Posted: 22 July 2020

Practitioner reflects on the journey of young refugee group

Ella Montgomery-Smith is a Voice & Influence Worker, who supports young people to participate in our work.

Over the last 18 months she has worked to establish a new group of young refugees to speak out and influence on issues they care about.

In the beginning

I spent the first two months learning, planning, networking, and recruiting young people. When the first group session came, I was delighted to be meeting the young people I would be going on this journey with.

In the early stages, the group played games, wrote group rules, practiced speaking and testing ideas in front of the group, attended and spoke at campaign events, and made a poster display. My primary observation at this time, was the fundamental need to move at a pace the whole group could travel at. 

This period also presented an opportunity to do some street art, and a few group members designed a fantastic image, but were not able to paint it due to wet weather. When the weather improved, the mural painting presented an opportunity to breathe new life into the group. We created a social media campaign and a name for the group which represented our message of solidarity - ST4R (#StandTogether4Refugees).

Developing an identity and event

With a name, the group started to gain identity, and we built on this with a project that brought the group even further together. We partnered with some other young people who had previously made three short films with The Children’s Society and Leeds City Council, to help young refugees feel more comfortable on arrival in Leeds. These films had not been launched yet, and we suggested planning a launch event together. Two young people said yes and we spent a summer planning the event.

'I enjoyed the event and planning because we worked together as a team' (Young person from ST4R)

We also invited Manchester’s Hope Group to speak at the event, and in September 2019, the ST4R group (with the support of Hope) delivered a fantastic event with presentations, Q&A, and film screenings. When the young people were standing on stage together, supporting each other throughout, we knew we finally had a team!

'I was shaking. It’s good to speak in front of people. If you get stuck just apologise' (Young person from ST4R)

How we grew

The young people received fantastic feedback following the event, and a few new young people were inspired to join us. The term ahead involved young people attending meetings and consultations; receiving public speaking training and delivering workshops to professionals and medical students. They also wrote a survey for other young refugees to share their ideas about what needs to change to improve the lives of young refugees in the country. The group received 119 comments from 61 young refugees and spent the following term analysing and writing up the results into a booklet

Comittment to young people

In 18 months the group have raised some really important issues, and built up their skills and confidence to speak out. However, more work is needed to make a long term change on some of the issues raised, and many of the changes young people are calling for may take years of sustained effort to achieve. If we want to support young people to raise their voices for a better world, we need to commit to supporting them on a long journey.

READ THE ST4R BOOKLET

By Ella Montgomery-Smith
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