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Changing lives is all part of the job for staff helping students to master the English language at Stockton Riverside College. 

Their learners tell them so most days, and for many who have the most harrowing stories to tell, it is quite literally putting them on the road to a better future.

Now, in this Refugee Week, Stockton Riverside College and Redcar and Cleveland College, both part of the Education Training Collective (Etc.), have been recognised for their efforts. The colleges are among the first in the North-east to be awarded the College of Sanctuary status.

“Refugees and people seeking asylum are a vital part of our college and they bring so much to our community,” said English for speakers of other languages (ESOL) curriculum manager, Niki Crabb. “The staff here work tirelessly with the learners to build their confidence, support integration into the local community, and help them to progress into future opportunities, so it is wonderful to see that work recognised and celebrated with this award.”

Part of the City of Sanctuary scheme, the College of Sanctuary status recognises those who encourage inclusivity, compassion and solidarity – all things the colleges pride themselves on.  And it doesn’t go unnoticed by the students.

Dad-of-two Kawa, 42, said: “At the college you can feel the teachers are teaching from the heart. They really do care and not everyone is like that.”

For many asylum seekers and refugees like him, in a world that has often been turned upside down, being at college offers a much-needed sense of dignity, freedom and normality.

For Kawa and his wife, both refugees from Syria, living with dignity, freedom and normality is the ultimate ambition.

Starting their lives over in Stockton, it was volunteering and working as a humanitarian in his home country that left them with no choice but to flee.

Now with two young children, his biggest hope for them is for “a normal life”.  For him, that means going to school, hopefully moving on to university, and ultimately getting themselves a good job.

After being university-educated and holding a well-paid job in Syria, he said starting over has been challenging. However, as a humanitarian, it’s no surprise his go-to plan in the UK has been to help others and give back to the community. He says he is glad to share and practise British values.

Working part-time, studying and raising a family, he finds the time to volunteer at Refugee Futures, supporting other asylum seekers and refugees.

The current cohort of ESOL learners at Stockton Riverside College alone includes speakers of 31 languages from a host of different backgrounds, from those who were academics in their homeland to those denied the basic right to any education.

Stockton Riverside College’s executive principal, Lesley Graham, said: “Being a College of Sanctuary is about more than one department, it is about our whole ethos.  We want our colleges to be a safe space for all our students. A diverse community brings value to all our learners, raising their awareness of the world and it encourages tolerance, acceptance and respect.”

Redcar and Cleveland College works in partnership with Redcar and Cleveland Borough Council who have provision for supporting asylum seekers and refugees.

Executive principal, Jason Faulkner, said: “Redcar and Cleveland College is proud to be recognised with College of Sanctuary status. This is recognition that we are an ambassador for equality and diversity, helping those most in need in our communities.”

City of Sanctuary UK director of operations, Sara Trewhitt, said: "City of Sanctuary UK is delighted to award both Stockton Riverside College and Redcar and Cleveland College with the College of Sanctuary accreditation; they join a select group of further education institutions recognised for their excellent practice in offering hospitality to refugees and asylum seekers.

“Both colleges have demonstrated an incredible commitment to ensuring that learners from backgrounds of forced displacement are warmly welcomed into their colleges and supported to thrive.

“Their notable collaboration with key local partners like ARC and One Community Link further showcases how much they contribute to wider community efforts to support sanctuary. We offer our heartfelt congratulations to all of the dedicated staff and learners who have contributed to this important achievement."

Working with individuals, groups and organisations in every sector, City of Sanctuary UK is a nationally coordinated network of organisations and services including councils, universities, theatres and libraries that welcome and support refugees and people seeking asylum.

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