12 February 2021
Across the country, STARs have adapted, collaborated and persevered during this global pandemic. Glasgow STAR’s conversation club is one of 40 ongoing projects taking place across the network, and this Student Volunteering Week, we asked Ella Mayne to tell us a little about how they have adapted during these difficult times.
Last year all over the country people were told to stay at home and isolate. For communities already isolated by their situation like asylum seekers and refugees this took away many critical support systems run by charities and social projects. The death of Mercy Baguma and two other asylum seekers drew attention to Glasgow’s asylum system and the living conditions of the people it serves. While this drew media attention, services across Glasgow were still cut, initiatives lost funding or reduced their hours due to COVID. We at STAR Glasgow ran a weekly conversation club in collaboration with MIN (Maryhill Integration Network), but following new restrictions this was no longer possible in the same way, however we knew we wanted to run our club in some capacity.
Initially we tried to organise an outdoor conversation club, but the Scottish weather combined with COVID regulations made this impossible. Running our conversation club online seemed like a natural next step, however internet access and technology can be exclusive and we wanted the club to be as accessible to as many people as possible. With fundraising and help from the Scottish Refugee Council, we bought devices and mobile data top ups, which allowed our learners to get online and access zoom. We also created learning packs with simple stationary, learning activities and headphones.
Providing technology meant that all of our existing learning community could get online and join our conversation club. Through word of mouth our learners have invited friends to join, and the community has expanded. Furthermore other Glasgow initiatives which support the asylum community, and are not currently operating in the same way, have referred people to us. We saw an increase in the numbers of attendees to our conversation club, greater numbers than we ever had in person. Glaswegians are proud of Glasgow as a welcoming and friendly city, and we at STAR Glasgow look to extend that welcome to all. The committee and volunteers have found it so rewarding to see our club grow, knowing that we are reaching more people than ever and supporting our learners through what is an especially hard period.
Here is some of the feedback we have had from our members:
- “Conversation club helps me with improving my English skills especially speaking and vocabulary. As well as learning about British and Scottish culture. Break the barriers between people from different backgrounds, integration with society, makes people more social and gives entertainment to us.” – Adnan STAR Glasgow learner
- “I am so glad to be a part of this conversation group, it is my favourite conversation group because the people are amazing, lively and friendly too. When i joined i was shy and quiet and because English is not my first language but the host and the other friends are very supportive, i am especially thankful for this in this difficult situation for asylum seekers”– Syeda Conversation club learner
- “From Conversation Club, we have learned a lot both before and after lockdown. It provides a great opportunity to listen to different people about their experiences, achievements, struggles and opinions. It gives us the perfect platform to share our experiences and knowledge. We have felt a big difference in our language skills, listening ability and confidence of speaking in front of others. We have met different nationalities, tried to learn different languages, culture and traditions. We are thankful to everyone for giving us this opportunity to participate.” – Abid and Hena STAR Glasgow learners.