Interaction with learners

University students address refugees and asylum seekers by teaching English

A group of university students reach out to help educate refugees and asylum seekers.

North East Solidarity and Teaching (NEST), a student-led volunteer project based at Newcastle University Students Union aims to empower a community of refugees and asylum seekers in the North East.

The project started in August 2016 supporting a Syrian family, and from there other families started to join.

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The majority of the refugees entering NEST were Syrians, but now it is a very diverse place with people from El Salvador, Afghanistan, Iraq and many more from all over the world.

The regular Saturday sessions have now changed to a Monday through Sunday session each week.

Many national and international university students who come to study at Newcastle University dedicate their time to volunteering supporting refugees and asylum seekers.

NEST aims to provide education for those who need additional support in learning to speak, write and read in English.

NEST also has a community distribution program where families in need can purchase household items, toys and clothing.

NEST is raising funds to purchase essential care kits and holiday gifts for families of refugees and asylum seekers living in very difficult situations in the region

Bridget Stratford, Project Coordinator at NEST, said: “We are welcoming a lot more people who don’t have a lot of personal belongings.

“We provide them with basic items that people don’t have, as we see the needs increasing. “

At the moment, they are raising funds to buy essential care kits and holiday gifts for the families of refugees and asylum seekers who live in very difficult situations in the region.

They have achieved their original purpose for this appeal, but are open to further donations which will be used to support NEST activities to purchase even more care kits and gifts for the Newcastle refugee community.

Bridget added, “We also do integration work, helping families and individuals get to know their area.

“To support this, they get involved in all kinds of activities, like sports, arts and crafts, cooking and traveling, so that they can feel more comfortable and confident in using the English language.

“They can make friends and bond, and feel more comfortable in the Northeast.”

Since March 2020 and the start of the coronavirus pandemic, they have also shaped their online courses.

Bridget said: “We have adapted to the Internet and to meet more specific needs. We had a lot of young people who were not in school and we started to give private lessons and educational support to children who did not have access to school materials at home.

“It was very popular, at one point we were working with around 50 children. We run these classes every night from Monday to Friday.

“Moving from reception to A level, we also started an online circus club to keep kids active, help them stay fit, and provide that social interaction. “

Organized activities for children at the NEST
Organized activities for children at the NEST

Omar, a refugee who comes to NEST to learn English, said: “We also have another benefit as we can meet new people and make new friends.

“When I arrived in this country, I didn’t know many people, but at NEST I was able to make friends from different countries, cultures and colors. I feel like NEST is my family, it’s fantastic. I can not wait to return.

The main program is delivered by student volunteers, some in leadership roles or flexible volunteering.

Some volunteers have the advantage of being bilingual, which is beneficial for communicating with learners.

A NEST volunteer said: “At NEST you are taught more than you teach and the more I participate, the better I become as a human being. “

Another volunteer, George said: “I have enjoyed almost every aspect of my life, experienced increased confidence, developed new friendships, learned more about my abilities and found it to be both stress relieving and stress relieving. welcome escape from university studies. In turn, my academics took advantage because I felt relaxed.

After six years of NEST, Bridget, who has led it and seen the positive changes, adds: “It has been a tremendous privilege to have worked with such a massive and amazing community, to meet these people and to work with them. volunteers who are amazing and give so much of their time.

“I have learned so much myself, everyone who has been involved in the project has improved their confidence and awareness of what is going on in the world and in Newcastle.

“I’m excited to see what we can accomplish and to see what changes will take place in the community. “

“It’s a project that has had an impact on the city.

The volunteers are Newcastle University students and staff, but if anyone would like to fund or support in any way NEST is open to that, you can email [email protected]

To donate, visit

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