Action West London – digital skills for refugees

Published by Kate Gallant on

Integrating digital skills support into work to develop language skills and support employment for refugees is at the heart of the work of Action West London.

Image: Action West London logo

What’s exciting about the project is their approach to embedding digital inclusion across their activity. They have Digital Champions with a range of language skills (Arabic is especially important as many of the refugees are from Syria, others have come from Sudan, Eritrea and Iran particularly from the Kurdish minorities). Their approach is learner-led and this is linked to the integrative approach they take to developing language and digital skills concurrently.

To give an example – whilst I was visiting the session was on ‘homes’. It was practically focused developing vocabulary around rooms, furniture and possessions. It then moved on to look at services for the home – such as rubbish collection and then typical problems and trades that might be needed. The benefit was that some work could then be done online to access information, or complete an online form about the home that was being occupied.

The resources being used are typical for projects teaching English and in this sense the planning of sessions is less focused on specific digital skills. It is using digital to support language capability and ability to seek employment and access services which is at the key to the work of the project.

Each learner sets their own learning goals – the three goals then lead to weekly priorities for tasks and activity to be completed. The project offers a job club twice a week and a digital session once a week. ESOL classes are twice a week with a satellite site in Hillingdon offering further groups.

Using and speaking English in the project is essential as the project knows that often the refugees will use the language on average for 15 minutes a day. Each session typically has 6-8 learners. There are often 5 Digital Champion volunteers available alongside a staff member who has also received Champion training. All of the volunteers completed courses on Digital Unite’s Digital Champions Network e-learning platform. The project base has a set of computers, having access to the most up to date equipment would be a potential ask for the project of other partners.

Action West London have worked with Clarion Futures to develop use of their screening tool. The tool allows new learners, who are accessing employment projects, to have their need for digital skills support identified and then specific skills needs captured in more detail. More information on the learning arising from the Clarion projects is available through this Project progress report. Action West London provide employment support through Welfare to Work and Building Better Opportunities contracts. These provide pre-employment and in-work support. The project has a sustainment rate of 75% which reflects the quality of both the initial and on-going support provided.

Partnership links are vital to the work of the project such as with the Job Centre, or with the local Citizens Advice Bureau for legal queries. They also regularly encourage applications for further learning at local colleges. Currently they are exploring the options for offering skills sessions at the Job Centre. Currently Job Centre Plus staff use the screening tool to identify potential learners with digital skills needs.

The project are proud that Nissrin Alassaf, a Syrian refugee, recently picked up the Accessibility Digital Champion of the Year award from Digital Unite Celebrating national volunteers week award winning digital champions.

Image: photo of Nissrin Alassaf, a Syrian refugee, recently picked up the Accessibility Digital Champion of the Year award
Nissrin Alassaf (centre), winner of Accessibility Digital Champion of the Year award
Photo credit: Grainge Photography

Nissrin has been at the heart of the project providing support to learners through her language skills. Nissrin had initially joined the Action West London Building Better Opportunities (ESF/Lottery funded) programme that offers employment support. It was great for her development and commitment to be recognised in this way.

The project with Clarion has recently finished but Action West London expects to continue using the screening tool and offering digital skills support through a range of activities. There are plans to measure the social impact of the work being done which will enable them to demonstrate the added value and excellent level of support being provided to the West London refugee community. Equipping people with digital skills is clearly of significant benefit for developing life and employment skills and well as facilitating wider social integration.

Find resources on working with learners whose first language is not English in our free Knowledge Hub