Is building an integrated country the great challenge of our time?
At dinner last week with a number of friends from Eastern Europe, our conversation moved from the nerve agent attack in Salisbury to what patriotism meant to us and who felt they belonged and wanted to stay in the UK. My dinner companions were all skilled English speakers, but yet some did not feel they had a place. The truth was that it all boiled down to whether they had friends, whether they could have a laugh, whether they mattered to someone beyond what they could offer as a worker. I know firsthand that if people like these do not feel that they have a stake in our society, then we are all the worse for it.
At FaithAction, we’ve been doing a lot of work related to language, belonging and integration—for a taste, see our recent publications on language and community. The recently published government strategy on integration even utilises evidence from our Creative English programme.
We know that language is very important for people to be a full part of British society. In fact, if we instead say ‘language and literacy‘, we recognise not only the barrier that poor English has on immigrants, but also on those who are unable to access most of the online world.
Relationship, Community and Belonging
Learning English can be a theoretical exercise—language as a tool towards integration—but it doesn’t follow that an individual will suddenly become connected simply because of it. Instead, the building of relationships and finding points of connection with others is so important. This is why the innovative method of Creative English—building language around drama and laughter—is combined with the setting of a vibrant ‘hub’, often a faith community, where these connections can be readily found.
It is through this extended family—this community, this integrated relationship, whatever you wish to call it—that people feel they are a part of something greater and find a sense of value. When these elements are unattainable—as for migrant workers, the young, and the elderly—then people no longer have a stake in our society. And it’s from this lack of attachment that all kinds of issues stem—some economical, many terminal.