1 April 2010
Refugees and asylum seekers struggling to adapt to life in the UK attend Red Cross orientation centres to get friendly advice and support – and now, at one centre, even guitar lessons.
The refugee orientation project in Southampton helps new arrivals access essential services and puts them in touch with social groups. Some are destitute and need food and clothing; some need medical advice. Others have been granted refugee status but can’t understand the many forms they now need to fill out.
But there’s an extra benefit on offer in Southampton. Marilyn Leggett, a music teacher, is providing regular guitar lessons at the centre after being asked along by her friend, project leader George Brown.
Marilyn said: “George asked me if I could play guitar and I said yes, but then had a fit of giggles because I hadn’t touched one for about ten years. I thought the project sounded really worthwhile so I agreed. That was 18 months ago – and I’ve hosted guitar lessons at the weekly drop-in sessions ever since.
“I have seen the benefits to all who attend. One person, in particular, was initially a very angry young man – but after several guitar sessions, people remarked how they had seen a marked difference in him. I’d been able to help him and that’s what it’s all about.
She added: “It really has a calming, therapeutic effect on people and promotes learning together in a group. After learning a few simple chords, they can then take it in any direction they want to. The beauty of the guitar is that people can borrow the instruments and take them home to play within their own four walls.
And the refugees aren’t the only ones enjoying the weekly sessions. Marilyn said: “I really enjoy helping people, so I’m going to keep on volunteering with the Red Cross.”
Volunteer Laura Deacon has seen first-hand the difference these simple sessions have made. She said: “The guitar lessons help build a sense of self-belief and confidence among the refugees, and provide an outlet for their creativity.
“The players performed in front of the rest of the group at our last Christmas party, and it was great to see them really enjoying themselves and expressing their personalities.”
The Red Cross' orientation projects in Portsmouth and Southampton are supported by the Big Lottery Fund.
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