The New Beginnings Project supports asylum seekers and refugees to integrate into life in Sheffield through volunteering, employment, education and mentoring. Our Introduction to Co-design for members, staff and volunteers helped New Beginnings involve members more in designing and running activities, and co-produce solutions and plans to improve the overall project.
New Beginnings had secured three years of additional funding from the National Lottery. They needed to start their next chapter by working out how refugees and asylum seekers could get more out of the project.
They’d found that people really valued opportunities to share their culture and interests through social activities, and they wanted to provide more ways for people to use some of the funding to set up and lead things themselves.
While New Beginnings events were really popular, applying for asylum meant that people often had to drop out to deal with urgent life admin. Knowing about co-design as a concept, they asked us to develop a way to approach these challenges, involving members and working out a solution together.
What we did
We worked with the New Beginnings team to design and deliver a full-day Introduction to Co-design workshop that included:
- Training in co-design methods and mindset
- Testing out key techniques
- Using these to develop a plan for next steps
Reflecting our belief in the value of learning by doing, and in the co-production principle of getting people together and working outside of the roles that they usually occupy, we assembled a group from New Beginnings that was an equal mix of members, staff and volunteers.
There were some concerns that language, cultural differences and stressful life circumstances might make it difficult for everyone to be present at the same level. We designed the agenda around the idea of openness and mutual support, so that everyone present could help each other to feel safe and comfortable together and share what was important to them.
We then followed up with an additional workshop to include more people and add more shape to the plans that were being developed. This session was co-facilitated by the New Beginnings team, using skills and techniques introduced in the first workshop.
“I joined the participation group to get to meet new people and to give ideas as well as listen to others. I also wanted to learn to be confident speaking in a group”Participation group member
By the end of the two sessions, we had achieved:
- a series of ideas for practical solutions to long-term sticking points in the project which had been produced and could be owned by the group
- a collaboratively developed plan for what should happen next
- a room-full of people who really felt they’d shared something meaningful together
The subsequent impact of the sessions has been considerable, resulting in a growing participation group who plan and arrange workshops, visits and trips for other members (38 events and activities took place in 2019/20). Even through the pandemic and lockdowns, the group ran sessions and activities online.
“When the group started I thought, I can be part of making a change in our community and have my voice heard by people who wanted to listen to it. It was an opportunity to be part of a family”Participation group member
Working together with groups of people with such diverse roles, cultural backgrounds and personal circumstances can be intimidating for less experienced facilitators. The methods we used in this project to establish trust and psychological safety, and to quickly start working productively together, are just as valid with a board of trustees or a staff team as they are with a group of refugees and asylum seekers.
By making it an enjoyable and enriching experience for everyone who takes part, you can demonstrate some reciprocity and give something back in return for the immense value and creativity that people add into a session like this, so that everyone leaves feeling like they’ve not just been listened to, but that they are an equal part of whatever happens next.