Host Abingdon supporteR, Francesca writes about the English language tuition that we are providing for the Syrian families we are supporting in Oxfordshire.

“For some time now English language (ESOL) classes have been running at St Ethelwold’s House, and when our first Syrian family arrived in September we extended the programme to provide ESOL for them. Working closely with our colleagues from the Red Cross two Host Abingdon volunteer teachers started weekly classes with the parents, first in their home and later on in a room provided by the local school. Our team has now grown to four and the family, who initially knew no English at all, are making steady progress. We’re now getting ready for families two and three, and we have more than twenty teachers signed up, all volunteers. Looking further ahead we hope to be able to help other families as they arrive in the area, and to extend our programme to include English for Work and maybe even venture into other kinds of activity, for example an art and craft workshop.

Commonplace life events – moving house, going on a long journey, getting to know a new neighbourhood, the children’s first day at school – can be stressful for anyone, but imagine that they all happen at once, and you have to cope in a language which is totally unfamiliar – even numbers are written differently! Add to that the effects of other life events which are far from commonplace and which are almost unimaginable. What a challenge our students face! And not to know the language of the society you now live in is one of the most disabling things that can happen to you. They know this, and are keen to learn.

Thrown in at the deep end they’re coping amazingly, with hiccups, crises and plenty of laughter along the way. The language is bad enough. You understand what a power switch is, but can’t read the words ON or OFF. It’s fine, though tricky, that English is written from left to right, but why is the spelling so inconsistent? But customs and culture are if anything more baffling. You learn the hard way that the bus, which comes every hour, will only pick you up at the request stop if you stick your arm out to stop it. On the journey, you discover that it’s not usual to greet fellow passengers and engage them in conversation. What on earth were all those pumpkins about? And the fireworks? Probably not a sound you want to hear. And it’s cold, and getting colder. The local shops don’t have the herbs and spices you need, nor the right kind of flour for bread, and the yeast on offer doesn’t look like the one you used at home. But home is here now, and you’ve got to cope. And the children love the Christmas tree at school.

Why isn’t there any “official” ESOL provision? Sadly, funding for ESOL classes has dwindled over the last few years, and is mainly directed at students who already have a reasonable level of English and who are therefore ready to try for a qualification. There are many gaps, especially for absolute beginners and for learners with basic literacy needs, and these gaps are frequently filled by volunteers. The Host Abingdon team includes people from a wide range of backgrounds, qualifications and experience, but what we have in common is the hope that we will together make a difference and a worthwhile contribution.



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The first family to come to our area under the government scheme for the resettlement of vulnerable Syrian refugees is now settled into their new home.

You, all did a magnificent and very generous job of finding all the furniture, clothing and household equipment for this family who arrived here with nothing. Theresa Foster, who is the project worker with the British Red Cross has written to us saying:

I am just emailing to say thank you so much for all of your hard work and efforts coordinating and collecting donations and funds for us to support the first Syrian VPRS family to arrive in the Vale of the White Horse district. Your response has been and continues to be truly amazing. The family absolutely loved the house and the children were playing with all of the wonderful toys within seconds of arrival. I am attaching some photographs of the finished rooms in the home, as I am sure many people are anxious to see the results!

 We are waiting to hear what the British Red Cross would like us to do towards furnishing the next house and will be in contact with you as soon as the project us up and running.


Refugees, Asylum Seekers and the Law

Tom Giles is a solicitor, and Abingdon resident, who specializes in work with refugees and asylum seekers.tom-giles He was featured in an article in The Guardian who described him as the ‘lawyer who takes the cases no-one else want’. His job is to work out if a person has a legal right to stay in the UK, and if so, to try his hardest to make that possible – in a legal environment that is becoming more hostile by the day.

Tom is coming to talk to Host Abingdon supporters at St Ethelwold’s House on Wednesday 19th October at 7.30 p.m. Please do email if you want to come as places will be limited and we would need to email everyone if we have to find a larger venue.

To see the article in The Guardian click on



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Alice in Guardian copy

Host Abingdon supporter and professional musician, Alice Zawadzki, born and brought up in Abingdon,  made her first visit to the refugee camp in Calais in early February this year, before the demolition of the southern part of the camp by the French authorities. She saw for herself how awful the conditions are, and shares her very moving account with us in support of the Host Abingdon. click here to read Alice’s Facebook post about her experience in the Calais Jungle