A collaborative four-year project between Swansea University and the University of Glasgow explores the experiences of Central and Eastern European (CEE) and Former Soviet Union (FSU) migrants living and working in rural and urban Scotland.
Funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, SSAMIS (Social Support and Migration in Scotland) began in November 2013, and completed its main phase of fieldwork in December 2015, involving face to face interviews with over 200 migrants, approximately 60 representatives of local authorities, service providers and migrant associations. This in-depth qualitative research exposed key themes for consideration such as employment, housing and family issues.
SSAMIS team at Swansea University includes project Research Officers Claire Needler and Holly Porteous and project head Sergei Shubin.
A Participatory Action Research (PAR) phase of the project was recently completed, which included practical initiatives to improve migrants’ lives at both local and national levels. A collaborative, democratic process, the PAR was designed to bring about change.
SSAMIS research recognised that there is a lack of family-friendly, safe places where the migrant population and the established community could meet to establish meaningful relationships. Many migrants talked of the barriers in doing so; the biggest being language and lack of opportunities, especially in rural locations, where many participants reported social isolation.
As a result, the Make It Happen Café was established in Peterhead, Aberdeenshire, in July 2016 to deliver week-long creative programmes where language teaching, arts workshops, politics discussions and gardening came together to meet the migrants' needs.
Watch: people from Eastern Europe make a map about their backgrounds and experiences: the Make it Happen Cafe in Peterhead
Though a creative experience, it offered fundamental market research into the longer term viability of a community café. The Politics Café was a particular success, advertised as a Q&A on the Life in UK citizenship test, following Brexit, and evolved into a lively political discussion, and was a great example of participant-led activity.
Following on from Make It Happen, the Community Café received funding to run for 12 months, and was named ‘Encounter’. SSAMIS research showed that learning English is highly valued within the community, but that current ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) provision didn’t always meet the learners’ needs.
As the SSAMIS PAR draws to an end, funding is required, as well as relationships with local authority and project partners, in order to ensure the longer term sustainability of the small scale community initiatives that have come from SSAMIS, in particular the Language Café.
The Language Café was a site for intercultural exchange, offering holistic cultural integration. And although there is an element of taught ESOL, it has a more user-led approach, with more focus on the language that people need in their everyday lives.
In addition to the conventional ESOL provisions, SSAMIS research identifies 3 key issues for migrants: ESOL provisions didn’t always meet their needs, they were lonely and socially isolated, and a recognised a lack of community space, especially in rural areas.
To learn more about the project, and to read Claire Needler’s blog, a research assistant working on the SSAMIS Project - Social Support and Migration in Scotland, click here.
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