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Belong Nottingham (Belong) is a charity working with refugees, asylum seekers and migrants, which has teamed up with Beeston Hockey Club (BHC) to pilot bringing sport and physical activity to the people they work with.

Here, Verna Prince, Youth and Community Development Worker at Belong, shares some of the challenges faced by the families Belong supports, how they can prevent people getting involved in sport, and how the Bees Belong project has worked to overcome these.

Belong Nottingham aims to ensure refugees, asylum seekers and migrants can reach their full potential.

Sport can play a key part in this, but the challenges faced by those transitioning into life in the UK can prevent them from getting involved. These challenges include:

Language and cultural barriers. These impact on almost all areas of daily life. Most refugees, asylum seekers and migrants don’t speak English as their first language, and some don’t speak any at all when they arrive.

They often don’t understand their rights in different situations which makes them feel less confident about speaking up and interacting with new people.

Language barriers can make developing new social networks slow and difficult.

In school settings, they can spark bullying and discrimination which can harm confidence and self-esteem.

Limited networks. Having a limited social and family network can also lead to loneliness, depression, anxiety, and other behavioural issues.

Living on low incomes. Refugees, asylum seekers and migrants often live on low incomes. Adults often have to work multiple jobs to get by, meaning they have less time to spend with their families.

Many refugees, asylum seekers and migrants have large families, and some send money home to support others, making it even more difficult to afford things other families might take for granted.

Feeling safe. People tend to feel safer in their own communities for many reasons.

For example, refugees, asylum seekers and migrants are often from diverse ethnic backgrounds, so for some, entering what look like ‘all-white’ places can be scary.

They tend to stay within their cultural or geographic communities because they’re worried they won’t fit in, be welcomed, make friends, or belong.

Sadly, this means they can become more isolated and miss out on the very opportunities that could help support their transition.

Like anyone, the people we work with want to find places where they feel safe and have a sense of belonging.

Sport and physical activity can help to support people’s transition but community clubs and groups need to help people overcome these challenges.

When delivered in a safe, welcoming and inclusive environment, sport and physical activity can do wonders for refugees, asylum seekers and migrants as they adjust to their new lives.

It can help them to feel healthier, happier and like they’re part of something, especially in a group setting.

However, dealing with the challenges presented by transitioning to the UK makes it hard for the families we work with to prioritise sport and activity.

Low incomes make it difficult to afford fees, travel to and from venues and purchase kit or equipment.

Language and cultural differences make people worried about communicating with others, whilst the places where refugees, asylum seekers and migrants settle don’t always have accessible sports facilities they feel comfortable using.

Providers of community sport are often unaware of these challenges and, therefore, their offer is often not set up in a way that helps to overcome them. 

Working in partnership with Beeston Hockey Club – lessons learnt

I wanted our young people to be able to experience and benefit from sport in a community setting, so I picked up the phone and contacted Beeston Hockey Club (BHC) to see if and how they could help.

The response from them was overwhelmingly positive. We forged a partnership to try and make hockey more accessible for the families we work with.

This led to us forming ‘Bees Belong’, a pilot project to offer fun, informal and safe hockey sessions for children and young people (CYP) from migrant, refugee and asylum seeker families.

The project was designed to help them get active and integrate with people from across the community.

The pilot has increased our understanding of how to make community sport more inclusive and accessible for everyone. It has also given our families opportunities they otherwise wouldn’t have had.

Our Bees Belong project has been working hard to overcome the challenges faced by our young people and families.

BHC has been really open to learning about these challenges.

This has enabled us to develop activities that encourage CYP, their siblings and wider families to enjoy themselves, make new friends and learn new skills through hockey.

We are working hard to find ways to make this pilot sustainable in the long term with the support of Active Notts (Active Partners Trust).

Advice to other organisations

For other community clubs and organisations interested in setting up a project to support more asylum seekers, refugees and migrants to be active, we would definitely say give it a go because you don’t know what might happen! To help, here are our top tips from what we have learnt so far:

  • Partner with trusted organisations that already work with the people you want to engage. These organisations can give you access to useful insight, support you to develop accessible activities, help you promote opportunities and encourage people to get involved. Depending on their capacity, they may help to share the workload and be able to bring in different experiences and perspectives.
  • Keep costs as low as possible – free is best!  Some families won’t be able to afford kit or equipment, so set sessions up in a way that means people won’t miss out if they don’t have the ‘right’ things.
  • Whilst it might be fairly normal in England to carry on with sport and activity in bad weather, this can be off-putting for refugees, asylum seekers and migrants. Indoor activities are likely to be better attended until you’ve built up some momentum so try and keep activities inside initially.
  • Take the offer to people! A lot of our families don’t feel confident travelling too far, because of time, cost and the unfamiliarity of new places. Finding venues in the areas they live in encourages their attendance and can help to reach more people quickly.
  • The families we work with approach many things as a unit, so look at how you can accommodate siblings and family members getting involved too. Some parents and siblings who start watching on the side-lines don’t need much persuading to join in, so encourage them where you can!
  • For some of the families we work with, even putting food on the table is difficult. If you can offer nutritious food to participants after your activities, it can make a huge difference to some people.
  • Sometimes the parents we work with don’t want their children to be distracted from education; we’ve explored ways to address this, for example by including time before or after sessions where they can access our help with their homework.
  • Keep talking to the people taking part and their families, to make sure your delivery continues to meet their needs. If they stop turning up, ask them why and see what you can do to encourage them back.

Our young people are seeing so many benefits, from developing their language skills to meeting new people and building their self-confidence, all in an environment that gives them a true sense of belonging whilst they find their own identities in a new country.

The help we’ve received from Active Notts (APT) has been invaluable to the Bees Belong project.

Helen Davis, a Strategic Lead at Active Notts (APT), has been with us every step of the way to answer questions and support both our organisation and the club.

Working with Helen has helped us keep our people at the heart of the project whilst we learned to integrate sport into our offer. Helen says:

"Working with Gareth from Beeston Hockey Club, and Verna and Jean-Didier at Belong, has been and continues to be a really amazing experience.

"It has been great to be part of the openness to learn and share together not only resources but also wider connections and relationships and ideas and knowledge.

"We have worked flexibly and adapted to really put the needs of the Belong community at the heart of the Bees Belong Programme.

"I’m not saying it’s been easy because it hasn’t there has been challenges but we have gotten through them together.

"The work is based on trust, if I was to advise anyone else trying to do something similar I would say take time to get to know the people leading and managing the work, take time to build trust and relationships, don’t be afraid to try new things and let them evolve by staying close to and supporting the work.

"It is not what you do it’s the way that you do it that will enable and support change."