One NCG – Our Community is Your Community - by Liz Bromley

We are already half way through Colleges Week 2021 and it’s been amazing seeing the different initiatives and successes of our colleges, colleagues and students being shared so widely. Colleges Week is an important opportunity for us to not only celebrate the work that we do collectively as one NCG, but to celebrate everything that is great about FE, what we do, what we stand for and the impact that we have on our learners and our communities.

FE delivers so much more than qualifications; we exist to create life changing opportunities. that is reflected in NCG’s vision to enable social mobility and economic prosperity through exceptional education.

Each of NCG’s seven colleges sit at the heart of diverse communities and our purpose is to support them, especially after the events and challenges of the past 18 months.

As part of our Colleges Week celebrations and activities I am so pleased to be launching One NCG – Our Community is Your Community, a brand-new initiative aimed at supporting refugees within our local communities.

For me, this project is personal as much as professional.

Some years ago, as Deputy Vice Chancellor of a large modern university, I visited our campus in Cyprus. Here I met a young man who was a Kurdish refugee from Iraq, whose family had been expelled by Saddam Hussein. This young man is the same age as my own son, about 24 at that time. I was able to facilitate funding to support his entry to our university campus on the island and I watched him develop and grow in confidence over the couple of years during which our paths continued to cross.

I moved on in my professional life, and so it was with great surprise that I received a very surprising phone call. My young Kurdish friend and his family had just arrived in Coventry, having been granted indefinite leave to remain in the UK. He wondered how he would reach our main campus in the North West to complete his degree. At this point, I knew I had a moral responsibility to help. Not just as a human being who was being asked for help, but because I had engaged him with so many of the structures of life and learning in our country that it was my job to help him fulfil his potential and make the greatest contribution back.

Here the wonder of the University world came into its own – Coventry University agreed that he could complete his degree with them – and also offered a place without fees to his younger sister. My friend graduated this summer and his sister will graduate next year and hopes to become an English teacher.

My personal connection to the story of this one family brought home to me the truly desperate plight of those seeking Britain’s sanctuary. They arrive with nothing … except an equal balance of fear and hope – and their life in a suitcase. Many lack even the most basic of possessions and have to rebuild their lives whilst navigating the often challenging legal and welfare systems. The contribution that refugees have the potential to make can be vast – as our new Secretary of State for Education (among others) would, I am sure, agree.

We’re already aware of amazing work from colleagues across our colleges to support our refugee community, particularly within our ESOL teams, and some brilliant programmes that are already underway include:

  • Carlisle College has submitted its pledge to the ‘Carlisle City of Sanctuary’ initiative to become a College of Sanctuary for refugees.
  • Kidderminster College will revisit its successful Migrant X exhibition; a campaign designed to inspire conversation and understanding on a number of issues including those facing refugees.
  • Newcastle College will welcome ESOL students for a range of activities where they can learn more about each other’s cultures, including cooking, hairstyling and fashion.
  • Donation boxes for essential items will be in place across all college campuses to support refugees within local communities.

With our community links and grassroots approach, colleges are brilliantly placed to offer support to these families and groups and it’s why I am so proud to be unveiling this new initiative. The benefits exist not only for refugee families but also for the nation where they now seek to make their home and we need to seize them – as one community and one NCG.

I look forward to sharing more with you as this initiative develops and, hopefully, begins to make real impact on our learners, our communities and those who need it.