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Communities of belonging: supporting young refugees in Bristol

Kirsty Philbrick shares how Welcome Youth Sessions have been supporting young refugees in Bristol.

Welcome Youth Sessions have helped create a safe, nurturing community and a creative, thought-provoking space.
Welcome Youth Sessions have helped create a safe, nurturing community and a creative, thought-provoking space.

A commitment to peace and social justice is at the heart of Quaker work. It can be found in the welcome Quakers try to offer those seeking asylum or being resettled in the UK. In 2021 I worked with Quakers in Bristol to extend this welcome to young refugees and asylum seekers.

We all need food, water, warmth, rest, and safety – the essentials. But there's so much more to life: communities in which to belong, friendship, respect, fulfilment, and opportunities to be creative. Quakers working with local community resettlement schemes found they were able to meet the basic needs of young people in the families they support, but had a long way to go to meet their other needs… and so the Welcome Youth Sessions were born!

A youth space

A lack of youth work provision for young refugees in Bristol got us thinking about what young people need and what we could offer them. In the summer of 2021, with a generous donation from Clifton Refugee Support Scheme, we started the Welcome Youth Sessions. We created a youth space, underpinned by Quaker values and good youth work practice, with the aim of offering a safe, supportive place for young people to come together to socialise, play games, learn new skills, and develop self-esteem and community.

Between July and September last year we held weekly sessions with a group of 11 – mostly Syrian – young people. They were supported by Syrian young adult volunteers, who interpreted, role-modelled and developed their facilitation skills. For the sessions, we chose satisfying, sometimes challenging activities that offer space for creativity and reflection – all tried and tested with Quaker youth groups.

These activities included baking, crafting (painting, printmaking and macramé) and drama – the group wrote and performed a play on the theme of 'home' with Portal Youth Theatre and young Quakers. We had lots of fun playing games like chaos tag and zip-zap-boing, which became firm favourites! We also talked about identity and the differences between hopes and dreams, which led to deep discussion and aspirations being shared.

Making summer fun

We all know how rewarding it can be to connect with nature, so in August we did something a little more physically demanding! Leaving the city behind, we took a day trip to Kelston Round Hill. Walking several miles with lunch and charcoal on our backs, everyone slogged – sometimes merrily, sometimes cajoled or dragged by their peers to the top of the hill! The breathtaking views over Bath, Bristol and to the mountains in Wales beyond were met with 'wows' and enthusiastic selfies… it was all worth it! Recharged after a BBQ lunch at Kelston Barn, everyone found the energy for another endless game of chaos tag!

The group said they loved the sessions and wished they could happen every day. One told us:

"My first summer holiday in Bristol was boring, lonely and empty. I had nothing to do. The Welcome Youth Project made this summer fun and gave me something to look forward to."

Continuing support

Since September, we've continued to offer sessions to the group during school holidays. We aim to build on this by reaching out to other young refugees in Bristol, perhaps with more regular sessions once we've recruited a new Youth Development Worker. It's been a real pleasure and a privilege to work with such open, thoughtful and vibrant young people.

We want Quaker youth work to live out our values in the world, and we're keen to work with young people who could benefit from a safe, nurturing community and a creative, thought-provoking space. Do you know of any young people your local Quaker community could reach out to?

To find out more about this project, or to suggest and discuss ways you could reach out to young people, get in touch with me at kirstyp@quaker.org.uk.

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