Why volunteer with LRW?
When they arrive in the UK, refugees are often disorientated and overwhelmed, but still hopeful and desperate to settle into their new lives. They are allocated a case worker, introduced to various organisations (Lewisham Council, Jobcentre, ESOL colleges, employment specialists etc) and placed in housing but other than that, have little introduction to their communities.
The ethos of Lewisham Refugee Welcome is to help these strangers become friends. Through the befriending scheme, we aim to be good neighbours who make refugees feel welcome and part of our community, sharing resources, social activities and networks (e.g to help them find work); good friends who treat them as equals; advisors and mentors (eg coaching for job interviews).
Befriending can help a refugee find his or her feet in their new home, give them a social network, and empower them to help themselves and others.
What is befriending?
● A partnership; a welcoming and supportive relationship based on friendship, respect and equality
● A support structure and point of contact, helping newcomers get to know Lewisham and everything it has to offer
● A chance for refugees to practise their English, to learn more about British culture and traditions, and to feel part of their new community
● A commitment to an ongoing relationship and regular meetings which will benefit both the befriender and and their partner
Refugees arriving in the UK scarcely know anyone outside their case workers and their own ethnic community. Many have experienced traumatic events. They come from a different culture. Some are happy to be here, others are not - every person is unique. One-to-one befriending relationships not only help to reduce the social isolation that refugees experience, but can increase their self-confidence, promote their independence, broaden their social networks and help them to integrate into city life. A chance to have a simple walk in the park, a visit to the local market or a chat over a cup of tea with a friendly person can bring a sense of normality to someone whose life has been turned upside down.
Befriending is a unique, supportive relationship. It is also different to a regular friendship, at least initially, because it is an intentional one organised via LRW rather than something that starts up ‘naturally’ between two people. There is likely to be less common ground than in a normal friendship and there is often a language barrier as well as a wide cultural divide to bridge. Many partnerships do go on to become more natural friendships, but equally some don’t and that’s fine too. Putting the time into making visits happen will help the friendship to develop.