‘English+ has changed my life by reducing communication barriers and cultural gaps.’ 

Introduction

Norwich has a long and proud history of supporting refugees and asylum seekers. You only have to look around the city to note ‘Strangers’ Museum, ‘Strangers Hall’ and my personal favourite ‘Strangers Coffee…’.

‘Strangers’ was the name given to the Dutch and Flemish refugee weavers who fled their countries in the 16th century as a result of the persecution of Dutch Calvinists by their Spanish rulers.

The asylum seekers first settled in Kent, but were encouraged to move and settle in Norwich because their skills in textile weaving made them immensely valuable. Much of Norfolk’s prosperity after this period can be traced back to this influx of refugees.

Norwich is once again a place of safety for refugees and asylum seekers. Obviously we no longer call them ‘strangers’ and want them to belong and feel at home. Part of belonging is to know and understand the English language.

Rosie Sexton now lives in Norwich but grew up in Kenya and can empathise with how it feels to have a sense of displacement. Along with a  team, she has now set up a charity in Norwich to teach people English so that more options are available to them.

And it’s completely free. 

This is Rosie’s story.

Rosie, you had an interesting upbringing..

Yes, I grew up and went to school in Kenya. My Dad was working in a field mission hospital there. Then at high school age we moved back to Norfolk for a while. It was a completely different school and life experience.

Where else have you lived?

I met my husband Andy in Zimbabwe in 1996. I was supporting market traders and rural people with business training and help to access markets. Andy was volunteering on a project educating children and young people about HIV and AIDS.  Then in 2004 we moved to Uganda with our two young children.  We felt less integrated in Uganda, it was harder to get to know local Ugandans.

In 2008 we moved to Los Angeles living in mission accommodation with people from all over the world.

Why did you move back to Norwich?

We moved back in 2011, our daughter was about to start high school and we had to decide where to move next. I was keen that our children should have an identity in the place where they had a passport. I believe that citizenship is a privilege and it was important to me to give them some roots. My parents live in Ketteringham so we settled in Norwich.

So tell me about English+

D4_QI5xW4AEdUALEnglish+ is a registered charity supporting new communities in Norwich to learn English, form friendships and to make this city a home.

In 2011, I started the charity with a group of friends to help asylum seekers and refugees to feel like they belong in this city. Learning the English language is a key part. I felt that my experience from across the world put me in a good position to offer this.

The charity officially started in 2016 and by working closely alongside other charities, we have formed the ‘Norwich Integration Partnership. ‘

Now we have 40 volunteers a week and up to 200 people through the doors each week from around 40 nationalities.

The charity offers other benefits beyond learning the language, can you tell me more about that?

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We now run other classes alongside learning the language. We have started driving theory, arts and crafts, women’s swimming lessons and a museums club. We do day trips on the Broads learning about the local environment. Part of belonging is to get involved in what’s going on and to meet new people.

 

We also run short courses including access to work, food hygiene and other relevant courses.

Our students also volunteer at various places which helps them to practice conversation and meet new people.

Who can access help from English+?

Our focus is on refugees and asylum seekers but anyone is welcome. We have people coming who have just arrived in Norwich had have nothing. There are also people who’ve been in England for 10 years and have no English.

You can walk in the door and you’re just there to learn English, there are no labels. From my point of view it gives friendship and a sense of belonging. People get out of the house and meet others. We help to point them in the direction of other services such as the Red Cross who can assist with employment. When they have a problem or difficulty, they can come and talk to us and we will try to get them to the right service.

What feedback have you had?

Some of the best things people say to me is that they can now go to their children’s parents evenings and understand what the teacher is saying. Or they can go to the doctor’s surgery and understand them.

‘I’m still impressed with so much hospitality, help, kindness and generosity. Thanks very very much for being as you are’

How important are your volunteers?

We have around 40 volunteers a week and we would never be able to have this effect on people without them. We have swimming teachers, language teachers, driving teachers, we also link up with schools for refugee week and our volunteers help with that, they  are amazing.

What’s the future for English+?

We have some great ideas including more accessible courses, arts and sports programmes. We also run a summer programme with day trips to enjoy and our students can bring their families along.

D5EyCuKWsAA4J4jOur students also volunteer at various places which helps them to practice conversation and meet new people.

As always with a charity, it will depend on funding, but we have plenty of ideas. Our aim is to help people to belong and make Norwich their home.

For more information

If you would like to find out more about the work of English+ please go to the website at www.englishplus.org.uk

You may also be interested in volunteering opportunities or donating.

volunteer-teachers

Picture of the English+ team. Images courtesy of the English+ twitter feed:  twitter.com/English+_Nrw