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A Fresh Start for newcomers to Coventry
30/01/17

Fresh Start is a new initiative by Together for Change. Led by Cultural Links Worker, Matt Robinson, Fresh Start aims to befriend and provide practical support for people from different cultural backgrounds.

The Diocese of Coventry is rich in cultural diversity, with 20% of the population born outside of Britain, and the city of Coventry resettling more Syrian refugees than any other UK city. Working with churches in the diocese and with charities such as YWAM (Youth With A Mission), Carriers of Hope and Coventry Refugee and Migrant Centre, Matt is in the process of setting up various projects to help reduce isolation among new settlers and encourage integration into society.

One of the main initiatives Fresh Start is pioneering is a befriending project. With the support of Coventry Refugee and Migrant Centre, Fresh Start is recruiting volunteers who will undergo training before being paired up with a refugee, migrant or asylum seeker. The idea is that the volunteer and new settler will meet together at least fortnightly to get to know one another. The volunteer may provide informal support such as helping their new friend fill in forms, but most of all they will be a friendly face in a new city.

Also, Fresh Start is in the process of setting up Saturday morning football sessions for men. Many young men travel to the UK alone, leaving family and friends back in the countries they came from. When the young men arrive, they are unable to work or speak English and can feel very isolated and lonely. Football is an international way of communicating and can bring people of all cultures together despite language barriers. Matt is looking for men who would like to play a few games of football on a Saturday morning and by doing so get to know young men from different cultures.

A number of churches in our diocese are getting involved with Fresh Start. There are plans for a weekly ‘Place of Welcome’ café at St Catherine’s Stoke Aldermoor. The church will be open for new settlers to drop in, enjoy a cup of tea and have the opportunity to speak English and get to know people. Similarly, St Chad’s in Wood End recently hosted an International Food night to welcome the new settlers in their area. Everyone was encouraged to bring a dish from their culture and then all dishes were shared amongst the attendees.

An ESOL class in Wood End.

Fresh Start is currently in the process of recruiting volunteers. Matt and the team are looking for a variety of volunteers – people who fancy a kick about on a Saturday morning, those who would like to befriend a new settler and volunteers who would be interested in teaching English. Volunteers benefit greatly by investing their time in getting to know someone from a different culture. Matt has made many friends through his work with refugees and migrants and has started to learn Arabic under the guidance of a Sudanese man he is teaching English to.

If you would like to find out more about volunteering with Fresh Start, contact Matt on matt.robinson@covcofe.org, or give him a call on 07443 870617, and he will get in touch with you.

If you are a church who would like to set up a group or regular event for refugees, asylum seekers and migrants, Fresh Start are offering grants up to £500. To find out more about this contact Matt or visit the funding page of the website - http://www.dioceseofcoventry.org/TFC/TFCFunding

Matt with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, during the Archbishop's visit to Coventry Refugee and Migrant Centre last year.