Since its launch a year ago, the Christian based project ‘English+’ has made a truly positive difference in the lives of many people who have recently moved to Norwich and are not confident about speaking English.
“I now have the confidence to join other groups in Norwich as I know I can speak English”.
This comment was made by a lady who attends free English lessons held weekly by 'English+' at Holy Trinity Church and St Augustine’s Church, Norwich.
Over the last year a group of mainly Christians from different churches across Norwich have been running English classes twice a week to help those new to the city to both learn or improve their English and make friends. The initiative, called English+, is supported by Dreams and Visions, the Norwich-based Christian community trust.
Rosie Sexton, the Founder of English+ said: “It is hard to fit into a new place, make new friends and become part of the community, and even more so if you are not confident in the local language or culture. English+ was started to help people to gain both skills and confidence in English so they are less isolated and can become involved in Norfolk life.”
Lessons from a team of committed volunteers are free, informal, in small groups, and include time to talk over a cup of tea or coffee. Initially the classes were attended mostly by refugees or asylum seekers, but lessons are open to anyone, and so people are coming who are new to Norwich, or who have been here much longer but are still very isolated.
There are now people from over 16 countries who come each week, often fluent in many languages, but not confident with English.
Rosie said: “Dreams and Visions have enabled us to start the lessons for free, which is vital to enabling those on very low incomes to come to the lessons. We have found that many people would not have come if they had been asked to pay or had to take exams.”
Rosie, who attends Holy Trinity Church, Norwich, had worked in Africa on development projects for 15 years before moving to Norfolk two years ago - an experience which prompted her to set up the project.
She said: “Having lived with refugees in Africa and seen their plight and isolation I had wanted to work more with refugees in the future. Also moving many times and then coming to the UK recently, I myself found it hard to understand the complexity of life here and meet new people.”
Through the classes people have been able to get involved with their children’s schools, apply for jobs, volunteer in the community, learn new skills as well as make new friends.
One child said after his mother had been coming for several months “it’s so nice to see Mummy smiling again”.
The classes incorporate and have been supplemented by craft sessions, Christmas and Jubilee parties, a First Aid course, a visit to an allotment and sharing food from “home” countries – all of which have helped to create friendships across language barriers and to learn about each others interests and cultures.
Rosie said: “Amazing talents have been unearthed through craft sessions, and we have been able to help people access equipment and materials enabling them to use their skills and experience to rebuild their self-confidence. It has been fun to see people wearing some of the jewellery they made, and using their appliqué bags”.
The English lessons are held each week at two different church premises and as well as helping people integrate into Norfolk the team try to demonstrate the love of God through the actions of Christians. Rosie said: “People of different faiths come each week, as well as many who are already Christians, and to all we hope to show God’s love in action, becoming a friend to the refugee and the alien.”
English+ classes take place during term time on Monday mornings, 10am - 12 noon at St Augustine's Church, Pitt Street, Norwich and on Thursday mornings, 10 am - 12 noon Holy Trinity Church off Unthank Road, Norwich.