Open Space-Community Interest Company
Open Space is a Community Interest Company that functions separately to Essere Therapies providing Community based support services. Our past projects are described below.
'Strong Hearts' group
The need for this intervention was specifically designed to meet the needs of the resettled Syrians in Lancashire. This programme was designed by Essere Therapies following consultation with the women from the families based in Nelson and professionals already working with them and on information gained from the training on working with asylum seekers and refugees offered by ‘Freedom from Torture’ and hosted by the LCC Resettlement Team.
We established a committed group of between 7 and 12 women of varying ages, who attend on a weekly basis, some with their children. Attendance is optional on a weekly basis; a process of choice which is powerful in itself, particularly to those who have experienced oppression, fear and living in a system that renders the possibility of choice very limited.
The first part of our process was to establish an environment in which the women could feel safe, relaxed and able to drop some of their defences. With compassion and care, we provided a predictable, routined experience with nurturing care, warmth and welcome. As time went by and the women became familiar with the environment, the routine and the expectations within the group, we observed a ‘softening’ in their presentations.
Research describes that a reaction to trauma is the body shutting off to feelings – emotional and physical, as if the body and the head become disconnected. Carrying out activities that are repetitive helps with physiological and emotional regulation; sewing, knitting, crocheting and colouring all provide this regulating, repetitive experience. Through our observation of the group process it became clear that crafting (sewing in particular) brought the group together. Many women had significant skills in this area and were keen to use them to produce useful items and to support other group members who wanted to learn. It was apparent that crafting brought a productive energy to the group and gave individuals a sense of purpose and a group focus. As well as supporting connection between the rational and emotional parts of the brain, these crafting activities have led to far more attuned interactions within the group including a sense of connection, positive shared experience and joyfulness. Organically, the women have made this an essential part of their wellbeing group experience – the activity that holds the group together and that individuals join, leave and re-join according to their mood, physical wellness and desire to participate in the other activities on offer.
It soon became clear that child care was a key provision needed to enable the group to form, relax and engage. We therefore recruited a highly competent Nursery Nurse to play with and care for the children who come to the group with their mothers. Her engagement has led to a dramatic change in the behaviour and presentation of the children. Instead of struggling to manage their relationships with each other, they now engage in productive play and activities. We see how their language skills are developing and support this by including singing and rhymes in their activities. The women have noted the difference in the children and enjoy watching them engaging with the play opportunities provided. At times, the women go over to join in or talk to Emma (the Nursery Nurse) about their children and what they are doing. This is clearly a highly beneficial provision within the group and we would like to extend this into specific mother and child play/ESOL classes in the future.
The women have been instrumental in deciding on the content of the group sessions as described. Our observations have informed the provision, as has the direct input from the women. They continue to want to attend the English classes and we worked alongside LCC and community groups to provide this. Crafting is enjoyed as described and the women go to have a massage when they feel the need and feel able to accept this kind of care. They have chosen to organize, bring and share food some weeks, and to introduce music, dance and singing at times. Some weeks there is a feeling of celebration and others a much quieter feeling of the women drawing comfort and strength from each other.
From our position as observers as well as participants, it has felt that we have witnessed the re-creation of something culturally familiar and comforting; there is the sense that these women know how to be together in a supportive and productive community and they have taken the opportunity provided in this group to re-create a version of this that they can come back to each week. Perhaps they have been able to regain some more of their sense of identity in a world that they describe as experiencing as confusing and hard to access at times.
The sharing of skills, fun and culture within the group seems to have increased the feeling of connection and relationship between the Syrian women themselves and also between them and the English women facilitating the group and activities. The women have also reported that they are meeting more in small groups outside the group, to drink coffee and gossip. The older women have become the ‘heart’ of the group, arriving early, setting up the sewing machines, making a start on their projects. This sense of purpose and use of skills will have engaged the part of the brain responsible for executive functioning; using this part of the brain is essential in creating feelings of competency, purposefulness and, therefore, self-esteem. As a result of the experience of these emotions, the women have spontaneously created a logo and name for the group; ‘Strong Hearts’. Often, when they arrive or leave and we ask how they are or wish them well, they respond by touching their chest with their fists and saying with a smile, ‘Strong Hearts’.
We feel that the experience of the offer (and partaking in) massage has been fundamental in the success of the group. Research describes how following trauma experiences people can develop disruptive physical reactions to present day experiences; i.e. the body continues to react as if there is a serious threat way after the threats have passed and muscles contract to protect the body from injury in response to non-threatening, every day experiences. Massage is needed to remind the body that it is safe to let the muscles loosen. The women in the group talk to us about the physical problems they are experiencing, the pain and discomfort they continue to experience despite visits to their doctors. Through the experience of massage they gain some physical relief from their symptoms, emotional connection through nurturing touch, comfort and relaxation. Our masseuse, Paula, has experienced many moments of deep emotional connection with the women, frequently when no verbal communication has taken place. Following a massage some of the women just sit with Paula and hold her hand, their gaze communicating more of their pain and gratitude than their words ever could.
We have been keen to offer a yoga/physical movement session in addition to the existing group activities as research suggests that yoga practice (in particular) over a ten-week period can reduce symptoms of PTSD. Yoga and dance help to connect mind and body in the same way as the rhythmic, repetitive activities discussed above. Yoga has the additional aspects of breath work and mindfulness – both evidenced to facilitate recovery from trauma. We have now secured funding to offer four sessions of yoga and hope to offer more of these in the future.
The women have now started to talk about their emotional experiences and their symptoms of anxiety and depression. There is a feeling that they are confused and isolated in this and that they do not understand their emotional lives. They are benefitting from conversations explaining that their emotional experiences are understandable (indeed predictable) responses to their experiences of loss, fear and transition. Their sharing of experience is helping to alleviate some of the confusion and isolation they feel and increase the conversation on the topic between them.
As described, we have learned from the individual women what they feel they like and need in terms of support and activity within the group. We provide practical support in terms of helping to book and organise attendance of appointments, resolving issues with benefits, explaining letters from schools and helping them gain access to interpreting services where needed. We have also had discussions about their engagement with the wider community. We have introduced certain women to groups in the local area providing similar activities to those we provide and they enjoy, and have accompanied them to make initial introductions. However, via this experience, we have seen that often the women find new groups overwhelming, difficult to access and therefore not very enjoyable. It was clear that the language difficulties and possibly shyness made it very difficult for them and they were quickly put off. One of the aims of our project is to enable women to attend and enjoy established community groups. We recognise that there are barriers to this and that we need to continue to work on this with the women and the providers of the groups. In terms of our own well-being group, our intention in the longer term is that we access funding from other sources to enable it to continue running until the women and volunteers feel able and confident in running it themselves.
We have the sense that the women are now ready for some more topic specific sessions and/or group work. This might be along the lines of supporting their children’s well- being and integration, or increasing their own understanding of the impacts of their life experiences on their, and their families, health and well-being. Our aim is to look for funding outside of LCC for this work. Although we haven’t used the services of an interpreter so far we think that this would be necessary for any group sessions. It has been a challenge to talk in any depth about sensitive issues such as anxiety, depression and the impact of trauma with the language limitations that exist.
Feedback was collected via a sheet on which the women could select a facial expression to depict their experience of the group. 100% of the feedback given is ‘happy’, ‘very happy’. Although now, often, someone will say, ‘Happy but sad for my family’. Grief for family members elsewhere is forever present for these women.
Therapeutic support for children, teens and their families within the refugee and asylum-seeking community. Project funded via Awards for All
We were granted money from the National Lottery Community fund in February 2020. The money was to enable us to run well-being groups for women from the refugee and asylum-seeking community in Pendle (our local area). However, due to the restrictions in place, we had still been unable to run any community groups by November 2020 and it was not looking as though group work would be possible in the remaining period within which we could use the funding. We therefore contacted the grant management team in November 2020 to ask if we could use the funding in a different way, compliant with Covid restrictions. Our adapted proposal was to provide therapeutic support to individuals from the refugee or asylum-seeking community who we could reach via the schools where we had existing relationships. We re-planned the budget table for the adapted proposal, shared this with the grant management team at The National Lottery and they agreed to the changes and wished us well.
Therapists were allocated to families, identified by the schools we contacted within the Pendle area, who had expressed their interest, and therapeutic work commenced. In some families, the priority was to work with a parent who was struggling, and in others it was to work with a child who was not thriving. Where the therapist was working with a child, they also provided sessions to the parent and the key adults in the setting. Within these sessions, the therapist offered support to the parents and staff and worked to enable them to further understand the presentation of the focus child from a trauma perspective and to better meet the child’s needs.
Therapist 1 - provided individual play therapy, meetings with the key staff at the nursery setting to support the work and with the parents (translator needed for meeting involving the parents).
Therapist 2 – provided counselling to mothers from different families (asylum-seeking). Translation was needed for the women in all sessions. Meetings with the key staff in settings held to help them to understand and support the children of the women who attended individual therapy.
Therapist 3 – provided individual play therapy. Translators were used in the associated parent and key staff meetings.
Training was delivered on understanding children’s behaviour from a trauma perspective, where there were several children from the specified community attending.
Verbal feedback was gathered from the parents of the children and the key staff in the schools/nurseries. The parents felt relieved and grateful for the support they and their children had received and felt they both better understood their children and were better equipped to parent them effectively and advocate for them. They had also gained information on the impact of the trauma that they had experienced (and their children had experienced) and this had helped them to feel less overwhelmed, confused, lonely, hopeless and lost.
The staff in the settings were grateful to have received support that they would otherwise have been unable to provide or access for vulnerable members of their communities. Two of the settings knew very little about the impact of trauma, working with the therapist to support the children in therapy, greatly increased their awareness and understanding about this topic. The other settings already had a basic level of understanding, but they were again very grateful for the support in enabling them to better meet the children’s needs and understand their behaviours and emotions. The children themselves became more able to adapt to their new lives, to thrive and focus on learning, as they had had the opportunity to share and process some of their traumatic experiences.
One of the women who attended individual therapy went on to attend a further education course at the local college. She also now uses her journalism skills (gained in her country of origin) and her confident voice to raise awareness about what is happening in Yemen. The other women also gained confidence via the therapy process and went on to attend groups provided in their local community. Before therapy, one woman expressed how she felt isolated and alone, trapped by her asylum-seeking statue and feeling helpless. Now, (2022), we know that she is attending groups, accessing support and companionship and developing her skills and confidence further in this way.
The translators used were happy to have had the opportunity to do the work and felt that they had gained insight into the value of therapy for people with traumatic experiences, such as refugees and asylum seekers. They were keen to support this kind of work again in the future if the opportunity arose.
Due to the changes in our plans, because of the pandemic and restrictions in place in the 12 months we had to use the funding, we reached far fewer individuals from the community than we had intended (as we had to do individual work rather than group work). However, the families we worked with received a service that in all other circumstances would have been unavailable to them. There is no quality offer of therapy and therapeutic support to refugees and asylum seekers in our community. Those who accessed the therapy sessions via the funding granted were able to move forward in their lives in ways that without the therapy would most likely have felt impossible for them.
ESOL Project funded via Lancashire County Council
Duration- 20.09 2021- 21.03.2022
We delivered a 22-week ESOL programme of structured language learning sessions addressing the everyday language needs.
Each week the focus was on language needed for an everyday interaction e.g., buying food, booking doctor appointments, buying bus tickets, talking to school staff, requesting translation, ordering food and drink.
Sessions were relaxed, interactive and fun.
Weekly session structure entailed:
- Settling in adults and children.
- ‘Warm up’ exercises to encourage engagement, confidence and using the voice.
- Input – introducing session focus; detailing the ‘setting’ e.g., a shop and covering key language.
- Small group practice – women will be grouped according to the level of their language skills. Each group will have a teacher who will lead activities focussing on the groups’ language development needs.
- Drinks and social conversation time.
Refreshments were provided by a local woman who previously attended the groups. The women also brought traditional dishes to share at celebrations i.e., Eid, Christmas, ending etc.
Teaching was focused on the needs of the diverse group of women we worked with. We differentiate within the sessions; i.e., cater for all levels by focussing activity on small groups and individuals.
Sessions were relevant to local context, the interactions that women want to participate in and individual needs. We dealt with issues as they arose, incorporating support around trauma when it felt appropriate. I.e., following bonfire night, the women spoke about their bodies reacting to the fireworks, we were able to discuss the impact of trauma and how it is stored within the body, hence the somatic reaction to the noise. This insight helped the women create some meaning, making it less frightening and confusing.
We always maintain our person-centred ethos in which will build on the women’s confidence and self-esteem. This was felt when the women talked about their experiences of loss, there was a sense that the group had a shared understanding that brought the group closer, creating a sense of belonging. They also felt the warmth and compassion created within the group, which helped their bodies to calm and trust the process of learning. When the women felt ready to practice their language, with our support, we provide community-based opportunities to practice learning, i.e., going to the local shop/cafe.
Over time as individual’s confidence increased, we encouraged the women to practice their language skills in the local community by themselves, they talked about their experiences and confidence was developed, this encouraged others to try and learning benefits were felt within their everyday lives.
Relish English are experts in promoting this style of learning and this has recently been demonstrated by supporting women to volunteer in the community cafe.
Alongside development of language skills, as already stated we supported the woman to build confidence and develop a sense of autonomy. The women participated in chosen activity to meet their own needs, some women left the course to study further self-study, some gained employment, others moved abroad.
Digital learning is becoming more popular, and we have observed many younger women are confident using technology and learning resources, however, we also observed a hesitancy amongst some to access online resources. Within the programme we attempted to incorporate target digital learning activities which supported all the women to develop their digital skills, however a large majority of the cohort were women who struggled with these concepts due to either age or skill level. Therefore, we were led by the women enabling a sense of confidence by staying close to the skills they felt within their reach.
This approach compliments LCC’s own feedback and research that evidences that rapid progression in the acquisition of English requires informal and relevant approaches and provides a way of introducing language can be practically used “in their own time” and their own everyday lives.
The programme was delivered at the Beacon Children’s Centre in Nelson which was familiar to some of the women. The younger women who have attended previous groups chose not to attend, it felt as though they had developed links within the community since we previously met pre covid. The elder women did return and valued the sense of togetherness provided by the group as well as learning new language skills. Newly settled asylum seekers and refugees commenced, and you could sense the value they felt within the group due their regular attendance and the care that was offered to one another. Attendance did fluctuate due to the weather conditions, Corona Virus, and other commitments from the women. The feedback was that there was still some apprehension in leaving their homes following the Corona Virus.
Leaflets were re distributed in the local community and schools and this resulted in new attendees. The venue was readily accessible by public transport from all parts of Pendle where the women are settled and in fact is within walking distance of the majority in Nelson, which contributed to regular attendance.
Childcare was commissioned by a reputable service that we have used previously, the children were cared by the childcare providers so the women can focus on the learning activities. We have previous experience of the impact of the childcare providers who are reliable and bring an air of calm to the children; teaching them some basic language skills through play. However due to the limited numbers of children, a decision was made to cease the childcare provision as the regulation was from the childcare providers was two nursery nursers, this seemed an expense that was not necessary, therefore one of the two personnel facilitating the course cared for the children.
Sustainability was created by continuing the project longer than initially costed for. This gave more time for the week to form and due to a core group of regular attendees, connections were formed and a what's app group created, where other community activities were shared.
To continue ensuring the women accessed further support In-Situ were introduced to the women, an ESOL class for adult learning, Pendle wavelengths activities, local café shared, and a speaker from the refugee community came to speak to the women regarding activities available.
The women were provided with individualised learning following the course and a certificate; this information will assist them if they have the opportunity to learn, practice, improve language skills within group and community setting in the future.
Outcomes achieved: work on an improvement in language skills that:
- strengthen confidence in using English language in day-to-day interactions
- improve the ability to get by in simple day to day tasks without interpretation
- increase confidence in participating in the wider community, for example, participating in activities beyond the refugee community.
- Created a sense of belonging within the group, with new established connections for the future.
- A chance to share experiences around wellbeing, loss, and trauma.
Each woman set their own learning target, alongside the broader aims of developing capacity and confidence in using functional English as outlined in this proposal.
We consistently conversed with, listen to, and respond to the women using a variety of approaches, women within the group interpreted for other members group when needed, which helped them also gain confidence. The adjustments to the programme as previously discussed, were always to ensure the money was used to benefit the women, hence the period of the project increasing. This ensured progress was made and the women were seen and felt as their views were sought throughout the process.
There was ongoing monitoring throughout the project using the familiar faces from happy to sad, 100% of the women put happy with the content of the project when they left, however there was an acknowledgement that they were sad regarding losses within their family etc. This impact data was in the form of ‘self-reporting’ about their level of confidence in using the language that they have been taught.