A reading and literacy scheme through a partnership of Harlesden library in the London Borough of Brent  with Brent Youth Partnership, Brent Refugee Forum and Alperton School.

Background - about Brent

  • Refugee communities comprise an estimated 6.5-7.5% of the population and about 10% of school population
  • Disproportionate levels of exclusion, dropout and educational under-achievement among refugee and asylum seekers students
  • Most common refugee/asylum-seeker languages are Arabic, Somali, Albanian, Serbo-Croat, Tamil, Farsi, Kurdish and Pashto
  • Unemployment in Harlesden is significantly higher than the national and borough average.

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Key issues & project aims

  • Raise profile of reading and literacy skills among young refugees and asylum seekers
  • Encourage young people to read for pleasure and counter stereotypes of refugees through arts and drama
  • Raise awareness of educational resources in the library which will help provide participants with knowledge and information and also address their needs in a holistic way

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Project description

  • Engaged a tutor, who worked with 28 young people from Alperton School in the library over 20 weeks with two sessions per week
  • First eight weeks ESOL-based; then 12 weeks drama, reading and writing
  • Youths wrote articles about their views of war, their fears and aspirations – these were explained sometimes through drama and art work
  • Work culminated in showcase of arts, drama, writings and dance at Harlesden library and at the Tricycle Theatre
  • The work was funded by a grant from the Community Chest

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Impact and outcomes

  • 'I really enjoy coming here. My writing and speaking skills are a lot better now' Kayathiri Mayuravarathan, 17, one of the participants
  • 'Staff at Alperton have told me their essays have improved and they are asking far more questions in class. They are generally much more self-confident and less intimidated about interacting with others.' Tutor, Reg Buttar
  • Both quotes above appeared in article 'Daram helps pupils integrate' in Wembley Observer, Jun 17, 2004
  • During Refugee Week 150 people attended celebration event in Harlesden Library – no room to fit any more people in the room! – and 300 at the event at the Tricycle Theatre
  • Work extended into summer reading scheme in partnership with The African Child, with sessions taking place in Harlesden Library

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Key Lessons

  • Making connections and building relations of trust between library service and the other partners, particularly Refugee Community Organisations was an essential first step before this work and finding funding for it was possible
  • Time and persistence and patience essential. Pays off in the end!


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