Sewing classes: an effective tool to fight against loneliness

10 July 2014
Jessica Kennedy

Loneliness and isolation are one of the biggest challenges that asylum seekers and refugees fight against when they come to the UK and settle in a country whose social, cultural and community systems work differently from those they are used to, back in their home countries.

Cultural differences are often underestimated and taken for granted; misunderstandings arise easily. Simple gestures of friendship can be misinterpreted and can make people feel unable to bond with others – increasing the sense of loneliness. It is a vicious circle. Asylum seekers and refugees tend to avoid group activities and new experiences that might help them to increase their self-confidence and live more fulfilling lives.

When Amal joined the class, she was rather shy and felt uncomfortable sharing spaces with other people, not to mention engaging and relating to them. Her traumatic past – experiencing life in a war-torn country, the sudden loss of many members of her family and maltreatments and abuses from her husband – had put huge strains on her well-being and her ability and willingness to trust other people. She was used to spending a lot of time by herself, and was not willing to share her emotions with anyone.

Amal is not the only one. The Forum’s upcoming research into isolation shows that loneliness is the number one problem reported by the many individuals who use our services.

At The Forum, we have been running sewing classes for isolated women. The classes have proven to be a highly successful tool to fight against their isolation. Women meet every Monday and Thursday to work on a four-months-long project together – and have been enthusiastic in using the classes to open up to other people and become part of a new community. By sharing the experience of learning new skills and by creating new friendships, the classes help to demolish those barriers that reinforce feelings of loneliness.

After several weeks, we noticed little changes in Amal. She became more open to talking with people, not only the staff but also other participants in the class. And, even though she has still a long way to go, she hugely benefitted from taking part in an activity in which she could put her sewing skills at the disposal of the other women and cooperate positively in the project.

Amal, and others like her, have worked constantly and passionately to create hand-made bags, blankets, covers, which mix and represent the various cultures and influences of the countries they are from. These were put on display during our Summer Event and admired by all.

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Through activities such as sewing classes and cultural friday events, The Forum has been able to help hundreds of asylum seekers, refugees and migrants lead more independent and socially engaged lives. Yet the funding available for these kinds of activities is shrinking.

The Forum needs your help. The only way to keep these groups going is to raise funds to cover the running costs of activities and allow us to provide a safe place for refugees and asylum seekers to create new connections, benefit from the skills of teachers and get practical experience.

£50 could provide the travel expenses, craft materials and refreshments for 5 women to attend a sewing class. In case you need any more incentive, a £50 donation on our Fundraising platform will get you one of the beautiful cushion covers handmade by the women who have attended the sewing classes.

Empower a Refugee– https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/empower-a-refugee – is The Forum’s online platform to raise vital funds for our work with some of the most vulnerable and isolated individuals. Our goal is to reach £1600 by the end of this week! Help us empower refugees and asylum seeker – a small donation will make a huge  difference.

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