RSN’s very first programme, five years ago, was an educational mentoring scheme for young asylum seekers and refugees in North West London. Since then we have seen the programme expand to South Central London, Croydon, Southall, as well as a specialist mentoring programme for survivors of child trafficking. Here we share some of the lessons we have learned through matching over 200 young people to mentors in the last few years, in many different communities across London.
1. Get to know local communities
When thinking of starting to take on referrals for mentoring in a new part of London, we spend a significant amount of time carrying out a needs assessment which includes meeting with local stakeholders in order to really understand the local community, its needs and all of the services which are already offered there. Even if it is evident that there is a need for more service, we highly value taking the time to understand the unique dynamic of each community we work with. This not only prevents us from duplicating any services which already exist in the area, but also helps us enormously later to enable us to refer young people to relevant local services. Having a good understanding of what is available helps us to help them!
2. Partnership, partnership, partnership!
Having an understanding of the local areas we are working with also enables us to have strong partnerships with other professionals and organisations working with the young people who take part in our mentoring programmes. We work in partnership with social workers, teachers and foster carers to identify the needs of the young people we work with, and to ensure that the support we are providing them is complementing the support they receive from the other professionals and caring people in their lives. We love working alongside others because we know that there is much we can do as part of a team with others than we ever could on our own.
We just had a review with social services for one of the young people, and we told them that his English has improved so much partly because he has been meeting regularly with his RSN mentor."
- Key worker who makes referrals to the mentoring programme
3. Keep it local if you can
London presents unique challenges when trying to foster a sense of community and familiarity for those who are new to the city. A poll commissioned by BBC London in 2012 found that a quarter of Londoners feel lonely often or all of the time, showing that even those who have lived in London their whole lives can find it an isolating and difficult place. Arriving in such a big and populated city can be paralysing and the young people we work with often do not know anyone when they first arrive. This is why we try to match them to mentors who are as local to them as possible. This not only makes it easy and convenient for them to meet up with their mentor but also means that they will know someone who they can trust and rely on, and is living in the very same community as them.
We meet in our local library which is great, and we also worked on getting him a volunteering position – so now he is working in the charity shop on our high street!”
4. Be grateful
All of our educational mentors are volunteers and we have found working with volunteers an incredibly humbling and encouraging experience. When we reflect on the fact that we have over 60 volunteers meeting with young asylum seekers and refugees each week over each year we feel incredibly grateful and overwhelmed by the number of Londoners who are willing to give time each week to the young people we work with. We feel that expressing gratitude to our volunteers is an integral part of running a successful mentoring programme.