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Leaving home, entering a life of COVID-19

Through its Involved programme, Positive Youth Foundation is a major provider of services to young migrants in Coventry.  In the year before Covid-19 over 500 young people took part including refugees arriving through the Syrian resettlement scheme.  Here Obayed Hussain and Tayyibah Mota write about the impact of the pandemic on the young people they work with.

Our last arrivals, through the Vulnerable Person Resettlement Programme, arrived in November 2019 and began their integration programme in early 2020, just before the pandemic.

“We have left our home. We have left all that we know and love. We are torn between feeling a deep sadness and trying to look forward to our new life that awaits us in Coventry.

We finally have a new start in life, I will miss my home, but we will make a new home here. We will all learn English.  Mother and father can finally work again, I can go to college and my sister will go to school. I am excited to see what Coventry will bring for me and my family.”

Our job as youth workers is to make this transition as easy as we can: supporting them during the transitional period of resettling into a new country, helping them to navigate an unfamiliar city, providing them with opportunities to learn and grow.

The young people were also struggling with all that comes from leaving home in tragic circumstances.  Learning and adjusting to a different culture, getting used to so many new things in such a short period of time.

There were also some very practical problems.  Between arriving in Coventry and the national lockdown in March, some young people were not yet offered school or college places.  Others attended a few classes before the world shut down!

What was it like for these young people, who were waiting for their chance to finally live out their dreams, starting a new life? They all wanted to learn English right away, make friends and go to school.

COVID-19 put a stop to all this.

Across all our programmes our challenge in PYF has been to create an alternative offer, to support young people and keep them positive.   Since the start, a lot of our work has been online, structured and with a timetable.  But we have also found that some young people just prefer a phone call or a text message; we have dropped off activity packs, basic sports equipment and ingredients for recipes to their homes, so they can participate more fully with us online.  Or we just have a chat across the front door.

In the Involved programme we were there daily, supporting young people with online ESOL lessons, English conversation cafés and workout exercises.

We’ve tried to be as creative as we can, but we realised that the simple conversations work well. The young people can laugh and joke, and for those few moments you forget you are delivering a session through a screen.

We have also learnt to allow these young people to breathe. They need their own space, just as much as our support. They need a balance.

Across all our programmes, and the Involved programme in particular, it was clear early on that some young people couldn’t participate fully online because they didn’t have the right equipment.  Digital poverty exists. Relying on your Mum’s phone doesn’t really help with schoolwork.  You need a laptop and access to wifi.  Funding from Comic Relief and The National Lottery helped us to provide IT equipment where it was needed and access to ESOL tutors so they could engage with us.

Some young people still face issues with poor internet connections. Sessions are broken up by interference and poor connections.  These are just some of the many issues we face delivering sessions online, but young people are keen to learn, and this does not stop them.

12 months on and one of the young people that arrived in November said to us:

“I wanted to travel, visit different cities and make new friends. Since I arrived, I have not been able to travel, but I have made friends and learnt so much. I have had the opportunity to learn through one-to-one and group sessions. I would never have thought that my English reading and writing skills would be this good this quick without even starting college. I have made friends through our Zoom sessions; some are from Syria like me and some were born here. I have learnt a lot from them, and I am starting to understand their jokes. Also why do British people always talk about the weather?”

To find out more about PYF’s work with newly arrived young people please contact us on 024 7679 1190.

Here are some snapshots from our online zoom sessions:


‘On Wednesdays we wear red’ – To add a little excitement to our sessions sometimes we ask the young people what colour they would like to wear to the next session. That way our screens our always bright 😊


Sometimes we like to mix up our quizzes with an element of exercise! Its important to keep moving. We got our young people to show us their dance moves and compete! Also, how many squats can you do in a minute?


Our young people said this was torture, we were too hungry! We only watched two minutes of Nadiya baking before we switched to David Attenborough’s Our Planet.