By Alison Jones, Community Cohesion Coordinator
In today’s political climate, immigration is a hot topic and there is a lot of talk about how Londoners can welcome people from different areas to make them feel part of the community.
But what does this mean in practice? And how can organisations like Apples & Pears play a part in breaking down cultural barriers to bring different ethnicities and cultures together?
I work in an East London primary school and we are proud to have an incredibly diverse school community made up of 25 different nationalities from all over the globe – from Bangladesh to Somalia.
When families move to London from different regions of the country or other parts of the world, they can feel isolated or overwhelmed. Our city can be an intimidating place when you aren’t used to “the tube” and don’t recognise any names or places. This means there can be a tendency to make friends with people from the same area as you, especially if they speak the same language. But this can lead to isolated groups where people from different cultures don’t mix with each other.
At my school, we believe it’s our responsibility to help families who have recently moved to London make connections within the local community and we encourage them to share their culture and experiences with people from different parts of the world. We also believe that to have a vibrant and cohesive school community it’s important that parents develop friendships with other families.
One of the most successful ways we have helped this happen is through the Londoners Project which is funded by Apples & Pears. It allows us to invite families from different ethnic backgrounds on five trips so they can make friends by exploring London together. This is especially important when you are the only family in the school from a particular country, like Portugal. The trips involve parents who know London well showing new families what our city has to offer. They are joined by Apples & Pears volunteers who live or work in The City and can help bring it to life.
This year the Londoners Project brought together 12 families. The new arrivals were from as far afield as Japan and Kenya, as well as a British family who had just moved to East London. They were welcomed by second generation families from Morocco and Bangladesh and a British family who were proud to share their knowledge of London.
As well as helping families who are new to London make friends and get to know the city, the project has encouraged parents to get involved in the school community in a way that benefits their children’s education. This year 70 percent of parents who took part in the Londoners Project went on to attend other workshops and educational projects. For example, one of the Afghani dads has now signed up to do a maths course so that he’s more confident helping his son with homework and a Somali mother has decided to take an English course.
We’ve run the Londoners Project for five years now and we’re really proud that 55 families from 17 nationalities have taken part. We look forward to more trips in the new school year and we’ll continue to rely on funding from Apples & Pears to ensure that they can be enjoyed by everyone, no matter what their financial income is. This year nearly half of the school have been on trips paid for by Apples & Pears – which is over 200 children. We have an ambitious target for getting even more people involved next year.