In a year when we have all had to contend with a global pandemic, it would have been easy to forget those most in need of our help and become more insular. That’s why Lloyds Banking Group and the College of Social Sciences have partnered with the charity Entraide to offer a telephone befriending scheme to refugees.

Entraide works alongside asylum seekers, refugees, migrant workers, and their dependants in the UK to facilitate their integration into society. Founded and directed by Felix Kupay, alumnus of University of Birmingham with an MA in Social Policy and an MSc in International Development, Entraide was established as a response to the growing need for support for newcomers to the UK to help them to gain the knowledge and access the support and advice they need.

Lockdown regulations mean Entraide, like so many charities, have been unable to offer a number of their face to face services, including the social and recreational events. These services are so important to the people Entraide support who, even before the pandemic, often face loneliness and isolation. The telephone befriending scheme was developed to give colleagues from both Lloyds Banking Group and the College of Social Sciences the opportunity to be matched with one of the people Entriade support and keep in regular contact through the pandemic - helping to combat feelings of isolation, as well as signposting local services and support.  

Both institutions have been inspired by the generosity and empathy of their colleagues, particularly during such trying times, over the last year, and unsurprisingly many colleagues again volunteered their time to support those new to the country.

Richard Black

The University of Birmingham and the College of Social Sciences have many areas of research into migration and diversity, including the Institute for Research into Superdiversity (IRiS), a research centre dedicated to answering the globally, nationally and locally important questions that emerge at the nexus of migration, faith, language, ethnicity and culture. Elsewhere, the Head of the College of Social Sciences, Professor Richard Black conducts research into migration from across the globe, with a particular focus on climate change and extreme weather events. As a college, we are dedicated to the support of migrants through academic resources and working with organisations like Entraide to provide practical and personal support.

Building on shared values between Lloyds Banking Group and the University of Birmingham, and the two institutions’ relationship spanning over 100 years, the befriending service has run during the pandemic period and has seen huge success both in the support offered to migrants and the learning and skills gained by the befrienders from both organisations.

Lloyds Banking Group’s involvement in the scheme puts power behind their assertions of Helping Britain Prosper, showing they are acting upon long held beliefs in responsible business and the betterment of society. Having Lloyds colleagues involved in the scheme, fully supported by the wider business, alongside those from the College of Social Sciences, evidences a strong partnership based on a like-minded drive for creating positive change, particularly for the most vulnerable among society.

Alia Hussain 2

Befrienders have reported increased empathy, listening skills and a renewed appreciation for issues and challenges faced by those new to the country, particularly during COVID-19. Service users described the experience as like gaining a friendship and said how beneficial just being able to talk to someone was to them. One service user commented: “I have many issues which my befriender tried to help me with but most of all the talking reassured me that even with all my problems, someone cares and things will get better”.

Every year, the organisers at Entraide celebrate the festive season with their service users by gathering in a community space and celebrating with food, games and small gifts. But 2020’s Christmas looks very different. This time, Entraide are asking instead for donations to continue their fantastic work and make a difference to the lives of migrants who are often left isolated, lonely and vulnerable at this time of year. If you would like to donate, you can do so here.