to rebuild their lives.

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