Supporting communities learn English in Barnsley

Supporting communities learn English in Barnsley

About the author: Brian Clarke

Brian Clarke runs the Unite Community Support Centre in Barnsley. The centre has been supporting learners from local migrant communities improve their English skills for a number of years.

Brian explains how they have done it.

The Unite Community Support Centre in Barnsley is located within the NUM offices and staffed by Unite members on a voluntary basis, opened in June 2013. 

In June 2015 after appropriate training and with the co-operation of the British Red Cross we began offering ESOL classes at Quaker House which is next door to the NUM offices. There are three volunteers facilitating these courses, Beenish Anwar, John Dunn and myself. The room we have is adequate for 12 learners and initially we were inundated with people eager to learn. We have two sessions, morning and afternoon. 

At first most of our learners were from Eritrea, then we had people from Iran, Sudan, Syria, Iraq, Congo, Afghanistan, Africa, Albania, and Pakistan. Currently our learners are from Pakistan, Iran and the Ivory Coast. 

One of the drawbacks is that we don’t get the same people attending on a regular basis, for several reasons. For example G4S who organise the accommodation for these people often move people around, sending them to Wakefield, Huddersfield, Sheffield or sometimes on the outskirts of Barnsley making it too expensive for the people to come into town for our sessions and constantly looking for the cheapest accommodation for asylum seekers. 

When we started two and a half years ago we were the only organisation in Barnsley offering free ESOL lessons. Now there are at least six organisations offering some form of English lessons, some just offer conversation classes which are very popular. 

Currently a worker with the Refugee Council is in the process of getting all ESOL providers together at meetings in order to ensure that the classes do not clash and to enable us to share our experiences. 

Our ESOL classes have a spin off because we explain that we can offer online basic computer lessons in our Unite office which is next door to Quaker House. Here as well as giving IT lessons we help refugees to write their CV’s, explain the Job Seeker rules, etc. Currently most of the people we see are refugees and asylum seekers. 

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