Community Ambassador Saleha Bhayat is planning a new football league to help refugees and asylum seekers integrate into local life after having taken part in the Blackburn with Darwen Community Ambassador Programme.
Saleha completed the 12 week Community Ambassador programme last year, delivered on behalf of Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council by Spring North working with Blackburn Rovers Community Trust and Care Network Hub.
The Community Ambassador programme costs nothing for those taking part and aims to empower local people to take a lead on projects to help build a stronger community in Blackburn with Darwen. The scheme also forms part of the borough’s Our Community, Our Future social integration programme, funded by the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government.
During the 12 week Community Ambassador programme, Saleha and others in the cohort took part in a number of activities including, exploring the multicultural make-up of Blackburn with Darwen, going on local cultural visits, gaining an understanding of community development and developing leadership and project management skills to help them set up their own social action projects.
The diverse group also had the chance to visit Belfast to explore the importance of connected groups and integration, learning lessons from the issues the Northern Irish capital has experienced. They took a tour of the city’s main attractions including the Peace Wall.
Community Ambassadors came along at the right time for me. I haven’t worked since 2016 following a breakdown. I’ve been volunteering to build up my confidence again and to get involved in my local community. Taking part in the course made me feel like somebody again. I feel more able to voice my opinions now.
Now that she’s completed the course (gaining an ASDAN qualification), Saleha is planning her social action project with funding support from Blackburn Rovers Community Trust for a football league that will get refugees and asylum seekers mixing with people of different nationalities and playing against local teams. Alongside this, she’s planning on collecting donations of football boots and strips to help the refugee community get involved in local sports opportunities. She also plans to explore how she can work with existing projects that have similar social integration goals.
I’ve seen refugees sharing football boots, taking it in turns to play because they only have one pair between them. When my husband came to the UK from Iraq, playing in a football team really helped him to have a purpose while he wasn’t working and helped him make friends. He’s still in touch with the friends he made now. I want to help other people who are new to the area to use sport and social activities to integrate into the local community.
Other recent Community Ambassador graduates in Blackburn with Darwen are working on social action projects ranging from sports, arts and culture, local schoolchildren to multicultural celebrations. Other projects are also looking at tackling issues ranging from loneliness, isolation and wellbeing, to supporting homeless youths, and helping people develop a better understanding of different cultures.
Alysia Moorhouse, Contracts Manager at Spring North, said:
Watching the Community Ambassadors grow in confidence each week, and develop some really innovative solutions to the barriers of social integration in our communities has been an absolute pleasure to see. We’re looking forward to embedding more ambassadors across Blackburn with Darwen to create projects that will really benefit people of all faiths and cultures.
Spring North is training more Community Ambassadors in Blackburn with Darwen, with a new cohort starting in January 2020. To find out more about this project you can contact Blackburn with Darwen Council via their Belong member’s page.