11th Day of Christmas

With the aim of alleviating hardship and removing obstacles to young refugees’ and asylum seekers’ education and well-being, Hope for the Young was established in London in 2008. It started as a handful of people who could relate to the struggles of being alone in a new country. Today, the group is delighted to see that those they have helped in past years are now in a position to help others.

With approximately 3000 young people arriving in the UK each year unaccompanied, the need for better support and targeted services is ever-increasing. Having witnessed traumatic events, socially excluded and unfamiliar to social services in the UK, this group is particularly vulnerable and often lacks vital support. By providing tailored financial support and mentoring services, the small charity has a long-term impact on the mental health and well-being, aspirations and achievements of young refugees and asylum seekers.

We spoke to Matt, Project and Development Manager at Hope for the Young, and discussed why they are important, how they differ from other services offered and what challenges they face.

Why would you say you as a small charity make a big difference for the individuals and/ or communities you support?

Last year, over 3,000 children came to the UK unaccompanied, after having been separated from their families. These young people have experienced traumatic events and have a range of physical, psychological and social difficulties. They can become isolated from their communities in the UK and may not be able to cope mentally with general day to day life, let alone understand how to navigate the complex systems in which they find themselves.

The Mentoring Project at Hope for the Young matches these young people with Volunteer Mentors who meet them once a week for 6 months in order to provide tailored 1-1 support. Mentors teach the young people English, build their confidence and levels of trust, reduce their isolation and increase their academic potential. For those suffering from mental health problems, our mentors provide emotional and practical support that creates stability and helps them adapt and settle into life in the UK. We’ve learned that when somebody is there to offer stability and regular support during this difficult time, it can transform a young person’s attitude from that of frustration and despair to optimism and hope.

How does your support differ from larger organisations/public services? Would you say larger organisations have the same impact?

Small organisations are just as vital as large ones. Hope for the Young's services are structured so that young people receive support in their local communities, by local people, tailored to their needs. There is a something incredibly meaningful that happens when a relationship is forged in this way, as the young people know that their mentor is not being paid by a large organisation to help them, but are just a normal person wanting to offer their time to welcome and support them as they make the difficult transition to their life in the UK. 

Being a small organisation means we really see the progress that young people make every day and it's truly inspiring. It means supporters can see exactly where their generous donations have gone towards and what that means in reality for the young people we support. 

Finally, we have previous beneficiaries that have gone on to become volunteer mentors as well as office volunteers. Being a small organisation means we are able to build strong relationships with beneficiaries which fosters real progress and development that enables them to go on to support others who have faced similar situations. We believe this is really important and don't think it would be as possible within a much larger organisation.

What is one of your proudest achievements as an organisation in the last year?

Our proudest moments in the last year have been witnessing the young people's achievements and seeing just how effective tailored, one-to-one mentoring can have on asylum-seekers’ progress. Through effective matching and mentoring, Mentees have enrolled in education, started volunteering, gained work experience at places like Kings College Hospital, and even applied to medical school. Others have registered with GPs and libraries and started attending social activities where they made friends and became less isolated. We have supported young people who were not confident enough to travel to their mentoring sessions unaided. They now not only travel to their sessions but can navigate anywhere in London on their own! We are extremely proud of this!

What are the biggest challenges you face as a small charity? Have you overcome any of these challenges? If so, how?

The biggest challenge for us is not having enough capacity to develop our projects to meet the needs of all those referred to us. It is a catch 22 as we need funding to build capacity, but we need capacity to increase funding! With one part-time member of staff we are limited at what we can achieve.

Amazingly, we have nearly 40 incredible volunteers who dedicate their time and efforts to keep Hope for the Young moving forwards. From social media, technical and finance volunteers, to mentors, fundraisers and admin volunteers, it is truly inspiring to have so many people dedicated to improving the lives of young refugees and asylum-seekers in their community. We couldn't do it without them!