YUMI York Community Consultation
Project developed and executed by Giorgia Mariani
Commissioned by YUMI York
Supported through funding from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation
The research leading to these results have been possible thanks to the positive, open and truthful participation of all interviewees who have told me their life stories and so enriched my own.
The research objectives are:
- Investigate the wellbeing of BME community in York
- Investigate what barriers prevent BME communities from integrating in York
- Identify the specific needs of YUMI participants
- Explore YUMI participants’ understanding of YUMI
- Explore YUMI participants’ experience of YUMI
- Investigate YUMI participants’ opinions of what YUMI is doing well and what needs to be improved; in particular its effectiveness in supporting interculturality and BME groups’ needs.
The research used qualitative, in-depth interviews.
Forty individual, hour-long interviews were undertaken face to face. The volunteers and participants represented in the research were provided by the YUMI Director andrecruited via email by the interviewer.
Each interview took place at a suitable coffee bar in York, maintaining an informal and comfortable environment. The interviewer ensured privacy by choosing appropriate locations.
All interviews were undertaken by Giorgia Mariani, and took place between 30th September 2013 and 30th May 2014.
A detailed conversation guide was prepared in collaboration with the YUMI Director but no questionnaire was used, to ensure a friendly, lively approach and enable participants to feel more ‘at home’. Questions asked in Sections 2 and 3 were intentionally ‘Open’, i.e. intended not to steer the participants towards particular answers. This means that several questions have multiple answers.
All research participants are presented in the research as ‘anonymous’.
Research participants had been living in York from 2 months to over 10 years prior to the interview. This means that their experience of integration and their needs may be very different.
Participants had also been involved with YUMI for very different lengths of time. Their understanding and evaluation of YUMI’s work was therefore based on different stages of the organisation’s development.
Loneliness, Support and Integration
The main issues experienced by the BME community in York are lack of friendship and lack of community feeling. The majority of those interviewed are women who had come to live in York to be reunited with their family. They were employed in their country, lived a life with a strong sense of belonging in their community, and were well connected to their extended family and long-term friends. The lack of friends and connection with the community, language issues, cultural differences and more often than not difficulty in finding a job leads to isolation, and generates an extended sense of loneliness. In addition those who have lived in the UK for several years, professionals, men, students and people who independently decided to leave their country to live in the UK also said they feel/have felt lonely in York.
The feelings of loneliness cross social class, education levels, employment status, gender, age and the reasons for relocating. However, this sense of loneliness may be strengthened by additional factors: a low knowledge of English, difficult access to employment, non-recognition of overseas qualifications, a dependent role in the family, and those cultural differences that generate conflicts of values. This loneliness in itself then becomes the very barrier to personal and professional development and therefore to integration.
Individuals from BME groups feel that York’s indigenous community welcomes BME communities only superficially. Individuals from BME groups find it very difficult to generate friendships beyond a polite conversation with local people. Many participants, even after years of living in York, do not have friendships with local people but they have been able to generate a multicultural network of friends.
Specialist support for BME communities is felt to be very weak; people have difficulty in understanding what to do when they first arrive in York, as there is no specific advice for non-refugee BME groups in the city. Individuals from BME communities find it difficult to understand how things ‘work’ in the UK; their first encounter with a new culture (in this case English culture) requires them to understand the customs, i.e. both what needs to be done as well as how to do it without feeling ‘different’ or inadequate. What can appear easy, e.g. requesting a National Insurance number; understanding the legal system; applying for a job; finding a doctor or making friends, can actually be a very difficult task which can then undermine self-esteem and confidence.
The core needs identified in order to feel more integrated in York were: friendship, bonding with the local community, advice and support, better-paid jobs, being able to develop one’s career and better knowledge of English.
YUMI experienced a considerable growth in the number of participants in the last year which diversified the range of needs and reasons for getting involved.
The main reasons for getting involved in YUMI are to make friends and to have contact with the local community. Participants share the vision and aims of YUMI and want to learn new skills. However, an increasing number of participants joins YUMI to receive support and advice in looking for employment, improving their English, developing their career and for personal mentoring/advice in how to embark on the new venture of living in York.
There is a consistent difference in the understanding of YUMI’s purpose and way of operating between new participants and those who have been involved for more than 3 years. Recent participants can identify the aims of specific projects (International community garden, Festival, Cooks project) but are not fully aware of YUMI’s aims (i.e. connecting local people with those who have come to York from all over the world, helping to develop York as an integrated and connected community – developing a rich and vibrant city as a result of empowered and involved communities). However, people who have been involved from the early stages of YUMI do know and understand the whole vision beyond the single projects.
The specific ‘project’ approach prevents some people from actively participating as, if they are not particularly interested in gardening, cooking or family events they do not see other ways of participating. But, they consider themselves supporters anyway because they share the ideals and participate in some of the open events. So, although people share the general vision they do not have a consistent knowledge of what YUMI does, how it does it, and in which activities they could get involved because they don’t understand that there is space for other (new) kinds of activities. There is a lack of understanding that ‘projects/ activities’ are simply the vehicle or means towards the broader aims. Interviewees identified several other things they would like: excursions, intercultural poetry evenings, films projections, crafts meetings, crafts shop, English classes, dance classes, mentoring, buddy system, coffee meetings, intercultural baby-sitting and some of them would like to get involved in organising them.
YUMI participants feel that through their participation in YUMI they have more friends, have gained more skills, feel enjoyment by participating and feel more connected with the York community in general. They join YUMI because they feel lonely and find it difficult to integrate in environments in which they do not feel valued or they feel a sense of ‘otherness’, whereas in YUMI they know that many people are ‘in the same boat’, and diversity is not an issue but becomes the common denominator. Moreover, their ‘new and previous’ identities are both recognised and considered.
Participants would like YUMI to generate more opportunities for integration and bonding experience by organising more social/recreational events not necessarily linked to the current projects. Although the International Community Garden and the Cooks Project are seen as great projects and opportunities that could benefit other people interested in them, comments have been made about the lack of bonding experience: the majority of gardeners are British and there are not so many people from other cultures participating. In addition, in the Cooks Project it is the opposite situation, all participants are from other cultures and there aren’t any local people involved.
Communication and publicity have been identified as the main areas for improvement because participants want to understand more about what YUMI does and offers but also because they think that YUMI needs to do more publicity and promotion as there would be more people who could benefit from it. They feel that currently the organisation is not reaching those people with its full potential. Comments have been made that many people from BME communities would not look for something like YUMI because they would not think that such opportunity and support is available. The large majority see this improvement happening by distributing publicity material, organising open events in town and by having a new, interactive website which includes an area for members and which is more appealing to BME communities and the local community.
Support in looking for employment, information and advice for new immigrants are highlighted as important areas that need to be addressed. As explained above, there is no specific advice for non-refugee BME groups in the city and people have difficulty in understanding what to do when they first arrive in York, find affordable English courses and understand cultural customs e.g. non-verbal communication. The majority of interviewed participants believe YUMI needs to address this providing advice and support for newcomers.
All participants see the development of a venue as key to achieving YUMI’s aims but also addressing their own need for integration with the local community. It would represent them within the wider community. They see it as a space where their stories, backgrounds and different cultural heritages could be valued and shared. Many participants expressed the need to offer something from their personal knowledge and culture to the local community as a sign of gratitude for welcoming them and to open the doors for more sharing, for more interculturality. The venue would also be a big help in providing a better support to new immigrants and for the general development of YUMI as an organisation in York.
Implications and Recommendations
- Conversations to be held between organisations and service providers about loneliness and how to address those barriers that prevent people from feeling part of the community (e.g. conversation started with JRF’s Loneliness Project Group and Health Watch)
- Increased support, information and advice is needed, especially for new comers
- Coordination between those organisations which work with BME groups is needed
- Greater involvement of CYC and governmental institutions (e.g. Job Centre, Refugee Council, etc.) is needed in order to reach BME people
- More support to improve employability is needed (e.g. Personal Development, English classes, Mentoring, etc.)
- More opportunities for integration between indigenous and BME groups are needed
- Provide more support in order to reduce loneliness and lack of community feeling
- New and stronger strategy of communications and publicity to be developed
- A new interactive Website to be developed
- More social/recreational activities to be developed, not necessarily linked to current projects
- Support and promote participation of the local community to generate more bonding opportunities
- Create a physical space/venue for the integration of BME groups with local community
- Develop solid relationships and coordination with other organisations in York and surroundings
- Provide support and advice for BME people, especially for new comers
- Reassess current projects’ aims ( Garden, Cooks project, Festival) to ensure that activities are addressing people’s needs