Refugee mentoring scheme celebrates first year in Plymouth

32 Plymouth 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 Mind in Plymouth, 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.

Since Time Together came to Plymouth in December 2004, word about the scheme has spread swiftly. Suzanne Shaw, the Project Co-ordinator, is based at Plymouth & District Mind and matches 50 refugees a year with a volunteer mentor.

Suzanne explains; “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.

“One volunteer mentor was hesitant about meeting their mentee on account of all the bad press and media surrounding refugees. However, with each meeting she came to understand that refugees are people rather than a negative label, and is sharing her positive experiences with her friends and family.”

Suzanne is now looking for new mentors to take part in the scheme over the next 12 months.

“Mentors taking part in the scheme 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.

After completing mentor training in January 2005, Sam was matched with Mohammed, a refugee from Kurdish Iraq. Mohammed left Iraq fearing for his life, and has been living in the UK since September 2002. On his arrival in Plymouth, he found it difficult to feel at home in his new community, particularly because of the language barriers. He missed the support of his family and encountered racist attitudes. As he explains, "I was very tired and felt frightened about everything… living away from my family and on my own was sometimes hard”.

Sam has helped Mohammed to overcome some of the difficulties he faces. Their mentoring sessions have been particularly useful in helping him to understand the UK system and improve his English. As Sam explains, "I have helped Mohammed to improve his English and his confidence in using it. I have also helped him to register at the library and shown him how to use the internet and email."

Sam has also gained much from the time he has spent with Mohammed, "I hoped to find out something about another way of life and at a basic level to make a new friend. Both my expectations have been fulfilled."

To register as a mentor or to find more information on Time Together, please call Suzanne Shaw on 01752 512 284, email: suzanne@plymouthmind.org.uk or visit www.timetogether.org.uk.


For press information or to request an interview with a mentor/mentee please call Lou Clifton, press officer at TimeBank: 0207 785 6388 / 07977 219629 l.clifton@timebank.org.uk

Notes to editors

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

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

Mind is the leading mental health charity in England and Wales, working to create a better life for everyone with experience of mental distress. www.mind.org.uk

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