Refugee Roots have adapted how they deliver their Befriending and Wellbeing services.
Our participants have been greatly affected. The lockdown was particularly difficult because many of them have no support networks, family or friends to support them. Many people we work with struggle to access support because they are digitally excluded and further excluded because of language barriers. This contributed to them needing more support from our services throughout the Covid-19 pandemic.
In March, we quickly spoke to 38 of our participants and moved to working remotely to support their needs. Their feedback and input helped shape the provisions we went on to make. We coordinated online systems and telephone calls, so that we could respond as quickly possible. We knew the importance of continuing to work closely with partners (Nottingham and Nottinghamshire Refugee Forum, Hope Nottingham, Host, Belong, The Vine Community Centre, and more) to ensure the best outcomes. We focused on participants facing hardship, poverty and those struggling in isolation with their wellbeing.
Our Telephone Befriending service supported the ongoing needs of vulnerable asylum seekers and refugees to ensure that their health and wellbeing was maintained. We have now started to phase befriending to the next stage of delivery - enabling small groups to meet in a local community garden. We have also been able to facilitate one to one befriending in person in outdoor spaces as well.
We also ran online art workshops for participants - watch a video of one we did for Refugee Week.
Many of the asylum seekers and refugees we work with were digitally excluded through lack of access to smartphones and consistent wifi. In response, we ensured we had a multi faceted approach by having both Telephone and Online provisions so that nobody would be excluded. We also posted packages of Art and English Language materials and other resources to our participants. Delivering in this way made responding to support needs more time consuming, but it was the only way to ensure that everyone could receive support. An example that comes to mind would be where referral forms needed completing by participants. Things may have taken longer than usual but through developing our processes we were able to support people when they needed help.
We have recognised that we need to have more staff and volunteers than before. Working remotely and with tasks taking longer has meant that to enable the same amount of work to be done we need more capacity and time to plan and deliver much needed support. We have also learned to think outside of the box and find creative solutions to new problems. We have also seen an increased cost for covering volunteering expenses: to reimburse postage, stationary and telephone costs as more work relied on using these resources.
Our participants have taught us resilience and gratitude in the face of hardship as they have communicated their thanks and appreciation, shared their struggles and kept going. In particular we were surprised and impressed by the “give it a go” approach and the willingness of our participants to try things like Telephone Befriending and to receive support remotely as these were untested and untried methods for all of us. Their willingness and that of our volunteers made it easier for us to try - knowing that we could fail or it might not work.
For some people the new ways of working didn’t connect or work for them and for some volunteers it was too difficult because of language barriers and other factors too. We valued each person's opinion and feedback, respecting their decisions and considering their wishes. The most important thing for us was to allow volunteers and participants the choice over how they would engage.
From recent surveys sent to participants, of those that replied .19/22 feel able to talk to Refugee Roots and 16/22 feel better in themselves about their wellbeing
The hardest thing for Alice (pseudonym) was the impact on her mental health, feeling afraid and a feeling like “compression” in her head. It’s been a lonely time for Alice. Alice was matched with a befriender who began volunteering with us at the beginning of the lockdown.
“If it wasn't for Refugee Roots and their assistance with the befriender calling me to see how my wellbeing is, I don’t think I would be sitting here to have this conversation..sometimes it felt so lonely”.
Mohammad was referred to Refugee Roots by Nottingham Police when he became homeless after fleeing domestic violence and honour based abuse. Mohammad claimed asylum soon after his flight, seeking protection and sanctuary.
“I was feeling quite isolated…the hardest thing was being on my own. It’s been brilliant the help and support I have received from Refugee Roots and their volunteers, it’s been tremendous. Refugee Roots helped me practically, with my wellbeing and my confidence”
The mix of approaches that we have developed; working remotely, combining online, telephone and digital; and in person, socially distanced services, has opened up new opportunities. In particular for recruiting volunteers outside of Nottingham and building our capacity by having more volunteers support us remotely.
Being forced to operate with smaller groups and more one to one connections has significantly increased our befriending work. This kind of shift has been very positive for us as it has resulted in more concentrated and focused support for individuals. Although we’ve seen some drop off by not running groups and not having a drop in service, there has still been an increase in uptake of our services overall. We will certainly continue to provide small befriending groups and make more use of outdoor spaces. We are hoping to continue work with Windmill Community Gardens and other partners and are already looking at ways that we could continue to keep using outdoor spaces - whatever the weather!
We have also made use of Google Classrooms to be the new home for our training resources and for ESOL. We will definitely keep using these tools and help our participants access these resources too.
As we are now working with multiple smaller groups of participants, having more volunteers really helps to keep the service running. Make good volunteer recruitment pathways so the process is as coherent as possible. Get them to fully understand and appreciate your ethos and they can play a big part in helping to deliver your services.