The safe haven in Wigan for asylum seekers

'‹Women fleeing from war and persecution can find a safe haven in Wigan thanks to one organisation's compassionate thinking.

Friday, 28th December 2018, 10:53 am
Updated Wednesday, 9th January 2019, 2:49 am
Swap has long been hailed for its dedication to helping asylum seekers placed in the borough

Support for Wigan Arrivals Project (Swap) has long been hailed for its dedication to helping asylum seekers placed in the borough.

The group, based on Penson Street, provides a range of support services for people seeking asylum in Wigan, from English language classes to advice about how to set up a bank account.

But Swap has also focused its attention on making special provisions for female asylum seekers, creating a range of sessions run by women for women.

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Mick Taylor, project coordinator at Swap, said that the groups can help those who have come from difficult situations.

“A lot of our women and men come from incredibly traumatic backgrounds,” he said.

“One woman, from Iraq, arrived here having witnessed a murder.

“What we notice particularly within the women’s groups is that over the weeks their confidence improves.

“It sounds cliche but you can literally see it in their faces.

“With someone who has clearly been traumatised they come in looking like a rabbit in the headlights.

“They come in because they have to to seek the help, but after a few weeks they start coming in through choice.”

As well as social activities, such as crocheting and knitting, the female members can take “women only” English lessons - which take place on a weekly basis. Belinda Mansfield, a Wigan council-funded Esol (English as a second language) teacher, leads the language class, which she says is her “favourite of the week”.

“It’s a safe environment for the women who come in,” she said. “In the mixed group they can sometimes be overshadowed by the men.

“Some of these women have come from places of persecution. They come here and can feel safe.”

Belinda splits her lessons between grammar and speaking and listening, often using social activities to encourage conversation between the women and herself. Before Christmas she used a class to help make decorations for the Swap festive party.

The second half of the class gave the women to discuss different colours and techniques as well as receive commands and listen to instructions.

“They come in here each week and can see a friendly face,” she added. “The group’s as much about emotional support and providing a warm welcome as it is the language skills.

“It’s important that we provide a space for women run by women.

“I would never give up my Thursday class. I really feels as if it makes a difference to people who need it.”