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Supporting refugees with the Learning Station Project

The Learning Station Project (LSP) was set up in 2016 by two students from King's College London, Emma Yagour and Lola Siran. LSP is a charity dedicated to supporting refugees, asylum seekers and migrants in London to acquire the knowledge, confidence and English skills they need. Through a programme of English classes, cultural outings and sports activities, LSP students are given the opportunity to advance the language skills they need to develop, on both a personal and professional level. LSP also aims to raise awareness of the experiences of new asylum-seekers, migrants and refugees living in London in order to inspire empathy and action from Londoners in support of their cause.

We co-founded the Learning Station Project after Emma and I volunteered with refugees and noticed the huge need and importance of English classes both to understand the complex legal procedures asylum seekers go through, and to be able to integrate, settle in a new country and be independent. As soon as the classes started, we also realised their importance in terms of social contact and support. Our aim has always been to provide top-quality English classes, as well as to be a safe and welcoming place where students would feel supported. – Lola Siran, Co-founder of the Learning Station Project and King’s alumni

The Learning Station Project was established with help from King’s and has continued to thrive with the university’s support. At present, thirteen King’s students and eight alumni volunteer with LSP.

We spoke to Marie Scotto, a Master’s student in International Peace and Security, about her voluntary roles as a trustee and Head of Student Coordination with the Learning Station Project.

780x500 Marie LSP

How did you get involved with the Learning Station Project?

I started volunteering as an English teacher with the Learning Station Project in 2017 during my bachelor’s in international Relations at King’s College London. When I came back to King’s in 2019 for my Master’s in International Peace and Security, the charity had an opening on the board of trustees and the founder asked me to step into the role, which I happily accepted.

What do your roles as a trustee and Head of Student Coordination involve?

Being a trustee for a grassroots charity like the Learning Station Project means that you do not have a clear set of responsibilities. Although each of the trustees have been assigned specific roles, our responsibilities often cut across our different roles and we often find ourselves spinning several plates at once. It is a real group effort. From one day to the next, I find myself bouncing from inducting and training new volunteers, writing grant applications, helping to set up partnerships with fellow charities and businesses, to teaching English.

During the COVID-19 crisis, my role as a trustee has almost turned into a part-time job, which I am managing alongside my studies, and which my colleagues Margot and Louise have been managing alongside their full-time jobs. We have been dedicating countless hours to this project, especially over the past couple of months, and it has been a truly positive experience. The board of trustees, alongside our spectacular team of over 50 volunteer English teachers, is incredibly dedicated to the charity and supporting the students – it is inspiring to see! Students also regularly send us heart-warming feedback, which only reinforces our commitment to the charity.

Most of my time working on the charity as a trustee is split between teaching English and overseeing our network of over 50 students. As the Head of Student Coordination, my role entails onboarding all our new students before they start taking English classes with us in order to understand their background and their reason for learning English – whether it is to pass an exam, move on to university studies, improve their chances of finding a job, or to build their social life here in the UK. This is an important step in ensuring that we match a student with the right volunteer. I act as the main point of contact for our students, helping to answer any questions they may have.

We have also taken the initiative to streamline some of our processes in light of the number of students and volunteers who recently joined us. We created a Safeguarding Policy and Code of Conduct for volunteers and students. The goal of this is to create a safe environment in which both our students and volunteers can work safely and in confidence. This has been particularly useful for our volunteers to signpost any issues a student could be facing elsewhere in their life, around housing, mental health or financial challenges. Our charity is then able to act quickly and refer our students to other charities which may be able to offer the specific support the student requires.

What have you gained from these roles?

As an English teacher, I have learned a lot from the students. The Learning Station Project is really about creating a trustworthy and welcoming environment, where volunteers and students both learn from each other. Our goal is first and foremost to create a community and a sense of belonging, where everyone can feel comfortable to share their opinions, knowledge and personal stories. This was one of the main reasons driving us to quickly transition our programme online during the COVID-19 outbreak – we felt that the LSP community was particularly needed in these difficult times. The one-on-one classes format we have been using since the beginning of the lockdown has been particularly successful in building and reinforcing meaningful relationships between students and teachers.

Has King’s supported you in these roles?

The LSP has a long-standing relationship with King’s College London as the charity was founded by two alumni and our classes are hosted on a weekly basis on the Waterloo Campus. During the COVID-19 crisis, as our volunteers ranks grew from 8 to 50, we were extremely pleased to see that over 20 of the new volunteers joining us were King’s students or alumni. We have also been lucky to benefit from generous financial support from King’s since our inception.

How has your role changed in response to COVID-19?

As a result of the COVID-19 crisis, we have had to halt in-person classes and other sports and cultural activities that we organise. Since March, we have restructured our programme and are now offering one-on-one English lessons online. We have developed a tutoring system, whereby each student is assigned to two teachers who provide classes on a weekly or bi-weekly basis. The idea is to have regular check-ins with students, to offer them friendly support and to ease some of the stress and loneliness they may be feeling during lockdown.

Our new one-on-one online tutoring format is greatly appreciated amongst students, and the enrolments have increased almost three-fold in the last three months. To ensure that enrolled and new students could all follow English classes, we had to recruit over 50 new volunteers. This new influx of volunteers and students was challenging at first, from an operational and management perspective, but seeing our charity grow the way it has in recent months has filled me with excitement. It has been encouraging to see that our work is needed!

My role in recent months has been dedicated to recruiting and training new volunteers, onboarding new students and restructuring the charity’s financial and logistical operations to meet this increase in demand.

We also produced a video explaining the support that we have provided for our students during the COVID-19 pandemic.

How do you think we can best support refugees, asylum seekers and migrants going forward?

In the aftermath of the COVID-19 crisis, LSP will be faced with a new challenge: to ensure that all students who have joined us during lockdown through online classes are able to continue following English lessons in person. We will also be looking to pick up our programme’s cultural and sports activities. This means that we will need to significantly increase our budget, to be able to subsidise our students’ transport costs to classes and provide them with all the learning material and textbooks they may require.

The crisis has also shown us how important digital skills are for students and so we will be looking into the provision of IT classes. To enable this, we will need to acquire the right digital equipment.

The Learning Station Project needs further funding to fulfil these needs, especially given the difficult context of COVID-19, where many funders have halted or pulled back their grants due to the uncertainty of the crisis.

How can people get involved in the Learning Station Project?

We are always looking to grow our community and are always happy to hear from new volunteers, or partnership ideas. If you would like to get involved in this project, we would love to hear from you and discuss how you can help!

Find out more on the Learning Station Project webpages.

Discover how King’s is contributing to understanding and responding to the global issue of forced displacement and helping to realise the educational potential of refugees on the King’s Sanctuary Programme webpage.

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