Frequently Asked Questions

 

How long have we been established?

Although Refugee Connection only registered as an organisation in May 2016, we have over 6 years of experience working with people seeking asylum and with refugee status.  We were working on a similar project for a number of years before starting this organisation, so we have a solid background and are confident in our work.  We did not set up this organisation as a response to the refugee crisis on the news - many of the people with refugee status in our organisation have been in this country for years.

Why are we different?

People told us time and again, that they needed a way to make friends with local Londoners.  They did not want to just sit in a room, doing workshops with other people who all had similar backgrounds to them - they hated being seen as a 'refugee' and feeling like someone who needed to be 'helped' all the time.  Underpinning everything that we do at Refugee Connection, is seeing the person behind the label.  We do not operate in a traditional 'service delivery' structure - we are an organisation made up of lots of different individuals who spend time together and get to know each other as genuine friends.

Why are we called 'Refugee Connection'?

Considering we are all about the person behind the label, it might seem surprising that we called ourselves 'Refugee Connection'.  We admit that we thought pretty hard about using the term 'refugee' in our name, but it's easier if everyone knows what we do from our name - and then we can get on with getting to know each other as individuals. Once people are involved with us, we don't make any distinction between who is a 'refugee' and who is a 'Londoner'.

Why don't we use the term 'befriending'?

We feel that the term 'befriending' reinforces a type of relationship that crops up again and again within refugee support projects, of making a distinction between people as either 'helped' or 'helper', 'befriendee' or 'befriender', 'mentee' or 'mentor' - there is a reason why none of us use these words to describe our regular, everyday friendships!  You can't make truly equal, genuine and authentic friendships when meeting within these inherently unequal roles.  We are just introducing people as individuals so they can get to know each other as equals.

Why don't we use the term 'volunteering'?

We do!  Our volunteers help us run the organisation, they give up their time to work with us for free on anything from fundraising to advocacy.  On the one-to-one project, we don't call people a 'volunteer' as it's just about meeting people and making friends!  If you look at people with refugee status as another worthy cause to give up your time for, then you are just reinforcing the status quo.  If on the other hand, you just want the opportunity to make friends with someone who you wouldn't normally meet, you are going to be perfect for the one-to-one project!

Why does the language we use matter so much?

These distinctions may seem benign and unimportant but the language we use really shapes and reinforces how we see and interact with each other on a day-to-day basis.  A good example is that people seeking asylum or with refugee status are often described in cliché terms, such as 'resilient' or 'brave'.  The fact is that people seeking asylum or with refugee status are just normal people - they are not a homogeneous group - some will be resilient, and some won't be - just like within the wider population.  When we talk about people with refugee status as having things like certain personality traits, we are actually denying them the chance to be seen and accepted as the fully rounded, complex individuals that we all are.  

No one wants to be stuck with a label and treated differently because of it for the rest of their lives.  This 'othering' of people seeking asylum or with refugee status is one of the reasons why integration is so difficult, and once you start noticing it in the language and imagery so commonly used - however well intentioned - you realise how pervasive and harmful it actually is.

So, how does the one-to-one project work?

Below is a guide - addressing everyone who is involved in the one-to-one project - written to help you avoid common pitfalls and get the most out of being matched up.

 

Refugee Connection Toolkit

Who are we?

Refugee Connection is a network of people of all ages and backgrounds based in London.

London is an amazing, diverse city, home to thousands of people from all over the world.  But it can sometimes seem a very lonely place.  It can be very hard to meet new people and make friends. 

This can be difficult for anyone - whether you are someone with refugee status, or a student, or a local who has lived here for many years.  Lots of people have very few friends and family here - or they only have a limited group of people they see. 

We give people the opportunity to get to know new people who they wouldn’t normally meet.   We do this by matching Londoners one-to-one with people seeking asylum or with refugee status.   After being introduced, you both meet up regularly and get to know each other in a normal way – exploring the city, going for a walk in the park, or just having a cup of tea in a café.    This is an equal partnership and is a chance to share your everyday life with someone new.   

We are an independent organisation – we are not part of the Home Office or the NHS or any other social support services. 

 

Why have we written this guide?

It is to explain how the Refugee Connection process works and to help both of you if you have any questions or concerns.

We want to reassure you both that you already have the skills that are needed to be part of a one-to-one match.  Human beings are designed to be social.  We all need a social network around us – whether we are quiet and shy, or loud and extrovert!  We don’t need special skills – we just need to trust our instincts.

But we all sometimes worry about meeting new people, especially when we haven’t shared similar experiences.  The refugee experience is a very difficult one and you both may worry about how it will affect your friendship.   We want to help you both feel relaxed about it and and supported.

 

How your pairing is going to work

After you have both registered your interest with Refugee Connection, we will meet each of you individually so we know a little bit more about you - and you can find out more about us. 

We will then match you with your one-to-one partner.  We do this based on where you live, what you are interested in, your age etc…

We will then have a first meeting when a member of the Refugee Connection team introduces you to each other.  We will have a chat together, and you both exchange numbers and make arrangements to meet up next time on your own. 

You will usually meet up about once a week.  The two of you decide together what you want to do.  You may just want to chat in a local café or you may want to go and visit somewhere in central London.

We will get in touch with both of you after a month just to see if all is going ok.  And then we will contact you both again after 6 months.  And at any time you can contact us if you have any questions or need any advice.

You will probably see each other regularly for at least 6 months – but most likely much longer.   It may be a long-lasting friendship, or it may be something more short-term.    But it will certainly be one that introduces you to a wider network and opens up opportunities for both of you.   Your involvement with Refugee Connection is not time limited - you can continue seeing the person you're matched with as long as you both like, for months or years even, and you can still call us if you need anything (although by then you are much more likely to know each other better than we do!), and you can dip in and out of our social get-togethers as it suits you.

 

First meeting

You will be introduced to each other by a member of the Refugee Connection team, usually within 8 weeks or less of registering with us (although this is not always possible).  This person is called your Matching Mentor and you can both contact them at any time if you have any questions or need any help.   At this first meeting you will exchange mobile numbers and make arrangements for meeting up next.  You both decide what suits you best. 

 

Communication – making arrangements

It is a good idea early on to work out how best to communicate with each other.  Some people prefer to text or what’s app – others would rather have a phone call.  

For some people it works better to have a fixed time in the week when you meet up – for instance, Saturday mornings for a coffee at a particular café.  Other people prefer to be more flexible and make arrangements from one week to the next. 

The most important thing is to contact each other so that both of you are clear what the arrangements are.  It sometimes takes a little while to get into a routine that suits both of you.  So don’t worry if there are a few hiccups at the beginning – this often happens.   If either of you have any problems with making contact – call your Matching Mentor.

Try to stick to your plan – but don’t worry if you have to make a change – sometimes it’s unavoidable.  If you don’t feel well, or if you have to work late – just make sure that you let your match know in good time.

 

Meeting up – ideas

Decide together what you would both like to do for your first meeting on your own.  If you are just chatting in a café it can be helpful to take a prop – a magazine or newspaper or have some photos (on your phone) to talk about.  It is often a good start to talk about where you come from, how long you’ve lived in London – most Londoners don’t come from London!   You can talk about a different part of the UK and show pictures.  You may well have somewhere in common that you both know.  

You can talk about your home country if you would like to –  but if you would rather not talk too much about that just now, that is fine too – just say so.   If you are not sure – just check with the other person. 

You may prefer to go for a walk in a park or explore somewhere locally.  It is always good to get to know each other’s local area of London.  Sometimes it is easier to talk to someone when you are walking and looking at things around you, rather than directly face to face.  Some of the most interesting conversations take place when you are on a relaxing walk rather than facing each other across a table. 

 

Sharing and paying for things

Work it out with each other, just as you usually would with your long-term friends.  Keep it easy-going and equal – nobody needs to feel they have to pay for everything – but it’s not good to have everything paid for either.  London can be expensive for everyone – so just look out for less expensive things to do – but let people share the ‘buying of coffees and teas’.  It can be very patronising if one person pays for everything.

 

Talking about difficult things

You may be worried about how to talk about and listen to difficult, sometimes painful experiences.  If you want to talk – talk.  If you don’t want to – don’t.   Take the lead from the other person.  If they are talking about something difficult, maybe painful – listen, be interested and curious – ask questions – don’t feel that you have to quickly move on to a different topic.   If you are not sure, ask them if they want to carry on talking about it.  But most importantly, don’t feel you have to make things better. 

You do not have to cheer someone up or make them feel better.  You can just 'be' with someone who isn't feeling good.  Feeling low or having a bad day is not a problem to be solved - accepting each other when we aren't at our best, and not trying to jolly the other person along, is often the best strategy.

 

You are not there to fix each other’s problems  

Just listen with genuine interest.   That, in itself, is of enormous value, and something that often is not available to people.  London is a busy, bustling city – most people don’t have the time to talk to each other.  Sharing time together, listening to each other is hugely beneficial to everyone.

 

What to do if you are worried about medical stuff

Don’t worry. 

You may have a mental or physical health condition such as Post Traumatic Stress (PTSD) or depression, or a mobility problem that affects you.  And you may be worried that symptoms such as a nervous tic, or forgetfulness, or panic attacks may be a problem when you are with your one-to-one match.  You might feel self-conscious or embarrassed about your symptoms.

You may feel better if you mention your concerns early on.  And you will soon realise that it is not a big problem for the other person at all.  But you don’t have to talk about it.

But do let the other person know about situations that make you feel uneasy.  For example, if you don’t like noisy, crowded places such as busy cafes and bars – let your match know so that you can both meet in a quieter place, such as a park.  

On the other hand, you might be worried about doing the 'right' things if someone has a panic attack in front of you, rest assured that you already know how to comfort another human being in distress, if you follow your instincts and stay calm.  Your Matching Mentor can go over these things in more detail if you need.

 

Cultural differences

People usually really like to talk about their home and background and culture, even if there are painful memories.  Don’t feel too nervous or worried about talking about the differences between life here and life in someone’s home country.  It could be a really interesting topic of conversation for both of you.

But if you would rather not talk about your home country – just say so.  Say you would rather not talk about it.  That is ok.  

 

Language

Try not to worry too much about language difficulties.  It doesn’t have to be perfect.  Nobody cares about perfect grammar.  But you also don’t want to feel completely lost and misunderstood.  

If there is a huge gap with your English and it is very difficult to communicate – we will try to match you with someone who has another language in common.  

If you are struggling to understand each other make sure you tell each other straightaway – use props, google translate, speak slowly, tell them you don’t understand.  Try to see the funny side of misunderstandings. 

It will get easier the more you get used to each other.   Don’t overly change the way you speak – be as natural as you can be – but be careful you don’t speak too quickly (it sounds obvious but it’s the one thing that everyone says is so important!)

  

Making mistakes

Don’t worry.

You don’t have to walk around on eggshells. You are not reading a script.   If you think you may have said something wrong, don’t worry.  Don’t beat yourself up about it.   Everyone is just doing their best.  It’s normal life.  Everything will get easier when you know each other better.   The most important thing is to build up trust and feel generally at ease with each other.  

 

What to do if you are not getting on very well

It can sometimes take a long time to build up trust and feel at ease with someone new.  So don’t worry if the first few meetings don’t always feel very easy.  But you may find, after a few meet ups, that you really don’t feel it is working out very well.  That is absolutely fine.  Don’t feel embarrassed or awkward about this.  Let your Matching Mentor know.  We can either match you with someone else, or you may like to have a break from one-to-one and just join us at social get-togethers.

The most important thing is to let us know! 

Don’t worry about it

 

Open House

On Mondays, we open the doors to our home at the Calthorpe Project in the heart of London. 

Everyone who is involved with us can come along to share food, drink and conversation.  It is a very friendly and sociable place – but also relaxed and calm.  You can come and talk over a cup of tea, or work on laptops, or sit and read by yourself, or play a game of chess. 

The garden at Calthorpe is beautiful.  You can play table tennis, table football – or real football!   We have lots of social gatherings here – parties and barbecues. 

This is somewhere you will always be welcome.

 

Pub and other social get-togethers

Every Wednesday evening you can find us in the Calthorpe Arms Pub - from 5pm onwards.   Everyone who is involved with Refugee Connection is welcome to join us for a drink and a chat.  It’s a lovely, traditional pub.  In the summer you will find us outside at a table.  In the winter we are usually in a cosy corner.  

We also get together regularly for walks in London parks,  music gigs, film nights,  supper clubs,  barbecues,  climbing,  football.  Just let us know what you are interested in – everyone is welcome.

 

Advocacy

You can also make appointments for practical advice. 

There is a huge amount of bureaucracy involved when trying to rebuild a life in London.  The welfare system can seem very confusing and unfriendly. 

We run Advocacy Clinics every Monday afternoon, where we help you to understand your welfare or housing concerns, to make sense of any letters you have received, to clarify your rights and to make sense of your options. 

Members of the Refugee Connection team can accompany you to appointments or make phone calls on your behalf.  For cases outside our remit, such as immigration concerns, we are able to signpost you to other organisations.

You and your one-to-one match are not there to fix each other’s paperwork problems.  If there is a problem – make an appointment to see us on a Monday.  Don’t get bogged down with paperwork!

If you want to find out more about the UK asylum system please feel free to ask us questions, but this webpage from the Refugee Council is a good place to start.

Networking

We have lots of useful contacts in London.   Let us know what you are interested in and we may be able to help you. 

Widening your social network and getting to know more people in London is a great way of making friends.  But it is also a great way of finding opportunities to use your skills and talents.   Music, arts, business, finance, education, catering– let us know and the chances are we will know someone who would like to get to know you.

 

Where you can find us

Our base is at the Calthorpe Project.  This is a community centre in the heart of London. 

The address is:

259-274 Grays Inn Road

London

WC1X 8LH

It is next door to the Eastman Dental Hospital and opposite Westminster Kingsway College.  You can get a 17, 45, or 46 bus from Kings Cross Station.  Or is is a 10 minute walk. 

We are there every Monday

You can make an appointment with the Advocacy Clinic between 1-3pm.  

Open House is for anyone involved with Refugee Connection.  Everyone is welcome from 1-5pm.

You can also find us at the Calthorpe Arms pub – just 5 minutes down the road.   We are always there on Wednesday evenings from 5-7pm (sometimes later – text or call us if you are going to get there later than 7pm). 

 

If you have any further questions, send us an email at info@refugeeconnection.org.uk; and if you would like to register for our one-to-one project or get involved in our organisation, click here.

If our one-to-one project isn't quite right for you, but you would like to support our work in another way, you can make a (very gratefully received) donation here.