Love and language at Kennedy House
How a group from Oadby Baptist Church, Leicestershire, sought to welcome people seeking refuge in their community. By Bill Davice, a church member
In the late-summer of 2016 The Home Office opened a G4S-managed, ‘Dispersal Centre’ for 50 religiously mixed, ethnically diverse, male asylum seekers, aged 18-50, in a centre (Kennedy House) in South Wigston. The men can be moved at any time, and once granted or refused refugee status they must leave Kennedy House within 28 days, after which the Red Cross can offer support and advice.
Although we had very limited experience of refugees, a number from the church felt individually called by God, initially just to see what we could do. We quickly found that the managing G4S Group offered little beyond the accommodation. We also discovered that the men could not access any language teaching for their first six months.
A small group of retired teachers and helpers came together and decided to offer a programme of basic English. Classes began in October and we have seen about 30 men from ten countries take part in up to three afternoon classes per week, including sessions of one-to-one conversation. Their English levels range from zero to fluent – their education levels from illiterate to Master degrees.
We are part of the emerging Sanctuary & Inclusion Group ‘Hub’ based at Kennedy House, which has put in place policies and protocols appropriate for working with vulnerable adults. We are beginning to access limited funding and we work with other denominations and secular charities.
We welcome all who want to learn, although we do not have the capability for men with serious learning difficulties. Inevitably, as we get to know the men, we become aware of the traumas and dislocations they have experienced and we offer limited practical and emotional support beyond the teaching.
Our primary focus is giving them access to English and we continue to respond to the changing dynamics of the centre. Over the next two weeks our Sunday worship will focus on 'Strangers & Aliens' and we will invite the church to contribute towards 'Welcome Bags' for new arrivals.
As a safeguarding precaution, Oadby does not publish photographs of the asylum seekers it helps
The photo on our contents page is not from Kennedy House, but has been used for illustrative purposes with permission from UNHCR | © UNHCR/Howard Davies