Renovating classrooms, buying books: Eddie Byers Fund at work in Liverpool
12 October 2017

When asylum-seekers and refugees arrive in the North-West, it is often to Asylum Link in Liverpool that they come for support.

The charity offers English lessons, and much more, to hundreds of people each year. It has an allotment, and a kitchen which feeds up to 200 people free each day. A shop sells donated food and other items for pennies to those in need, and a bike workshop helps provide cheap transport.

But needs and numbers have grown so enormously in the sixteen years since the charity was founded that it was keen to get an Eddie Byers award, help it to professionalise and improve its services.

Trustee and English teacher Bridie Sharkey said: "At the moment we're teaching classes in what was a priest's bedroom and it's not really fit for purpose. Twelve years ago, when the charity began, there was a trickle of asylum seekers. Now we're inundated with people all the time, and their needs are huge."

Bridie says they are teaching five English classes four sessions a week – about a hundred regular students – but with a waiting list and people coming and going over 600 had some involvement last year.

"We haven't got anything really – paper, pens, they haven't got any of that. Some of the money is going for basic reading material and basic equipment. I want to buy sets of stories from different countries, so we can do sessions where they are reading for pleasure or are read to in English.

"Some of our books are for five-year olds and I want to get more suitable material. In my class there's a colonel from the Syrian army, a psychology professor from Iran, a civil engineer and a mechanical engineer, a photojournalist, farmers and Eritrean youngsters who've never been to school. I want to get material which is for adults, information texts, and some headway elementary materials. They're expensive but if I had just one set that would be helpful," said Bridie.

The money will also be used to help to renovate a teaching room, adding a whiteboard and overhead projector, and to support a major expansion into the upper two floors of the building.

Bridie speaks movingly of the struggles of the asylum-seekers and refugees, and how they are prepared to walk to the centre in all weathers for their English lessons and to help cook a communal lunch, repair bikes and work on the allotment. She recalls students from her first class, including a girl who arrived with nothing but who is now a hairdresser, a Sudanese man who fled after witnessing the murder of his parents, who has just been joined by his family, and a university lecturer from Iran who is now a local bus driver.

"As a charity, our basic curriculum is to make sure everyone's safe, warm and happy and everything else is over and above. In trying to make what we do more professional, I'm not going to lose sight of that.

"I have people in my class who are so much more knowledgeable and bright than me. They are delighted to get any support and we want to make our provision better."

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