This is Learn2Live: The Northampton youth group that's gone 'from strength to strength' in helping unsupported refugee children

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After starting with just five refugees at its founding, the group has now exploded to 90 unsupported kids on the books

Not long after the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan gripped our headlines, this newspaper sat down with learn2Live, a Northampton-based group that strives to make a home for the unaccompanied refugee children that made their way here.

Working as a subset of Northampton: Town of Sanctuary, Learn2Live offers young refugees a sense of community and support far away from their original homes. With the majority now aged 14-16 and from a wide range of countries,

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Councillor Danielle Stone, who founded Northampton Town of Sanctuary alongside her husband Councillor Alwahabi, said: "Learn2Live is a youth group set up in response to the young people we were seeing who were refugees. At the time, there were five people who came to us and wanted a youth facility.

Pictured: The group's free trip to Rutland Water.Pictured: The group's free trip to Rutland Water.
Pictured: The group's free trip to Rutland Water.

"Our first wave came from Ethiopia, the second from Eritrea and the latest was, naturally, from Afghanistan. But we also get people from Iraq and elsewhere.

"Nowadays we have about 90 young people on our books.

"It's gone from strength to strength. Every year there's a new wave of young people coming into Northampton called unsupported children, meaning they have no parents and they've come alone into this country to claim asylum."

Cllr Stone, who also a labour councilor for the Castle ward, said that no comparable service existed, and indeed still does not exist, for young refugees in Northampton, making their service an important help for those unsupported young people going through 'scary' circumstances.

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The fun days out give the young people the opportunity to bond with others in a similar position to them.The fun days out give the young people the opportunity to bond with others in a similar position to them.
The fun days out give the young people the opportunity to bond with others in a similar position to them.

As such, Learn2Live also offers a range of activities, including group trips out and dinners, to make them feel more at home whilst teaching valuable life skills.

This includes working with Student Action for Refugees (STAR), a group within the University of Northampton which offers free conversational English classes to help the young refugees fit in.

The Cllr added: "We have a weekly club night on Fridays which runs 48 weeks of the year, all of which are run by volunteers.

"We have dinners together where the young people help out. On Saturdays the young people, who are mostly boys, come together to play football.

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"We apply for funding for different schemes, like for those who qualify for free meals at school or college so we can provide meals for them.

"We've also taken them on activity days out like visiting Rutland Water, having a private picnic in Delapre Abbey's arboretum in the summer and taking the young people to see Dick Wittington at Royal and Derngate last Christmas. We took a day trip to London which was, for many of them, their first time on a train and it was just wonderful to see.

"We couldn't do what we do without the support of our partners like the Red Cross, UON, Delapre Abbey and local theatres whose contributions make a huge difference. Several of our trips have also been funded by Amanda Lowther DL, the High Sheriff of Northamptonshire."

As well as support from Northampton organisations, Learn2Live is also manned by volunteers who include second-generation refugees like Pel Ahmed, 21, whose parents fled Saddam Hussein's rule in Iraq around 2000/2001.

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The current University of Northampton student is studying a joint degree in health studies and adult social care, but said that after working with Learn2Live, Pel said she now wants to tailor her career to supporting refugees, whether that be here at home or overseas.

She said: "I have been working with Learn2Live for three years now and I really enjoy it.

"Given my experience and knowledge of refugees and asylum seekers, it's easier for me to understand the young people when I'm working with them.

"But they feel reassured as well and hopeful that, as I am myself a student, they can get into further education and progress in their lives as well.

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"These are very young people who don't have families. They are alone. While they have their friends around them, they don't have a very secure support system. So when people come across refugees, I just want them to remember that they are very lovely people that want to interact with others, get involved with society and so on."

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