Guest Blog: Mel Pickett on refugees, lunches and bicycles

Our first guest blog is timely, as it’s Refugee Week. Here, Mel Pickett recounts her experiences collaborating with refugees.

”The desire to make friendships and share mutual support with others in the same situation as me.”

The ‘care sector’ can portray clients as super-vulnerable and this becomes a critical part of our narrative for them deserving funding and services. In so doing we can sometimes lose sight of the strengths, potential and agency that we as all individuals have. In my experience this is especially true of the refugee sector.

When I worked for Refugee Action, I was invited to draw up a model for a new Women’s Advice Project. This project was to deliver advice to women seeking protection who were victims of sexual violence. Staff told me how vulnerable these women were.

I arranged an informal lunch party at a local community centre to start co-designing the model with some of the women. Seven arrived  – women from Sri Lanka, Eritrea, Kenya, Somalia, Sierra Leone, Jamaica.

The very act of holding a lunch party and asking the women to collaborate resulted in much sharing and talking, laughter and tears; the lunch was appreciated; everyone hugged at the end.

I stopped short of focusing on services and instead asked the women: ‘what has been one stand out thing that meant the most to you since you got to the UK?”

Woven into the testimonies were tales of poverty, loneliness, depression, ill health, feelings of hopelessness. But within the women’s stories a theme shone through that really mattered to them:

”The desire to make friendships and share mutual support with others in the same situation as me.”

And this is what I learnt from Salma:

”Well, for sure my bicycle has been the most important thing; when I was given my bicycle by someone from the local church well I was surprised as I had never ridden a bike!, but another lady in my house helped me learn and now I feel happy; I can visit my friends as before I was so lonely as I have no money for the bus, and I can go to new places to meet people and actually I can go wherever I like, and I am improving my health as I am exercising and losing some weight. Now what I would really like is to learn how to properly look after my bicycle and teach other women like me how to ride a bike.”

And bicycle is the one word that has stayed with me.

Mel Pickett is the former national volunteer manager at Refugee Action and now works on project development for Pathways to Independence. For more information contact her on: or @MelPickett2

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