Tackling tension around immigration in Barrow

4th July 2023

Barrow is one of the most socio-economically deprived areas in Cumbria. It’s also home to a growing community of refugees and asylum seekers – like the rest of the UK, migration to Barrow has increased following the removal of restrictions introduced during the COVID-19 pandemic to limit travel and movement.

Many migrants relocate to the UK fleeing serious threat to their lives. They often arrive with no support networks and only limited English.

Believing access to essential services, housing and support for locals was restricted through the arrival of asylum seekers and refugees, Barrow was targeted by far-right individuals and groups sowing mistrust and intolerance in the community.

Cumbria Development Education Centre (CDEC) is a charity that unites people of all backgrounds and experiences in Cumbria, educating schools, communities and organisations on key social and environmental issues to empower locals to influence positive change.

Director Laura Goad says: “There was a growing ‘them and us’ attitude in Barrow. We had conversations with very concerned police officers, and headteachers were desperate for more help to support children from immigrant families.

“Refugees and asylum seekers were even at risk of verbal and physical abuse. It was time to act and funding from the Foundation meant we were able to provide our community with the expert, tailored support needed.”

“We put together a programme of special workshops, designed directly with refugees and asylum seekers and delivered by our expert team of educators. These took place both face-to-face in Barrow and online, ensuring we were able to maximise our reach. Our aim was to help people in key educational roles, including teachers, youth workers and parents, to build their knowledge on the most pressing issues.

“We also focused on helping children build empathy. Through immersive sessions with young people, we developed their understanding of the cultures and countries migrant children have relocated from. We also presented real-life stories from the people affected, helping children step into the shoes of refugees and asylum seekers.”

“Our work has helped parents and teachers increase their understanding around immigration and built their confidence to address racial and social injustices. They say they feel much better equipped to support children in need and tackle challenges like right-wing rhetoric. The sessions we held with pupils also had a big impact. Parents have told us about children continuing to talk about what they’ve learnt at home, long after the sessions have finished.”

“For the refugees we’ve been working with, this project has given them a voice. A voice to talk about who they are, and their life experiences that have brought them to Cumbria.”

There’s more work to do, but the community feels empowered to make positive change.

“Attitudes to immigration are always changing, so our work isn’t done. But thanks to funding from Cumbria Community Foundation, the teachers, parents and pupils we’ve worked with all feel empowered to make a difference in their community. And the resources we’ve created are free to access and available for schools to use in the future.”

The CDEC community education programme was funded by the Beeby Family Fund (£5,000), Barrow Community Trust Funds Grants (£1,168) and Community Resilience Fund (£4,639).