Back in August, we were approached by researcher Madeleine Mosse asking if she could come and talk to us about what we do, and observe a session. As Xenia is all about engaging and learning, we suggested that the best way for her to understand Xenia would be to come to a workshop and participate – and we’re so glad she did.

Five months later and Xenia attended the parliamentary launch of the British Academy report on ‘If you could do one thing… Local actions to promote social integration’ – a report containing recommendations to inform the government’s national integration strategy. These recommendations are formulated using learning from eight case studies of local best practice in social integration across the UK – of which Xenia is one. Chair of the British Academy project, Professor Anthony Heath CBE FBA said:

“It is often said that we live in a divided society, yet our research shows how small, local projects are already making difference to the lives of established and newly-arrived migrant communities across the UK.

“But it is clear that integration does not happen on its own. Social integration must be supported and planned, taking into account the diverse needs of specific communities and places.

“The Government’s forthcoming Integration Strategy must take account of the good work that is already going on. Only then can we build sustainable and cohesive communities, where people of all backgrounds are welcomed and supported.”

This research ‘highlights practical, evidence-based interventions which could be replicated in other parts of the country to improve relationships between communities of different ethnic backgrounds and to help new arrivals feel welcome.’ For us, it has been an important process of understanding our impact, connecting us to other projects, and delving into ideas about how we could share and influence. Here are a few highlights of this report for Xenia:

Evidencing impact. As part of the focus groups and questionnaires undertaken through this research, we have been able to evidence some of the impact we are having on women’s lives. For example, there is a correlation between the number of Xenia sessions a woman attends and her confidence speaking English in her everyday life. As a project driven by social interaction, it has been difficult for us to know how to measure our work – with Madeleine’s help we are now developing monitoring & evaluation tools to better evidence all the confidence, friendship and learning that goes on in our sessions.

Showcasing positive stories. Having the government take notice of positive projects and local actions is crucial to counteract the rhetoric of hatred and division in the UK as a result of political turmoil and the disastrous effects of austerity. All of the case studies and interventions featured in the reports are driven by local people feeling the need to take action, and we need the government to recognise that this is a key support for people falling through the gaps – and that these local projects need support.

Informing government integration strategy. Evidence-based approaches and recommendations are key to strategy, and we are proud to be able to inform the British Academy’s recommendations. One of the key lessons identified by the report, which we fully support and hope the government will take note of, is that social integration must be a two-way process, and that involvement of all members of the community regardless of birthplace or immigration status is crucial and can bring immeasurable positivity into local areas.

Case for replication. This report recommends that many organisers of projects in the case studies should be called upon to share their knowledge. We are in the beginning stages of developing strategies for Xenia to share our learning and our model, so that others around the country can use our resources and create communities with similar values to Xenia that are locally relevant. If you see a need for this in your community, please do get in touch.

Yesterday was special for many reasons, but the reason most special to us was that we were invited to bring a Xenia woman to the launch. Aysha arrived in the UK a year ago, and she has experienced depression and isolation as a result of family circumstances, how she feels people react to her wearing a niqab, as well as being unable to work due to not having adequate English language certifications and NVQs. You can read about Aysha’s story in the case study, but you will not see her in any of the publicity pictures as her Muslim faith means she does not like being photographed. Aysha has become a close friend to many at Xenia, and having the opportunity to bring her to the Houses of Parliament, to sit with her discussing democratic processes, talking about why all of the statues are of old white men, wondering how the mosaics, stained glass windows and stone carvings are upkept, and encouraging her to share her experiences with the academics and professionals in the room at the launch – that was the best part of it all.

You can read the full report and the case study about Xenia here: 

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