Here at Refugee Action, we’ve recently been raising money for one of our most innovative projects – our Wellbeing Project in Manchester. Our campaign got off to a flying start last week, when a group of our supporters raised more than £2000 with a fundraising night in Altrincham. But just what is the Wellbeing Project, and why is everyone so keen to support it?
Jenny Loudon, a Development Worker on the project, says that its appeal stems from its creative and client-focused approach. “The Wellbeing Project is able to plug the gaps between other services, such as Refugee Action’s One Stop Shop advice service and other local projects, because its aim is to look after people’s wellbeing in the broadest sense,” she says. “This means that things which fall outside the normal remit of advice services – things like a refugee feeling anxious or alone, a person struggling with destitution, or an individual feeling nervous about accessing services – can all be addressed by the Wellbeing team. The people who attend the project can be refugees or asylum seekers, but we don’t usually ask them to talk about their situation. Instead, the project aims to empower them as individuals, helping them to feel more confident and in control of their lives”.
The Wellbeing Project runs a huge range of activities for its attendees. Amunah, who’s been volunteering with the project since 2010, says she’s taken part in cycling, swimming, team games like basketball and football, and cookery. Sessions are planned for both adults and youngsters, accommodating an age range of 6 months to 70 years. Amunah recently took part in a cookery competition, and says, “It was an event that brought people from various cultural and ethnic backgrounds together, and everyone was happy and enjoying themselves”. Some sessions have more than 70 participants, often from upwards of twenty different nationalities. “Many of the clients comment on how long it’s been since they last played a particular sport or felt able to socialise safely with friends,” comments Jenny. “The project gives them the chance to experience these things despite facing difficulties elsewhere in their lives.”
Also within the remit of the Wellbeing Project is emotional and personal support, provided by trained local volunteers. The team offer a programme one-to-one support to vulnerable clients – helping them to access services in their local area of Manchester, accompanying them if they are feeling anxious about going to report, meeting them for coffee if they are feeling low, or helping them to prepare emotionally for what might happen in they are taken into detention. Health advocacy is another key area, with volunteers often going on hospital or GP visits with clients, helping clients to make appointments or respond to health service letters, and liaising with GPs in the area to inform them about the specific issues facing refugees and asylum seekers.
The Wellbeing team also help in more practical ways, such as organising donations of clothes or baby items. “One lady we worked with had a painful eye condition, and was wearing a pair of damaged sunglasses” says Jenny. “After she came to the project, the Wellbeing team asked around their networks and a new pair of sunglasses was quickly donated”. A current appeal is on the lookout for warm winter coats, and wet weather clothes for refugees volunteering on outdoor projects, such a community garden scheme. Volunteering is big part of the project, as the team often help clients to find voluntary opportunities in their local area by offering assistance with research, applications and references. Attendees can also volunteer within the Wellbeing Project itself, and the team strive to find entry-level positions that are appropriate to individual needs, helping people to become more involved at their own pace.
One of the project’s biggest successes is its bike recycling scheme, which collects second-hand or discarded bikes and gives them to a group of local partners to fix. The bikes are then donated to local refugees and asylum seekers, giving them a cost-free means of travelling to appointments and a fun way to exercise and explore the city. Groups of clients are taught cycling proficiency to enable them to get the most out of the donated bikes. The bikes create real positive change in their owner’s lives; “I love my bike, I want to name it. My bike is with me, when I need it, it’s there. It’s better than a friend- it’s always available!” said one recipient. Another added, “The bike gives me independence – I don’t have to worry about money for a bus ticket and it also improves my health. When I feel stressed I get my bike and I go out and explore local areas that I haven’t been to before. I just get lost, it’s great stress relief!”.
There’s much more that we could say about the Wellbeing Project, and we’ll be posting some more updates from the project on our Facebook page and Twitter over the next week. It’s a project that we are very passionate about, so if you’d like to know more about it please feel free to ask! To give your support to the project, you can make a donation today – visit our Latest Appeal page to find out more.