September 07, 2023
GoodGym aims to represent the communities in which we operate so when area activator, Manjit, spotted an opportunity to welcome some new residents of Slough to the group she jumped on the chance. Here she talks about working with Slough Refugee Support this summer and the impact of connection to those seeking asylum in the UK.
A few months ago I was doing some freelance work with local community groups. One of my groups was Slough Refugee Support and I spent a bit of time going to each of their activities, one of which was the English Class. As I sat and listened to the plight of the participants one thing that was becoming very clear was that despite all their hardships all they wanted was to feel part of the local community.
I knew GoodGym was the perfect match and set up a session just for the Slough Refugee Support group. I held it at a time they were all already together at the centre so that they were not incurring any extra costs or time in attending.
Our first session was held in the local park and we spent an hour cleaning and greening the area. Each English class participant was paired up with a GoodGym member so they would have the opportunity to practise conversational English with someone unknown to them. The feedback from the CEO of Slough Refugee Support was immense.
The class had enjoyed the session so much that they wanted more sessions. Fabulous! Not only did the class get a warm fuzzy feeling from this session but so did the GoodGym team. This was now the start of a new relationship. Three of the English class participants decided to come along to our Group Run session the following Monday.
Happy Smiley Faces
Imagine leaving your home country, leaving your family, your children and your friends. Then travelling across Europe and arriving in the UK not knowing a soul and facing a language barrier.
What the very first session did was show there was a place, a group, a community that they could feel a part of. They did already have their English class community but what we were able to offer them were new happy smiley faces to meet and talk to and visit other areas of Slough that they may never have seen.
Mohammad, Mehdi and Ehsan, three asylum seekers were our newest members. As each week passed they were becoming an integral part of GoodGym. They somehow changed the dynamics of the group. They made us feel humbled by their presence personally and they reminded each one of us that no matter what life throws at you…keep smiling, because they certainly did.
When life gives you lemons make lemonade
We soon had them set up as members proudly wearing their red GoodGym t-shirts getting stuck into tasks. If you ask any member of the Slough team who have had the pleasure of being on a task with these three guys what they think of them, they will all say the same thing – ‘We have the upmost respect for them’
I am very happy to meet this group and I will be even happier to be able to help people improve their condition
Each week they would walk from their accommodation to our meet up point, sometimes being a 1 hour walk each way. They seemed so happy to be part of our team, that Mohammad said ‘Hello, I am very happy to meet this group and I will be even happier to be able to help people improve their condition and thank you for your good management’
So a few weeks in now and life is going well…..until it isn’t.
One Wednesday, Mehdi sent me a text to say that Ehsan has suffered chest pain and a suspected heart attack. The team were very saddened, and everyone offered their good wishes and hoped for a speedy recovery. Fortunately, all was well, and Ehsan didn’t spend too long in hospital.
The following Monday we were not expecting Ehsan to attend. Not with an hour walk distance to the task for him. Mehdi was there and gave us an update on Ehsan and again we wished him well.
As we approached the end of the task guess who turned up! Ehsan and Mohammad. They clearly missed the Monday habit they had formed. It was so nice to see them that I greeted them with a very British hug!
As I woke up on Tuesday 25th July and opened my emails, I had two that took my attention straight away. They were from Ehsan and Mohammad. Both advising me that they had got back to their accommodation last night to be told that they had to pack their items and be ready to leave Slough on Thursday! What!?
I couldn’t believe what I was reading. In the space of the two months, they had been in the UK, they had connected and made friends at Slough Refugee Support English Class, they had become an integral part of the GoodGym Slough team, they had started attending English classes at St Paul’s Church and were active participants in a football class. If that’s not integration then I don’t know what is. To have to leave all of that behind with days’ notice was very sad to hear.
The power of the red t-shirt
A week or so passed and we leant that Mohammed and Ehsan had both been sent to an army base near Dover. We must admit hearing that did worry us. Did this mean they would be sent back home?
Ehsan was shortly after that sent to Luton. So much movement in so few weeks, how is anyone supposed to establish themselves?
When I realised Ehsan’s location I emailed him to see if he wanted to go join GoodGym Luton. He may not have his buddies by his side but it would still be a group that he was familiar with and would make new connections. Whilst my email was making it’s way through the ethernet, Gill a Luton member was at her local Church, wearing her GoodGym t-shirt as she was off to a task afterwards. Ehsan had already been attending this very same Church and when he saw Gill wearing the t-shirt he asked the local vicar to make an introduction!
Ehsan was now in contact with David, the AA for Luton and Gill and would be attending Luton’s second birthday task that week. I received a lovely email from Ehsan afterwards thanking me for letting him know about the Luton team.
All’s well that ends well.
At Slough, we have now had 6 asylum seekers join GoodGym and once the English classes restart in September we intend to do more bespoke tasks just for them in hope that they will become regular members with us. We have a very powerful platform for helping refugees and asylum seekers. What better way to connect with the community, to fill your free time whilst you can’t work, and to make new friends?
Written by Manjit Birk, GoodGym Slough area activator.