Refugee Women Connect: Training and development for the Experts by Experience Network

Refugee Women Connect set up an EBE network in 2019, here they explain their approach to training and development

Organisation Profile

Tell us about the EBE Network at RWC

The group was set up around 2019 with a focus on women sharing their own stories and learning about their rights and entitlements. We aim to increase awareness of the asylum process and advocate for a fairer asylum system. Together we learn and develop skills related to being an expert by experience: campaigning and advocacy, public speaking, speaking to the media, working with MP’s and self care. We are proud and active members of the Sisters Not Strangers Coalition

Who are the women involved? 

The women involved are from different races, ethnicities, social backgrounds, religions, gender identities, ages, sexual orientations and nationalities. The group was initially formed with 12 women, who are seeking asylum or have moved to Refugee status. Today, we are more than 20, almost double the size since we started.

How does the group work? When do you meet, how are the meetings run or activities organised?

  • The group works together as a team with the guidance and support of the RWC staff.
  • We meet fortnightly on Mondays for 2 hours. Sometimes we meet in person and sometimes virtually. We also stay connected via an active whatsapp group. 
  • On Fridays the staff supporting the group agree with the group leaders if the meeting will be in person or virtually, who then communicate this to the group members. 
  • Another gentle reminder is sent on Monday (as requested by members) detailing the upcoming activities, training and opportunities to campaign. 

What are the things you are most proud of?

  • In Partnership with the University of Birmingham we have been involved in training on maternity issues faced by asylum seekers and refugees.
  • We submitted evidence to different Parliamentary committees about our experiences during the pandemic and our group member Hana was interviewed by the University of Birmingham about her experiences. 
  • We published the ‘Hear Us’ report as part of the Sisters Not Strangers Coalition, which researched the impact of the pandemic on asylum seeking women.
  • We researched the impact of COVID-19 on forced migrant survivors of sexual and gender based violence, in partnership with the University of Birmingham 
  • We regularly write posts for the Refugee Women Connect blog 
  • We have met with Members of Parliament to discuss issues asylum seeking women experience. 

How do you build the skills and confidence of group members?

We have a rolling training programme that is delivered over 6 sessions for new potential members to the EBE Network. It covers:  

  1. Introduction to Advocacy - we talk about who we are, what we do, difference between a movement and a campaign
  2. Speaking to decision makers  - what an MP is, how to talk with them, what is Home Office, what is media and how useful they are when you are campaigning
  3. Public Speaking and sharing your story - Preparing your speech, body language
  4. Looking after yourself while campaigning - self care, building resilience, respecting yourself and taking time for you
  5. Building a movement for all - what is social justice, why it’s important for us to understand feminism and intersectionality 
  6. What’s Next - Power and leadership and how we can continue to work together going forward

How is the training programme structured and delivered? 

  • Women from Refugee Women Connect’s drop-in’s and groups are invited to join the training. 
  • Once they have shown interest, a whatsapp group is created for the new cohort with the group members and group facilitators. 
  • A welcome message is sent that includes the date and time of the upcoming training. We also check their data access needs and if support is needed, explain how to inform staff a day in advance to arrange top up.  
  • A day before the training, a staff member sends the zoom link on the group followed by a reminder on the day. 
  • The training is structured over 6 weeks, with each session lasting one hour. The first 5 sessions are on zoom and for the last session we meet face to face. We enjoy refreshments together and certificates of achievement are distributed (for participants who have attended 5 out of 6 sessions).
  • Each session is delivered by an existing, experienced member of the EBE Network. The staff team supports the EBE member who is going to be delivering the training by providing the training materials and facilitated discussion. 
  • The sessions all include breakouts and fun activities to offer a varied, interactive agenda. 
  • On completion, members are encouraged to share their ideas for further activities and training they would like to take part in. 

What impact does this training have? 

For all the women who take part, we have observed a significant increase in confidence and awareness, greater ease to open up and share their own stories with staff and peers and willingness to ask for the help they need without fear. For the women who stay involved and join the EBE Network, they have greater knowledge and confidence to take part in advocacy and campaigning, we also see team building among the women in the network, feelings of belonging, and building trust. 

Beyond the training programme, how else do you build the confidence and skills of women in the network? 

When women meet other women regularly, among them are women who have been with the organisation longer who share an open and welcoming culture of offering a cup of tea or coffee. You share common interests like learning to speak English, art, yoga, sharing recipes and cooking skills and recommendations for good bargains on grocery shopping and charity shops for clothes and shoes, getting on the bus and the best routes to take, and saving a seat next to you. 

“From one woman it becomes two, then two into four and before you know it you become a group”.  

This group then becomes stronger together with mutual respect, sensitivity to each other's circumstances, a feeling of interdependency, ability to listen, be heard, build trust, form communities and voice for a common goal.

What advice would you give to someone else wanting to set up an EBE group or network?

  • There is no one size fit for all.  It is important to tailor your group according to your organisation's vision and the work you do with your users. 
  • To establish the group and form relationships of trust you need to know your service users by name and have direct, informal interactions to build upon.
  • Avoid frequent staff changes to maintain trust and stability in the group.
  • You will need to consider many factors: group size, frequency of meetings availability, accessibility (in-person or virtually), digital access, familiarity with bus routes and comfortable travelling, languages spoken, and inclusivity. 
  • You will need a plan for how to cover the costs for the venue, refreshments, warm meals, bus passes and data top ups etc.
  • Group members will have ongoing challenges and require support. Be prepared to say you might have to signpost or make a referral if the services required by members are not offered by your organisation.
  • Have ground rules agreed by the group and refer back to these regularly. 
  • Be welcoming but have safeguarding and policies in place and accessible to all who need them. 
  • Maintain a centralised database with updated contact details in case of emergency. 
  • Be open to feedback!