Is your organisation looking to set up a support or social group for LGBTQI+ people seeking asylum? Support or social groups can be very powerful and play an important role in the wellbeing of LGBTQI+ people seeking safety in the UK. They are arguably one of the most vulnerable people in our society. A group mirrors a supportive community, nurtures, welcomes and empowers. A group can overcome isolation, build self-esteem and foster hope.
These are some of the things you should think about if planning on setting up a group to ensure it is a success. You will be creating a space that is invaluable to your service users’ wellbeing, which is a truly positive outcome.
- Check that you have safeguarding, complaints and data protection policies in place. You will want to ensure that your service users are safe and having these policies in place will begin that process.
- Reach out to your service users and find out what they need and want. Will you run a support group or a social group? A support group could have a remit of wellbeing, understanding the asylum system, building self-esteem and sharing individual stories. A social group could have a positive impact on wellbeing, but would be more focused on fun activities and opportunities to socialise and meet others. What do your service users want? Perhaps you could circulate a survey to get this understanding.
- Clarify who the group is for. Will it be a group for women or will it be mixed? Will it be for gay people or bisexual? Will it be solely for trans and non-binary people? Look at what the need is to determine this. If you’re thinking of running a support group, remember that those who have been recently granted refugee status and people seeking asylum might have very different needs. Or a mixed group may not be best for women. It may be you run two groups. Or perhaps you might run a group for younger people (18-25) and a second group for those over 25.
- Ensure you provide a safe space. Have some ground rules around expected behaviours, communication and information sharing. Involve service users in establishing them. If the staff member or volunteer who will facilitate the group is LGBTQI+, consider encouraging them to be open about it, as it will help to put your clients at ease and let them know that there will be some shared understanding on topics such as coming out, the LGBTQI+ scene, slang/vocabulary etc. Is the space physically safe? Are there appropriate toilets and fire exits? If using a community space that isn’t LGBTQI+ specific, how will your service users know they are welcomed? Perhaps a rainbow flag is put up in reception. Likewise, how will they access the space in a way that is comfortable and appropriate e.g. if there is a waiting room, how will staff or volunteers discreetly direct service users to the room without alluding to the person’s sexual orientation in front of other people in the area? Perhaps the room has a specific name that the person can say to reception.
- LGBTQI+ people seeking asylum may not be out. Or, they may not feel safe to be out in their communities, so do think about that when you’re planning how people will sign up and take part in your groups, and when you’re promoting your groups. Perhaps the group could be advertised in your general leaflet, or perhaps there is a specific email for the group that they can privately make contact with. Likewise, some people will be out and will see rainbow flag displays as a sign of encouragement.
- Bear in mind people may have very limited income. ‘Asylum support’ from the government is less than £40 a week. That might mean people can’t come to weekly activities, or that they might need support with travel.
- Reach out to the wider community. You may be able to get some help, or source activities, opportunities or items for your service users from food banks, local sexual health clinics, churches or LGBTQI+ organisations. As an example, for our groups, we have sourced free condoms, free ice cream, free food, free Christmas gifts, free entry to films and private tours in museums.
- Be consistent. Have a set time, set place and routine. This will help with the running of the group. For those struggling with mental health, isolation and anxiety, having a set time for a regular positive activity will be a form of resilience for them, and give them something to look forward to.
- Have a plan. What are the goals of your group? Do a review of what’s working and what’s not working after running the group for three months. Ask your service users for their feedback. Will you provide refreshments? Will you welcome speakers such as sexual health nurses?
- Have a policy for writing support letters. Be clear that getting evidence for asylum claims is not the purpose of the group. You want people to attend because they have a need. However, if you know your service users well enough and feel you can write a support letter, it may be useful for them. Think about how long you work with someone before providing a support letter.
- Have a plan for dealing with challenging behaviour. It may be there comes a time where you want to ask someone to leave the group, or you want to challenge their behaviour. Think this through so that you are prepared if it should happen.
- Get in touch. If you need more advice or guidance, please contact us.