Young, displaced people in Surrey England are learning English and finding a sense of belonging at weekly sports clinics.

Grant Type
Pitch In UK
Focus
Social Inclusion
Date
Partner

In the summer of 2017, Vicki and Katye took a group of 12 young refugees on a residential trip to Trill Farm in Devon, in the Southwest of England. At the time, Vicki was working for a community group settling Syrian families into new homes and Kayte was working in a Further Education college. Both were seeing first-hand the social isolation that many displaced students experienced during the long summer holiday.

The week was transformative. It showed Vicki and Kayte what was possible when displaced young people who have experienced severe trauma are welcomed into the community and supported. Through this, the idea for Big Leaf was born.

“We could see how much more needed to be done to support each of these young people - how the many people charged with their care needed to be better connected,” Kayte says.

“Every day they are dealing with the extreme trauma they suffered before arriving in the UK, navigating a complex legal and economic system and accessing narrow education opportunities.

Kayte and Vicki founded Big Leaf Foundation and today the charity supports more than 300 young, displaced people in Surrey, a country in the Southeast of England bordering London. It provides a nurturing program of projects and activities to help them build fulfilling lives in the UK; grow in self-confidence; realise their potential; identify possibilities for their future; and build safe and supportive relationships within their communities.

In 2023, the Bennelong Foundation UK funded a Big Leaf program that helped young, displaced people learn English and life skills through sports clinics and events. More than 130 people attended weekly sports sessions or community sporting tournaments, resulting in noticeably improved communication skills, more friendships and improved health and wellbeing.

“The sports program requires them to listen to others and speak directly, and to repeat familiar words and phrases week by week to create a solid basis for English language expansion,” Kayte says. “They also build a social network within their local area and many make better choices about their food and health.

“Importantly, this program also addresses the anti-migrant settlement narrative that is prevalent in the media, completely detracting from the very real contributions refugee communities can bring to their host countries.”

M, originally from Eritrea, says: "When I come to football, my mind is free. I see people like me, with difficulties like me, and we give each other hope. We must speak English together because many languages are there, so I feel more confident for speaking. My coach is smiling at me, and I feel welcome.  Everyone encourages each other - do you best, do your best.  I remember this for my rest of life too.  I will do my best.”

Rob, a Coach at the Chelsea FC Foundation, says the weekly sports sessions with Big Leaf are a highlight of his week.

"Coaching this group of young men is one of my favourite parts of the week, hands down. I always look forward to my Friday evening session with the boys,” Rob says.

“The group is full of extremely bright, friendly and exceptional young men who have such potential within them. It's a pleasure to work with them and I am so pleased that this relationship exists between Chelsea FC Foundation and Big Leaf Foundation. The young people arrive at each session willing to learn new things. They are open-minded, dedicated and play with 100% commitment, which every coach relishes..."

Kayte shared the story of B, one of the participants in the program.

“B is a 17-year-old boy from Dafur in Sudan. He had perhaps one of the most traumatic journeys to the UK that we have heard about, after having lost his family through violent action of the janjaweed back home. E is a serious and deeply conscientious young man, who is dedicated to the idea of helping others. He arrived at our football project with very little English but a great commitment to learning, and particularly to developing his literacy skills.

B might not be the most talented or enthusiastic footballer, but he showed that the regular football sessions meet more needs than simply the chance to get on the pitch.  He turned up every week, keen to be early enough to have conversation with the Big Leaf team and to help set up the training programme for the evening.

Since then, B’s confidence has grown exponentially.  He joined our Young Leaders Programme and graduated with a speech on how perseverance and determination and supporting those around you can lift up the world, which earned him a standing ovation.

He has undertaken work experience with Waitrose for which he received wonderful feedback, paving the way for opportunities for others.  He has volunteered in a charity shop for Shooting Stars Hospice; as a match day guide and reception representative at Dorking FC; and helped devise Big Leaf participation at a Sports Leadership Training session with Chelsea FC Foundation at Stamford Bridge - using his experience and ideas to create fantastic opportunities for displaced young people to begin thinking about careers in sports.

He now regularly greets new arrivals and introduces them to Big Leaf as an organisation, encouraging them to attend projects and explaining the difference their attendance could make for them.”

B is now an excellent ambassador for displaced young people, and his determination to succeed impresses all who meet him.  This means that those who do also then come back to us at Big Leaf asking what more they can do. Thus, the ripples from B’s hard work and perseverance are now driving understanding and helping to change the conversation about displacement at a time when this is desperately needed.”

Impactful results

Making positive change

Big Leaf Foundation has helped young, displaced people in Surrey learn, work and connect with others, and to have a voice.

Outcome

More opportunities for young, displaced people to participate in society.

Outcome

Barriers that cause social exclusion are being broken down.

We must speak English together because many languages are there, so I feel more confident for speaking. My coach smiling at me, and I feel welcome. Everyone encourages each other - do you best, do your best. I remember this for my rest of life too. I will do my best.

M

Participant in the Big Leaf Foundation English language program

Image Gallery

Explore more stories of impact

Read how our partners are creating opportunities for people to shape their own futures.