Against All Odds – a Creative English success story

Recently I spoke to Keith Banda, the Mission Action Plan Coordinator for Ascension Church in Salford. Ascension Church is one of our members delivering our Creative English classes after purchasing a licence. It is part of the Church of England and has been delivering Creative English for the past three years.

Three years ago, Keith and his team went to hand out flyers in the local area and noticed that there had been drastic changes. A lot of new housing had gone up in the recent months, and in this new housing lived a large number of migrant workers and refugees from the Middle East and North Africa. Keith decided to look into what other organisations were doing to reach out to people like these.

He told me that, being a church – a faith-based organisation – he finds that when people come to them for help, whether they are religious or not, they come with a more ‘human’ expectation. They feel that they are not just coming to a charity but they are coming to people that have a heart for them as well.

Keith discovered that FaithAction was well connected with other organisations and was working specifically with the people that he would like to target, through the Creative English programme. So he got in touch with us, and in September 2016, they were ready and excited to start their programme.

The team set out to find people in the community who would be interested in the English classes and began to prepare the sessions. However, in November, the Project Manager had to undergo major surgery. Then in January 2017, another facilitator on the team went on maternity leave. This forced Keith, as Mission Action Plan Coordinator, to work with the team that remained in order to ensure that these Creative English classes continued.

Then in February, tragedy struck: the church burned down. It was completely destroyed, and Keith and his team suddenly found themselves with no venue for their classes. The local Catholic church was able to offer a space that the team and their learners could use, but unfortunately this was short-lived as that church then had to close down. So, in January 2018, Keith and the Creative English classes moved in to the neighbouring parish, St Paul’s Paddington. They continued to serve the same migrant community, and have been delivering there ever since.

“My team, my church, the church council – we are all encouraged that there is that recognition that we can do something.”

With regards to the community, he says that the gap between the refugees and the locals was big when they first arrived. But when they started the Creative English classes, they saw local English people coming to volunteer. Some were referred by their doctors because they have chronic medical conditions: it was suggested they join a club and see what happens – so they came on board and saw how migrants and locals could work together.

Within the course itself, there are sessions that look at marriages and engagements; so Keith was able to talk about the different approach to marriage in the various cultures of the people within the group. He has found that this seems to open their understanding about human culture. He feels that he has seen real integration between the migrants and the locals, as he says:

“While previously, when someone lives next door to a migrant, they may not greet them because of an attitude, now they have discovered that, really, we are just human beings.”

It is not surprising that, when there was an opportunity to put themselves forward for a community award, Keith felt that due to the setbacks they had faced and everything they had been through, their input would not amount to anything. But, precisely because they had gone through so much and yet still managed to address the integration needs in their community, they were encouraged to enter the Manchester Diocese Church of England’s ‘Church for a Different World’ awards, based on their work with Creative English.

The fantastic news is that they won!

We at FaithAction would like to also acknowledge Ascension Church’s hard work and determination. Against all odds, they are successfully delivering this life-changing programme to precisely the people it was created for!

Heather Ratnarajah

About Heather Ratnarajah

Heather Ratnarajah is Team Coordinator for the whole team at FaithAction. She ensures good communication and understanding amongst the various sub-teams regarding current workload and availability. She acts as administrative support for all ongoing projects, with particular focus on the Creative English programme. She also acts as support and a point of connection for the numerous Creative English hubs across the UK, ensuring they have everything they require to run classes effectively. She is part of the team acting as Secretariat to the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Faith and Society and enjoys the work they do organising important meetings and events at Westminster.