Through the 2019 Integrated Communities Strategy, the UK Government is aiming to build localities in which people of all and any background “live, work, learn and socialise together, based on shared rights, responsibilities and opportunities”.
The Strategy rightfully includes plans to address factors limiting opportunities for certain groups and barriers to integration, with a view to building a fairer society for all. But what does this mean for those groups more at risk of isolation, including migrants, refugees and minority groups? And what practical steps can be taken to support these groups, offering the encouragement and tools they need to thrive?
Leading the Way as a Local Authority
Following the Strategy published earlier in the year, in May 2019 five local authorities were named as the first Integration Areas. Chosen on the basis of the variety of integration challenges they face, each area has developed an integration strategy which builds on the success of initiatives already being delivered and lays out plans for implementation.
For local authorities and service delivery partners across the UK, much in the way of best practice and transferrable schemes can be taken from these strategies and adopted in other local contexts.
In Peterborough, for example, established sports clubs have launched new projects to facilitate the bringing together of children from different backgrounds, as well as with mixed abilities. The Council is also running an ESOL for Work course, which not only develops vital skills among those with no or little English language skills, but also provides an opportunity to gain their insights into how integration efforts across the city can be strengthened.
Local libraries are also a great location at which to gather this kind of feedback, as Ipswich County Library continue to do through their Chat and Chill programme, which has been facilitating the integration of women from diverse backgrounds for the past ten years.
Working with a wide variety of groups and organisations to address as many barriers as possible to effective integration is crucial if refugees, migrants and minority groups are going to thrive, as well as if communities more widely are going to enjoy the benefits of living alongside a rich array of neighbours.
Cohesion through Community Groups
Needless to say, voluntary groups and community-based charities play a key role in encouraging integrated and inclusive communities - a role likely to continue in prominence as local authorities battle with funding cuts.
While this often means these groups provide critical services, their diversity and agile nature means they can also address issues in the community that might not traditionally be considered by official authorities.
Women for Refugee Women, for example, create empowering environments in which refugee and asylum-seeking women can develop confidence and skills through creative activities such as drama groups, while building relationships with other women in their local communities and accessing advice from caseworkers at the same time.
Another example of targeted efforts being made to ensure refugees and asylum seekers can build their confidence to thrive as their true selves in the UK is the support, as well as legal aid, provided for LGBTQA+ people, by the Say it Loud Club.
Understanding the nuanced challenges faced by refugees, migrants and minority groups is key to creating an integrated community. It may often be the case that these nuanced challenges are what bridges the divide between a UK-born citizen and a new arrival to the UK.
Looking to the Future
While it is undoubtedly important to focus on improving integration in existing communities, placing a particular emphasis on children will help to ensure a sustainable approach. That is why projects such as Fostering Across Borders (FAB), working to improve and expand family-based care for unaccompanied migrant children, is key to creating a warm and welcoming environment in which children can grow. Schools also have a unique capacity to encourage integration between children of all backgrounds, and subsequently their parents and carers as well.
To better understand how local authorities, schools, charities and wider partners in this effort to enhance integration across the UK can work better together, join discussions with key stakeholders at the Effectively Integrating Minority Groups, Migrants and Refugees Forum in London on Wednesday 6th November 2019. Senior leaders from the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) and Home Office will explore the direction of policy, and joining the discussions will also be the FAB project lead, Francesca Megna of the UN Migration Agency, Councillor Irene Walsh, leading Peterborough’s integration efforts, and Ipswich Library’s Marion Harvey and Daniela Tudose.
Collaboration is key to building integrated, inclusive and thriving communities.
Ensure that you are fulfilling your role in facilitating community cohesion.
This article was written by Lauren Powell.