Annual report for 2020

Posted: May 02, 2021

You can now read our full annual report for the year to June 2020 (1.6 MB PDF file). Here’s some of what we were up to.

The emphasis of CRRC’s work, as envisaged and intended, focussed on developing ways to provide personal and professional development opportunities and employment support. English language support for adults and children, Arabic language lessons for children, code-club for children and teenagers, monthly socials, holiday activities, and direct family support remained key areas of CRRC’s activities and were carried out in person until Covid-19 lockdown forced us to maintain contact remotely. We estimate that the total volunteer time we benefited from during the year amounted to over 10,000 hours.

Since the introduction of the new recruitment process in early 2019, recruitment has continued to work more efficiently. Between July 2019 and June 2020 CRRC screened several people who registered interest in becoming active volunteers with CRRC. Nineteen new volunteers joined up to March 2020 when recruitment paused related with the COVID-19 pandemic. Since September 2018, we conduct the criminal record (DBS) checks ourselves under the umbrella of the Student Community Action (SCA) and our volunteer coordinator attended training at SCA. We support new volunteers with filling out the application form and we verify their identity. We then send the application forms to SCA who check them, countersign them, and send them to the DBS. Between 1st July 2019 and 30th June 2020, we completed 35 DBS checks.

Who is CRRC supporting?

By the end of the financial year in July 2020, CRRC was supporting 25 refugee families who were being resettled by Cambridge City Council and South Cambridgeshire District Council under the Government’s Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme (VPRS). This was an increase of four families arriving through this scheme from the previous reporting period. Cambridge City Council had reached its target of resettling 100 refugees by November 2018 but had arranged with South Cambridgeshire District Council to use the resources of the Council’s resettlement team to resettle a further five families in South Cambridgeshire properties. The additional four families arriving during the reporting period were all accommodated in villages outside of the city, but with reasonable transport links to the city, so that the new arrivals could attend college and other city-based appointments. A commitment to resettle a fifth family was put on hold when in mid-March 2020, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and International Organisation for Migration (IOM) announced a temporary suspension of all resettlements due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

In addition to families resettled under the VPRS, CRRC supported a mother and her two children who had arrived in the city under the ‘family reunion’ route. Support was provided to three further families with different, non-VPRS, immigration histories, giving a total of six ‘non-VPRS’ supported by CRRC.

Support for new families

CRRC has found that newly arriving families often benefit from support to help with equipping their new households. Over the reporting period we developed our relationship with Emmaus Cambridge – a homelessness charity who operate a second-hand furniture and household goods outlet in the area. When a new family arrives, CRRC takes the family to Emmaus where they are able to choose and purchase up to £400 of household items at a cost to CRRC of only £60. These items supplement the basic furnishings provided by the Council as part of their initial resettlement obligation. The sorts of things families tend to choose are electrical goods, crockery and cooking utensils, bedding, desks, lamps, clocks, clothing and furniture items. Becoming mobile in the new city and being able to communicate and have access to information and easy language translation are other critical points for newly arriving members of our communities, therefore CRRC has offered all family members of secondary school age and above a personal mobile phone with a £10 credit, a laptop computer and a bicycle with all the accessories. Laptops and phones have mostly been donated by Cambridge Assessment English, part of the University of Cambridge.

“When I left my country, I was afraid because I was alone. I did not know anyone in this country, and I did not have family or any friends. Since I got to know CRRC, my life has changed. Because they stood by me and helped me a lot. They helped my children and gave them bicycles and computers. And they sent a teacher to teach me English. When I got my house, they helped me clean and paint it and equip it with furniture. Sometimes the CRRC volunteers bring vegetables, fruits and meat. And they help us with a lot of things. It really feels like they are my family. Thank you very much.” Wesal, CRRC Beneficiary

Some families needed adjustments to the properties they had been allocated, which, with the consent of the landlord, CRRC helped to arrange and provided financial support for. For example, one family requested a garden gate so that the small children could play safely in the garden without the parents having to worry about them wandering out onto the road. In another case CRRC helped to arrange an outside security light to be fitted and repairs to the bathroom.

At the beginning of lockdown in March 2020, CRRC supported the move of one family from their emergency accommodation into a Council tenancy by helping to get the property deep cleaned, painted and decorated, fitted with a gas supply, cooker and carpets, and furnished with a complete set of beds, furniture and other basic items before the move date.

Continuing support for families settled in Cambridge before the reporting perio

Until the lockdown began in March 2020, monthly social events (’socials’) were held at a local primary school. Since the lockdown, we had to be more creative in finding ways to continue keeping in touch with CRRC’s beneficiaries. As in preceding years, our lead interpreter has been central to all communication processes and this exchange has even intensified, mainly via telephone and WhatsApp, since lockdown. In addition to this channel of communication, the family ‘focal point’ volunteers have continued to be available for the families also during the Covid-19 pandemic. Focal points befriend the family and report any issues the families are facing to a nominated Trustee. Services or advocacy can then be initiated.

Gardening project

The long-term aim of the CRRC gardening team is that the families will become self- sufficient and independent gardeners. Since June 2019 the team has worked with seven families who are spread across Cambridge city and South Cambridgeshire. Three of the gardens taken on this year were with houses occupied by newly arrived families. After an initial visit and discussion with each family, basic gardening equipment was given to each family, according to need, and this included two reconditioned petrol mowers for relatively large south Cambridgeshire gardens. The other four families have been here for various lengths of time, but the commitment there does not require much expenditure as seeds, seedlings and plants are usually provided by CRRC’s volunteers.

Occasionally the CRRC gardening team has provided help with other garden issues, such as rats, collapsed fencing, or the need to remove heavy items including carpets, old furniture and appliances etc. When visiting CRRC interpreters have helped, especially when it was important to agree the rules to keep us all safe when we returned to the gardens after the first lockdown. The gardening group has nine volunteers but have limited themselves to four gardeners during the Covid-19 pandemic to minimise the number of contacts involved. The gardening team looks forward to inviting a larger number of people to join in once this is a safe option again.

Emergency hardship grants and loans

CRRC provides emergency hardship grants and loans to local refugees, who experience severe hardship or an emergency. This type of support is intended as a short-term solution, rather than a long-term financial commitment. The application process for a hardship grant is overseen by the trustees and follows the emergency hardship grant policy. We provided four hardship grants in the financial year ending June 2020. CRRC acts as a distributor of vouchers for the Cambridge Food bank for beneficiaries in especially difficult circumstances, and with support from the One Hope Foundation, CRRC also provided, several emergency food parcels to beneficiaries.

English language and employment support

English language support for adults

CRRC continued to provide essential English classes three times a week at C3 church centre for those adults who could not attend Cambridge Regional College (CRC). Most of the students needed childcare, but men and women waiting for a place at CRC and some with health problems also attended.

The classes were co-ordinated by Hilary Sutton who liaises closely with Cambridge City Council. In July 2019 there were 13 students and 10 children under five on the register. This number dropped to seven adults and nine children in the autumn term when some students were able to take up places at CRC. The City Council met the cost of the venue at C3 church. Excellent facilities, including play equipment, were provided by the church.

CRRC contributed a pool of about 11 ESOL qualified and experienced volunteer teachers. Each session had a lead teacher and an average of three others in support. This enabled the students to receive plenty of individual attention. Childcare was provided by a team of CRRC volunteers coordinated by Eeva Stewart, with a minimum of three needed for each session. Providing teaching and childcare on this scale demanded a high level of organisation and dedication. This was tested when Hilary Sutton and Jenny Bastable, two of the lead teachers, were both absent for many weeks because of hospital treatment. Many thanks are due to all volunteers, especially Monica Poulter and Jamie Peterson who led and coordinated all the sessions. The students worked on their literacy and a range of relevant topics. In July we were joined by Sue Mealing for some sessions on food memories and recipe sharing, which provoked much interesting language and some delicious food, especially as one of the students was a qualified chef. At the end of each term the students were assessed to record their progress in classwork and their successes in using English in real life situations.

Transport to the class became an issue in autumn, as the buses serving C3 were re- routed during lengthy roadworks. It was agreed to provide taxis to enable the women to continue to attend. The women took responsibility for ordering the taxis (a useful skill) and were then reimbursed by CRRC. The taxi from Trumpington was usually a people carrier out of which would tumble three women, five assorted babies and toddlers, plus various buggies!

All this, of course, came to an abrupt halt with lockdown in March 2020. When it became obvious that the classes would not be resuming in the foreseeable future, the volunteer teachers began to plan to provide online lessons. We had a training session on teaching ESOL using Zoom and volunteers willingly and quickly learned and shared new skills. On 2 July 2020 the class was reopened online. CRRC also tries to offer 1-to-1 teaching to any refugees who request it and the recruitment and matching of students and volunteers is coordinated by Rachel Hall. During lockdown it has not been possible to meet face-to-face or for new requests to be followed up.

CRRC would like to thank Cambridge University Press for a generous donation of ESOL textbooks which have been used both in class and at home.

First language support for the children

CRRC continued to sponsor weekly Arabic language classes for beneficiary children, which were held in person from January 2019 until March 2020, taught by Kalamna CIC (Saussan Khalil and Safya Sebaihia) during term time at St Faith’s School, Trumpington. The classes were attended by 17 children in the first term, and 12 children continued in the second term. Attendance overall was very good, with most absences reported beforehand and were due to illness or one-off social commitments. Kalamna CIC is experienced in working with mixed age and ability groups. The children were initially assessed by the Kalamna CIC team. Overall, the group was strong in speaking as the majority speak Arabic at home, with a small number of children not speaking Arabic at home. Conversely, the majority had no reading or writing in Arabic, but a small number of the older children were at a good level of fluency in reading and writing. The focus was on developing their reading and writing skills, using familiar vocabulary and spoken language. During the lessons, the same topic was introduced to the whole group, and then the children were split into smaller groups to do different activities to suit their age and ability.

Over the course of the year, the older children in particular have continued to become more confident in their letter and word recognition and became able to read simple words. The younger children were working on letter recognition and can all read and write their names in Arabic. Overall, the students seem happy and engaged with the classes.

When the first lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic started in March 2020, online classes were started, which went really well. There were some inevitable technical hiccups but also some really great feedback from the parents about them. Six children attended the classes regularly and continued to work very well.

Educational support for the children

Nearly all school-age children from CRRC’s beneficiaries have been enrolled in the one-to-one tuition programme provided by the CRRC children’s tuition team. Some pre-school children also have tutors. CRRC volunteers are matched with the families and normally meet the children once a week, usually on a Saturday. The aim of this support is to help the children to develop language skills, encourage conceptual understanding, increase knowledge of their cultural community, and to build their confidence and self-esteem. Many of the CRRC children’s tuition volunteers are also students of Cambridge University and Anglia Ruskin University. These young people often follow-up their interest in the refugee crisis. The volunteers meet once a month to exchange ideas, resources and concerns. Many volunteers have signed up for web-based training with FutureLearn, and indeed many helped to create this on- line training.

The one-to-one teachers of school-age children often also help, after obtaining written consent from the family, with liaising with the children’s school so that the child is supported in following the curriculum at the appropriate level. Schools send a significant number of emails or letters to families, which they may struggle to understand. With written consent from the family, it has been possible to get routine emails from schools directed to a CRRC member, so that important messages, such as notice of parents’ evenings can be flagged to the family. Several of the one-to-one tutors have become close friends with the children and the entire family and have engaged with many different aspects of family life over time. Since July 2019, 18 tutors have been supporting the children of the families. Despite the difficulties arising from the Covid pandemic and having to connect virtually, although four volunteers have moved from Cambridge, we have recruited 12 more. We now have a total of 26 volunteers tutoring children. The Refugee Support Network also provides three mentors to help the children.

Focus on employment

The year 2019/2020 has resulted in mountains of goodwill and effort on the part of volunteers and those refugees keenest to make progress. Where we began was to continue to push learning English as the key prerequisite to successful self- sufficiency and that remains a priority. We also explored sources of apprenticeships, while also learning about individual work histories and preferences.

CRRC explored a wide range of potential partner organisations and sources to try to optimise what already exists and to check out accessibility for our refugee potential workers. We found a few sources of voluntary work to gain experience, learn colloquial English and in some cases gain references. By early 2019, we felt that we were on the verge of developing a core network of support, though we also have to acknowledge limited success in gaining actual employment. Interestingly, in conversation with the City Council about their own efforts to find employment opportunities, it is clear that they too found it is not as easy as we all would like.

And then there was Covid-19! While a few of CRRC’s beneficiaries have continued to work, often courtesy of the City Council’s early efforts, for many others opportunities have evaporated and many of the potential partners for learning and support have pulled back on what they can provide. The good news is that there are still sources for, for example, refugees learning about setting up their own business, and other charities whose role is about employment for migrants, and we are in touch with these.

Pre-employment learning

We have taken this opportunity to reflect on our approach and whether our focus is appropriate and sufficient. What we have learned is that we need to focus on what might be called ‘pre-apprenticeship’ learning, to help individuals better understand the potential hurdles and requirements that are peculiar to the UK. This country is very different to many others in its employment practices, employer attitudes and expectations, and we know that some of our refugees have had misunderstandings at work on what is acceptable and what is not. Thankfully, there are appropriate sources of support, which we are now exploring both to determine relevant content and the means of refugees accessing that support. CRRC facilitated weekly mentoring from the Refugee Support Network starting in September 2019. So, another interesting and very challenging year ahead – and we would urge anyone with relevant knowledge, opportunities and ideas to get in touch and help our refugees become self-sufficient, independent families in our community.

Activities and culture

School holiday activities

The summer school holidays were again a great opportunity to get together, practise English, and have fun. CRRC volunteers organised a fantastic programme and most families attended several events, such as Clip and Climb in Cambridge; a picnic at Newnham; a trip to Ely; a visit to Shepreth Wildlife Park and a visit to the mini trains. Many visits were by public transport to give the families some experience and confidence in using buses and trains. Eight refugee families attended the Ahbab festival summer event thanks to tickets from Cambridge Junction and the Ahbab Festival. Over July and August 2019, refugee teenagers living in Cambridge took part in Hiraeth, a community arts project inspired by the Welsh word which conveys a deep longing for a home, that maybe never was. The project aimed to be a space for free self-expression, and Hiraeth Radio was a participant-led radio programme. Participants shared experiences, opinions and cultures; they were free to discuss whatever they wanted, and play whatever music they wanted. It also offered them a chance to improve their confidence and proficiency in speaking English. In the Winter activities included Ice-skating at Parkers Piece, Cambridge, and the Wind in the Willows at Cambridge Junction theatre.

CRRC Socials

CRRC has been running socials since December 2015 when we welcomed the first beneficiary families. As the number of beneficiaries and volunteers grew, the socials grew. They are now held at a large primary school in Cambridge, one Saturday of every month and organised by a small team of volunteers with regular liaison with the board of Trustees.

The CRRC socials continue to serve three main purposes:

  • Social space for beneficiaries. They provide a regular social outlet for beneficiary families, many of whom live scattered across the city and county and rarely have the time or means to see each other elsewhere. It is a space in which conversation, information, celebration, games, music and food can be shared.
  • Involvement of Volunteers. Once registered with CRRC, many new volunteers begin by helping at a social – in the kitchen, with the children’s activities, setting up and tidying up. From this small commitment many volunteers become more involved in other work – one-to-one tuition, language teaching, board of Trustees, focal points etc. Those with less time to give can continue to lend a hand once a month at socials and their help is greatly valued.
  • CRRC contact with beneficiaries. CRRC rents the venue for an hour before the event time in order to use the space to meet with volunteers and beneficiaries to discuss paperwork or queries, offer advice or introduce new volunteers to the work.

Translators are available to help in such matters. The One-to-one tuition group holds their regular monthly meeting before the socials. During the socials important public announcements are often made, new beneficiaries or babies welcomed, services CRRC is offering are detailed. In short, the socials provide the face-to-face contact CRRC prides itself, involving the whole community, while offering private meeting room space for confidential conversations.

For the year July 2019 to March 2020, we had a committed team of six volunteers on the Socials Organising Committee liaising on WhatsApp and email for the forthcoming monthly social. This greatly eased the workload of organising the socials and increased the pool of expertise and interests. We had introduced more recorded music to the socials, noticing an enthusiasm from the women and children to dance. In fact, sometimes, it was difficult to finish the dancing to prepare to go home. We are exploring offering live music. Our children’s activities have developed and expanded as we draw on connections and expertise in the local community. We always offer crafts, physical games, and football. Sometimes we offer dance workshops, circus skills, henna painting, face-painting. Volunteers’ and beneficiaries’ interest in football has been matched and outdoor football training has developed greatly in the last few months, involving refereeing and team games. Beneficiaries and volunteers continue to enjoy sharing food.

During the lighter summer months, we have encouraged beneficiary families, who live close to the venue to travel independently by foot to the socials rather than taxi or lifts. Recently we have drawn up a questionnaire for beneficiaries in order to gauge thoughts on the socials and the activities we offer. So far feedback is very positive. One volunteer met with a small group of women beneficiaries at their English class and talked through the translated questionnaire. They all expressed their enjoyment of the social as it was a time and place for them to relax with friends and their children.

At the last February Social 2020 before lockdown almost all the beneficiary families attended along with over 20 volunteers and beneficiaries helping with lifts to the social, organising the kitchen, children’s activities, two first aiders, safety wardens, translators and organising football and team games.

Very sadly we have been unable to run the socials since lockdown March 2020.

Communications and outreach

Last year, we reported on a campaign led by CRRC Trustee Adrian Matthews to restore language support for non-English-speaking candidates for the UK Driving Theory test. Adrian and CRRC‘s Chair, Dan Ellis, consulted refugee aid groups around the country to ascertain the level of difficulty the scrapping of language support had caused refugees. The campaign and petition were launched as a result of this research and reached their conclusion in spring 2020. The strength of support shown by the number of signatories to CRRC’s petition, and the findings of the research behind it, led to CRRC being included, via the Strategic Migration Partnership, in a consultation with the DVSA in autumn 2019.

We were delighted to learn in March 2020 that the issue highlighted by the campaign had been addressed: the new Driving Theory test unveiled in April 2020 now incorporates video scenarios in place of written questions, making it accessible to those with low levels of English and/or literacy.

Outreach activities continued in autumn 2019 with two Trustees taking part in a panel discussion at King’s College organised by Re:action, the University of Cambridge student group. Four Trustees also took part in a PSHE day for Year 10s at Comberton Village College, when groups of pupils were shown a presentation on refugees and resettlement before being invited to suggest solutions to the problems an imaginary Syrian refugee family might face on first coming to live in Cambridge. The students engaged well with the topic and the success of the day led to a further invitation for autumn 2020.

The new CRRC website was launched at the end of July 2019 and the summer issue of the newsletter was updated with a new look to match. The newsletter was sent out quarterly throughout the year to a subscriber list of 220 and has a good engagement rate of around 60%, compared with an industry average of around 20%. The website, Facebook page and group, and Twitter feed were regularly monitored and updated. The advent of lockdown in March 2020 led to more online engagement and requests to join the Facebook group. There are currently just over 1,000 members of the Facebook group.

A further strand of the communications role is liaising with other groups. We have maintained close ties with Cambridge Ethnic Community Forum, Cambridge Convoy Refugee Action Group and Cambridge City of Sanctuary, as well as One Hope Foundation, which has offered invaluable support in the form of halal food packages when families have found themselves in difficulties. New supporters MAUL (Martial Arts Uniting Lives) has offered martial arts lessons with an Arabic speaker to refugee families.

Financial review and reserves policy

During this third year of operations, the budget has been reviewed during regular trustee meetings, ensuring that new expenditure is checked and authorised by the trustees. The Board of Trustees is responsible for ensuring that expenditure remains within agreed limits. The net receipts for the year were £7,654.

At 30 June 2020, CRRC’s free cash reserves were £37,093. The charity does not have a reserves policy. Trustees review spending regularly, adjust budgets as required, encourage donations within the local community and plan fundraising activities to ensure that ongoing and planned support of beneficiaries and all CRRC’s activities can be continued as planned.

Plans for the Future

Over 2019/2020, we continued to learn a lot about CRRC’s families, volunteers and working with agencies, Councils and sister charities, all in the pursuit of resettling refugee families. We have encouraged our local Councils and through them our Government to bring more refugee families into the area and we hope to support them too in due course.

Our areas of support all aim to offer skills (English), opportunities (social and work), comfort (advice and care), and fun (general and specific activities). Given the arrival of Covid-19, many of these face-to-face activities have been hit hard, as have many of the families, and we now consider a future looking different in manner and approach for a period, though we wish to maintain the same broad support, as far as possible.

As many of us are finding, the availability of technology, and the knowledge to use it, is critical to keeping in touch while keeping a safe distance. So, we invest time and effort to secure electronic devices and skills for the families. Already English is taught using phones and iPads, both one-to-one and for small classes; we are looking to extend that facility and consider a wider agenda of content, albeit with the help of partner organisations and more funds. As vaccine take-up spreads and infection rates drop, we hope to be able to return to a more personal and collective approach. In the meantime, we will focus on finding the means to do as much as we can without the close contact that normally underpins our support effort. The good news is that there are many agencies out there with a similar mindset and loads of goodwill, so that we can continue the process of refugee family resettlement support in and around Cambridge.

Read the full annual report for 2020 »