Author: Fawzia Worsley, Youth Engagement Coordinator for Kent Refugee Action Network
The Listening Fund has helped KRAN to properly listen to our young people: even though we knew that we needed to understand young refugees better, we also felt that we probably knew better. Such is the way of adults.
What we do at KRAN
KRAN is a Kent-based charity set up in 2003 to support unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. Young people who arrive in the UK have to confront huge issues, caused both by their traumatic past, a challenging present, and an uncertain future. KRAN’s work with young refugees and asylum seekers aims to provide them with immediate support and accompaniment. Our classes offer important life skills and basic education that help them to live here. Our mentorship programme pairs young people with supportive adults to show them the ropes on a one-to-one basis. Our drop-in centres offer case-work advice to help with difficult issues, and navigate their way through a maze of legal and social care issues.
Interacting with young people on their terms
We realised that with every wave of young refugees, we were going back to square one. The now-older young people that we had worked with were progressing on into their lives, and we were losing their talent and perspective – which could be a fabulous resource for newly arrived asylum-seeking children.
As a result, in 2016, we decided we needed a space where young people could interact with one another and KRAN on their terms: a Youth Forum where young refugees and asylum seekers could talk about the issues that they wanted to deal with. We wanted to prioritise their voice in a safe and secure space where they were empowered to shape the services they receive, and to have a platform where they could celebrate their achievements, heritage and identity.
Bringing our Youth Forum to life
This came to life in 2018 with the support of the Listening Fund. While our intentions were right, we need both technical and financial support to make this happen. The Listening Fund provided resources to staff and run the new Youth Forum, engage some older young refugees as trainees and then as Youth Ambassadors, and develop a more ‘co-operative’ model of decision making throughout the organisation.
The KRAN Youth Forum flourished to become a hub for young refugees come together in positive space to work for improvements for refugee youth. We now meet every month to identify big issues for young refugees, including things which blocked their access to important courses, recognising and dealing with mental health issues among youth, advocating an end to employment restrictions and reduced asylum application time, and finding ways to stop police harassment.
With the Listening Fund, groups of young people and community stakeholders worked to map out the causes and effects of these issues, and to take actions to try and fix these. One of these groups consequently became involved in lobbying with MPs and Peers to amend the Immigration Act. Today, the Youth Forum’s clarion cry is “nothing about us, without us”.
Our Youth Ambassadors programme
Within KRAN, we realised there was more room for us to centre young people’s voice, and change our own organisational culture to make sure that we listened. As the Youth Forum developed, we developed roles for Youth Ambassadors.
Youth Ambassadors have usually been engaged through the Youth Forum, and then hired into paid roles to develop their skills, reach out to refugee young people, develop refugee voices, and be part of shaping KRAN. They are ambassadors of KRAN to refugee young people, and they are ambassadors of refugee young people into KRAN.
Benefits of having Youth Ambassadors
Our Ambassadors have been provided with exposure to KRAN’s organisational life – its administration, management, strategising, reviewing, and more. This has been accompanied by training and support. Ambassadors have been involved in external work with other organisations that have exposed them to wider refugee action – for example, in a collaboration with Safe Passage and Hummingbird to put together a policy brief for the parliamentary debate on immigration.
Ambassadors have also learned to engage stakeholders and to support others. A significant proportion of our Ambassadors go on to further education in colleges and universities, as indeed do the trainees; they experience leadership, and the responsibilities that go with that.
Some young people who are appointed as Ambassadors require a lot of support, and it is important to make sure that this is a serious engagement, not an easy ride. The initial period with the Ambassadors requires a lot of training and support to get them engaged. The engagements can be very rewarding, and once they start properly engaging, their own energy takes over.
We have accompanied and supervised our Ambassadors through a management structure to make sure they are supported as they learn key skills. If you are thinking about having Youth Ambassadors, or a similar role, it is important to make sure your organisation has the resources needed to provide the support needed for the experience to be a positive one for the Ambassadors, as well as fruitful for the organisation and the people it serves.
Having been through a rich learning journey with our Youth Ambassadors’ programme, there are three key things I would recommend to any organisations starting on this journey:
1. Focus on the development of the young person first (don’t swamp them with administration, but also, do make them learn it)
2. Build partnerships with other similar networks and organisations. Expose them to the work of others in this area.
3. Find projects that they can get involved with, and can champion.
All in all, having Youth Ambassadors has been very valuable for KRAN, and for our Ambassadors. The experience will be different for all organisations, but if it feels like it could help you listen to young people, I’d encourage you to explore what could work in your context.