19.Jan.2006

Refugee mentoring scheme celebrates first year in Manchester

More than 50 Greater Manchester residents have made a huge difference to the lives of refugees in the region as the first year of a unique mentoring scheme draws to a close.

The Time Together scheme, developed nationally by volunteering charity Timebank and run by Refugee Action in Manchester, matches British people with refugees who have been granted leave to remain in the UK. It aims to help refugees integrate into British society while giving British people the opportunity to learn about their cultures and experiences.

Sophie King, the co-ordinator of Time Together in Manchester, is now looking for new mentors to take part in the scheme over the next 12 months. She said: “This innovative project has been a huge success in its first year in the city. When refugees are granted leave to remain they face many challenges from finding a job and accessing education to improving language skills, making friends and gaining confidence in their new community.

“Mentors taking part in the scheme have come from all walks of life, from students to retired professionals and full-time workers, and every one of them has brought their own special talents and experience to make a difference to someone’s life. Anyone who is interested can contact me to find out more about the great benefits Time Together offers.”

Time Together mentors spend around five hours a month with their mentees helping them with anything from writing a CV and explaining the job market to learning about computers and the internet to enjoying a museum or gallery. Both attend a one-day course, are actively involved in selecting a match and receive support and expenses for the duration of the relationship. More than 500 refugees have benefited from one-on-one relationships since Time Together was initially launched nearly three years ago in London, Birmingham and Glasgow.

Susan Holt, an accountant who lives in Stockport, has been a mentor to Karl Kanza, a refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo, since January 2005. During their time together, Susan has helped Karl to improve his English, to take driving lessons and the pair have enjoyed day trips in the region and shared their knowledge, customs and history.

Karl, who has now qualified as an electrician, said: “When you first arrive in the UK as a refugee you know little about the community and the culture. Sue has helped me to become much more confident. When I first met her I found it very difficult to speak English and I used to take my dictionary with me but she was patient and kind and we talked about politics and sometimes she would bring the newspapers. Now Sue is more than a friend, she is like family and is the first person I go to when I have a problem. When I apply for a job, she is my referee. I have benefited from Time Together in so many ways.”

Sue said: “I joined the Time Together scheme after I read about Bosnian refugees and how they have were befriended by local people, and how useful it had been to help them settle into a new country. I have got more out of the scheme than I thought I would, and have got pleasure out of helping someone. You get such a bad image from some of the media about who refugees are and what they are doing, but Karl has made such an effort to integrate. I will definitely be a mentor again.”

To register as a mentor or to find more information on Time Together, please call Sophie King on 0161 233 1437 or visit www.timetogether.org.uk.

-ENDS-

For more information or to request an interview with a mentor or mentee please call Julia Ravenscroft, press officer at Refugee Action, on 0161 233 1956.

Notes to editors:

1. TimeBank’s Time Together initiative is funded by the Home Office and Treasury’s Invest to Save budget. The Invest to Save Budget (ISB) is a joint Treasury/Cabinet Office initiative with an aim to create sustainable improvements in the capacity to deliver public services in a more joined up manner. A key principle of the ISB programme is that investment is provided in return for reform. http://www.isb.gov.uk/hmt.isb.application.2/index.asp

2. TimeBank is a national charity inspiring and connecting people to share and give time. www.timebank.org.uk or 0845 601 4008

3. Refugee Action is an independent, national charity working to enable refugees to build new lives in the UK.  We provide practical advice and assistance for newly arrived asylum seekers and long-term commitment to their settlement through community development work, and received 30,000 visits from asylum seekers last year.  As one of the country’s leading agencies in the field, Refugee Action has 22 years’ experience in pioneering innovative work in partnership with refugees. www.refugee-action.org.uk.