Being resettled to a new country would be daunting for anyone, but it’soften particularly tough for refugee women. In Greater Manchester, the Gateway Women’s Group was set up in 2009 to give women refugees the chance to come together and build their confidence. Many of the refugee women resettled to Greater Manchester were initially too nervous to leave their homes without their partners, but the group has enabled them to feel more settled in their new lives in the UK. “Before the women’s group, I couldn’t speak in front of one man, now I can speak in front of 100 men!” said one member.
As the group has grown, Refugee Action’s staff have begun to explore its potential to help refugee women develop their skills. One opportunity recently arose from work Greater Manchester’s BASIS team, who work with Refugee Community Organisations, and the Gateway Community Development Officers were doing with newly arrived Bhutanese refugees from Nepal. The teams were helping this community to establish an association – a huge challenge, as they had been in the UK for less than a year – and through this began to see how few opportunities there were for Bhutanese refugee women. The Women’s Group was suggested as a way to overcome this difficulty, and the women in the group were consulted about their existing skills. Staff soon discovered that buying, selling and cookery were skills shared by many women of different backgrounds, and the idea of a “Food and Enterprise” course was born!
The women discussed what kind of food they might be able to make, and came up with two ideas: Momos (a Nepalese/ Bhutanese snack made with light pastry and fillings) and Arabic Chicken Biryani. Next, they partnered with the Wai Yin Chinese Women Society, the largest Chinese community centre in Britain, who provided them with excellent training in ‘Food Safety in Catering’ (Level 1 & 2). Fifteen women went on to pass their Level 2 exams in Food Safety – for many, the first accredited qualification they have ever gained in the UK. Many of the women have had no formal education and are still getting to grips with English, so this was a great achievement for them and something they could feel very proud of.
The project developed the women’s skills further by bringing in Ensemble, a brilliant Refugee Community Organisation that BASIS Greater Manchester had supported in the past, to offer some practical catering training. Melanie from Ensemble ran sessions on health, menu design, portion sizing, organisation and a practise cooking session. The partnership was a great success, with its workshops supporting Ensemble’s work as a co-operative enterprise as well as the women themselves. Future collaborations between the two groups are now in discussion.
The staff in Greater Manchester are now planning a final consolidation day for the women, to cement everything they have learned and to provide them with more information about routes into volunteering in the catering industry. What’s more, on January 17th the women took part in a graduation service at Wai Yin, celebrating how much they have learnt. The project has been very successful, with several of the women involved commenting that it has made them feel happier, has improved their feelings of wellbeing and has been something really positive in their lives. We’re thrilled with their progress, and hope the skills and confidence they’ve developed from the project will help them as they begin to integrate into UK life.