Volunteers for Norwich charity lead the charge for cultural integration
- Credit: SOPHIE WYLLIE
As part of our support of the Voluntary Norfolk Make a Difference in 2017 campaign, the EDP is shining a light on voluntary groups and individuals. Reporter SOPHIE WYLLIE found out about New Routes which helps minority communities settle in Norwich.
English language classes, trips to the seaside, family activities and art lessons.
These are just some of the free vital sessions and workshops put on for the hundreds of people, including families, asylum seekers and EU migrants, helped by New Routes each year.
Heavily supported by 180 volunteers, ranging from sixth form students to people in their 70s, the charity aims to stop people feeling isolated and boost Norwich's cultural diversity.
Dee Robinson, New Routes projects co-ordinator, said: 'We couldn't possibly run the charity without the volunteers.
'Social isolation can lead to depression, anxiety and terrible health problems.
'Our groups are cross cultural and the majority of people we deal with are asylum seekers and refugees.
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'People arrive in Norwich completely bewildered and don't know where they are in England. They have been through enormous changes which can make people feel frightened.'
She added the group provided 'light at the end of the tunnel' for people in need of help because it allowed them to meet others who had gone through 'difficult paths'.
'People from different cultures make Norwich a much more vibrant city. They bring different ideas,' Ms Robinson said.
Set up in 2004, New Routes supported 30 asylum seekers from Sudan, Eritrea, Turkey and Iraqi Kurdistan who arrived in Norwich the previous year.
It was previously based in Beckham Place but moved to its current headquarters - the Norwich Social Centre on Catherine Wheel Opening off St Augustine's Street in 2007.
Each week 250 people from 40 countries go through the charity's doors for support.
The charity - which cost £150,000 to run from April 2016 until April this year - only has four paid staff.
It is hoping to move into the Royal British Legion's Jubilee Hall on Aylsham Road, Norwich, at the end of 2017 because of its increasing popularity.
As well as the English language lessons and an international families club, New Routes offers one-to-one mentoring support for young people as well as adults.
People helped by the project range from newborns to older people in their 70s and many access the charity to make friends as well as learn language skills or access other services.
There are now 50-60 volunteers involved in the mentoring scheme, started in 2007, which started with eight unpaid volunteers who helped children and teenagers.
Some people who have been helped are now mentors themselves or have befriended charity users.
'The most important thing volunteers can have is listening skills. They have to be non-judgemental. The volunteer training challenges people to think more deeply about their assumptions,' Ms Robinson said.
She added: 'Volunteers feel they get as much out of helping others as our clients get out of the help they receive.
'A lot of volunteers like joining because they feel useful and meet interesting inspiring people.'
The most well-attended sessions were the English classes, attended by up to 60-70 people at one time.
Mentoring support features help with homework and accessing simple services including a routine doctor's appointment, among other things.
Mary Luke, 69, from Hevingham, who has volunteered for the charity as an English teacher for the past two years, said: 'New Routes is brilliant. It is nice meeting new people and has been wonderful seeing them develop their English. It is also nice for me, as a widow, to be out and about.'
Mother-of-two Rupak Rashid, 34, who came to Norwich 12 years ago after leaving Iraqi Kurdistan, is one of Mrs Luke's students.
She said: 'I came to New Routes for friendship. I like the help the volunteers provide for children.'
University of East Anglia graduate Daniel Ellse, 21, started volunteering at the family session in March 2017 because he wants to be a social worker and help children.
He said: 'When I started I wasn't as confident with children as I am. I enjoy volunteering because I meet people in a nice atmosphere. New Routes provides a positive, friendly space for a marginalised group of people.'
New Routes is open Monday to Saturday.
For more information visit www.newroutes.org.uk, call 01603 662648 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Are you involved in a volunteering project? Email email@example.com
Charity call for more business support
Big businesses across Norfolk are being encouraged to get involved with boosting cultural integration.
Dee Robinson, New Routes projects co-ordinator, wants major employers to support people it helps, including asylum seekers, refugees and EU migrants.
She said: 'We would like to persuade mainstream employers to employ one refugee into meaningful work so they are not wasting their skills.'
Norwich became the first UK city to join the International Cities of Refuge Network in 2007, which offered residency to politically exiled writers denied freedom of speech in their home countries.
Since then Norwich City of Refuge has joined the national City of Sanctuary movement, which aims to build a culture of hospitality for people seeking sanctuary in Britain.
Seven Norfolk schools are involved in the Norwich City of Sanctuary group.