Building community connections

Active Schools Glasgow are using sport to pull together a community of refugees.

Sport has always been known as having the power to pull people together. To create communities and allowing people to bond through a common goal, with or without a common language.

The Active Schools teams in Glasgow have been using sport to pull together a community of asylum seekers and refugees in the area. Claire Clark, an Active Schools Coordinator for the Glasgow area said;

“The project has been a game changer for us. When you’ve got coaches who speak the same languages as the participants. It’s amazing how quickly that relationship can be built. That for me was quite eye opening, to give them someone there that they can relate to – someone that’s been on the same journey as them.”

As part of this project, the Glasgow Active Schools team recently held a residential in partnership with the sportscotland National Sports Training Centre at Inverclyde for the young refugee and asylum seekers.

Laying the groundwork

The project initially started in April 2022, with Active Schools Glasgow developing a partnership with the football team United Glasgow. The schools then identified pupils who were asylum seekers or refugees and asked if they would be interested in attending football sessions. United Glasgow then encouraged players and coaches to attend the schools and inspire kids to come along to the sessions. Claire Clark said;

“We starting training twice a week in two different venues – all for free. From that, we’ve established a group beyond the football for the kids. It was about building friendships and relationships out with the training sessions.”

What these sessions, and the supporting WhatsApp group, achieved, was building connections. Connections that weren’t necessary being created in a school environment because participants were coming from all over the city and different schools.

However, there has also been additional support provided beyond sport. Claire added;

“What we also began to notice was that the kids were often struggling academically, so we’ve built in a homework club to the sessions. The kids can now come along, study, get something to eat and we have a ESOL (English for speakers of other languages) teacher from the EAL Service in Glasgow who comes to the club and helps them with their English before they go and play football.”

The Inverclyde residential 

There were 38 places for the residential at Inverclyde – and places filled up very quickly. The logistics of getting participants from the different schools proved to be a challenge but it was important for all of the kids who were coming regularly to the sessions. Claire added;

“For some of the attendees, it’s the first time they have been away from home. It’s been fine though, we haven’t had any problems, anyone upset or wanting to go home. I think that’s because they feel supported. Both from ourselves and each other.”

One of the attendees, Comfort, a pupil at Holyrood Secondary, found the residential to be an experience that forced her to be more sociable than normal;

“I haven’t really been involved with the Active Schools department before this – they came to school to talk to us about the programme. I’m not the kind of person to go up and speak to new people. So, this has kind of forced me to be more sociable in a way. So that’s been great.”

Her brother, Christopher, has also found the social aspect of the residential to be a highlight;

“I’ve definitely met people and made new friends here. It’s also been really cool to be able to speak my language, Yoruba, too. That is fun for me.”

One of the other students, Hassan, a former pupil at Shawlands Academy, spoke specifically about the  comradery that had been built over the residential; 

“I’ve loved that we’re all together for this. We laugh, we talk, we get to understand each other more. I think this experience will help the communication – and that can only help our team.”

Creating and strengthening a burgeoning community in the city, the project will continue to bring people together. Demand for a second residential also seems quite high!

However, the hard work has been worth it for the Active Schools team’s in Glasgow. Claire Clark said;  

“Sometimes you get kids who are on their own. Who are isolated. It’s amazing to be able to build a community for them. Somewhere they feel safe and nurtured. Somewhere they have friends. What’s lovely to see if that they all have an appreciation of each other’s culture and language too. It’s amazing to see eyes light up when they see someone speaking the same language as they do.”

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