Notes from table discussion on newly arrived families

These are rough notes paraphrased from a table discussion on families newly arrived in Birmingham.

There are existing services for newly arrived people (Poppy, Assert). Is it the case that once you come out of such services, that’s it, there may not be an easy next step.

Different issues for people who want to come to Birmingham purely for short- or medium-term work (economic migrants) and others who want to make their home in Birmingham and live here permanently.

Firstly, if you don’t speak English, what is life like for you when you arrive in Birmingham?

For families with young people in school, the young people can learn English very quickly. It’s different for adults.

First things you need are to be safe, in sheltered and with enough to eat.

Economic migrancy has advantages for Birmingham in a boom and disadvantages in a recession.

What about anecdotal stories of people with high level qualifications, particularly engineers, working minimum wage jobs.

If qualified from an institution in an EU member country, there is a table of equivalent qualifications from different countries. If you are not from the EU, ensuring standard of qualifications is more difficult and hence obtaining equivalent professional work.

Even if you have high level qualification in a subject/vocation where there is employment demand, the ability to speak English is still required.

ESOL training in the workplace difficult to get.

Need for “pre-ESOL” service because ESOL too high level. For example, learning to write your own address and the very basics. Gateway Family Services have run pre-ESOL because it was too daunting for some people to learn ESOL in a college or even a community setting.

Alternatively, there are communities doing well where English is not the common language. Have their own businesses, health centres… Handsworth, Alum Rock. Have to be careful that we don’t stick to perception that newly arrived people without English as a first language will necessarily find it difficult to settle.

Discussed idea of what a welcome centre for newly arrived families could be (mentioned example of the Immigration Welcome Center in Indianapolis).

Do we underestimate the ability of communities to support themselves?


Do we think that communities will be handed real power and resources to look after themselves?

There is doubt (ok, cynicism) – stop paying lip service to localism:

“Central government talk a lot about localism. But when you look at what really happens, everything is central.”

New Deal for Communities – many disasters mainly because the wrong people were involved. They were supposed to be community driven but by the time they were finished the community were not involved at all.

Maybe the flexibility can be in the commissioning aspect – commissioning at a smaller scale for employment, skills, health and so on. Large national organisations commissioned to deliver services cannot by their very nature do it well at a local level. They do not have the capability, skill and knowledge to do so.

Commissioning of local services needs to be done at a local level and ensure that it goes to small, local organisations who are naturally best placed to deliver services.

Barriers to community development

Not with the communities that are newly arriving – if we say we want them to drive the agenda, but in reality don’t let them, they will go and organise themselves.

National organisations are barriers to community development are – could be those commissioning or national organisations who have been commissioned. They can’t do localism.


Table discussion on newly arrived families

  • Stop paying lip service to localism.
  • Lobby and influence funding flows so it’s not all about big national organisations delivering
  • Really hand over some services to communities who have direct experience.


Table discussion on newly arrived families

  • Schools are a key point
  • ESOL access in workplace
  • Pre-ESOL lessons
  • Build on community resilience
  • Fund community organisations


Table discussion on newly arrived families

  • Utilise people who have experience
  • Accredit qualifications obtained abroad (and outside EU)
  • Ask relevant questions
  • Address the basic needs first (safety, shelter, food)
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