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Six MK schools sign up to become Refugee Welcome Schools

At a breakfast launch of the Refugee Welcome Schools initiative on Thursday 29th November, hosted by Grant Thornton LLP and Dentons LLP UKMEA, six MK schools committed themselves to achieving Refugee Welcome Schools accreditation.   These included two mainstream secondary schools, two mainstream primary schools and two supplementary schools.

This initiative promotes and supports a new standard for the awareness, welcome and action, which a school pledges to undertake in support of refugee and other new students in their school.

40 people from 18 institutions attended the event, which was organised by Citizens:mk, in partnership with NASUWT, and co-chaired by Kurshida Mirza and Hala Afify, members of the Citizens:mk Leadership Group.

Cllr Martin Petchey, Mayor of Milton Keynes Council (pictured above), which has welcomed 16 Syrian refugee families to MK under the government’s VPRS scheme since 2015, opened the proceedings by referring to recent news of serious bullying of refugee pupils at a school outside Milton Keynes (read full story).

Testimonies were then heard (through volunteer interpreter Jamila Kaouri) from three Syrian mothers and one teenage daughter, who have recently settled in MK, about the traumatic conditions of school provision in Syria compared with the warm welcome and access to services provided by Milton Keynes.This was followed by three students from St. Paul’s Catholic School (pictured above) talking about why they feel compelled to campaign for a warm welcome from their school community.

Support worker Kerri Chana of British Red Cross (pictured above), and Hasnain Datoo and Shelina Meghji of Building Bridges MK (pictured below),  then spoke about the importance of supporting refugees and asylum-seekers with English language translation and teaching.

Kerri said:  “Our volunteers have a range of different roles.  There are caseworkers, administrators, orientation project workers and English language teachers.  They are all community members who are using the British Red Cross volunteering role to make a positive difference to the experience of newly arrived families.”

Fred Grindrod, Principal Official of NASUWT, a Refugees Welcome Partner (pictured above),  spoke of the international movement to support refugee children and the importance to NASUWT of its partnership with Citizens UK.

Jess Maddocks of Citizens UK explained that the Refugee Welcome Schools accreditation process was straightforward, quoting from the experience of Saint Gabriel’s College in south London, and said she could be contacted for further information about it.

Then pledges were received from MK schools (main picture above) as follows:

  1. commitment Refugees Welcome Schools accreditation – Brooklands Farm Primary School (pledge received before the event), Jubilee Wood Primary School, St. Paul’s Catholic School, The Radcliffe School, Al Ajyad Supplementary School, Middle Eastern Language School (pledge received at the event of the event).
  2. commitment to discuss this at Senior Leadership Team meeting – Lord Grey School, MK College, Shenley Brook End School, Southwood Primary School (pledge received before the event).

Finally Tim Finch (pictured above), Director of the Sponsor Refugees project created by Citizens UK, and Paul Eedle (pictured below), Community Sponsorship Ambassador of Muswell Hill Methodist Church in North London, talked about the benefits of Community Sponsorship and how a school community might embrace this opportunity.

In post-action evaluation, the event was given a score 8/10, with praise for the turnout and criticism of directions about parking arrangements and lack of working microphone.

Accountability Assembly 2017 pledges to build bridges, not walls

259 individuals from 18 member institutions staked their claim in Citizens:mk for the year ahead and heard pledges of commitment from power-holders to build ‘bridges, not walls’ between MK’s diverse communities in this, its 50th birthday year.

Mayor Steven Coventry shook the hands of each member institution’s representative as they came up to call out their institution’s commitment – people brought and dues paid – for the year ahead.

The Assembly were shown a video of the MK Council Leader’s apology for absence and accountability for actions he has taken over the past year – click here to see the video.

Jo Astor of Network Rail pledged to host the biggest-yet Living Wage Business Breakfast at Quadrant:mk on 7th November 2017,   “We plan to welcome 50 Living Wage employers,” she said, “and wish the Citizens:mk campaign team every success in achieving that target.”

Having earlier performed a mime of ‘building bridges, not walls’ to John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ song by the Youth Choir of Church of Christ the Cornerstone, the pupils of Summerfield Primary School performed ‘We Built This City’ (pictured above) to great applause.  “I just wish we’d all got up and danced to that one!” said Carmel Schmid, a seasoned Citizens:mk campaigner, after the event.

Harry Smith, Year 9 pupil of MK Academy, asked The Parks Trust to meet in June with members of the Redways Relaunch campaign team to plan the cutting back of bushes on the Redways to increase students’ sense of safety.  In response, Alex Chapman, a trustee of The Parks Trust, said:  “We are willing to be  part of your campaign and initially help each school identify which of their Redway landscaping concerns we can help with.   We will listen and respond quickly to any suggestions from Citizens:mk for ways we could make improvements to Redways in our responsibility.”

Following testimony from external guest Olumuyiwa Adekunle, the Fight Against Hate campaign team gave local testimony and secured important pledges from power-holders, all of whom then signed a ‘Fight Against Hate charter:

  • from Arriva Buses, to run a hate crime awareness raising poster campaign on MK buses.
  • from Pam Weston of Summerfield School, to run a schools poster competition to raise awareness of hate crime.
  • from Liz Gifford of MK Council, to host a peer support meeting for victims of hate crimes in MK.
  • from Supt Vince Grey of Thames Valley Police, to plan a restorative justice event.

Tyrone Blackford-Swaries (pictured above), recently appointed Director of MK Mental Health Services, heard testimonies and agreed to work with the Citizens:mk Mental Health campaign team, meeting quarterly, to help achieve its goals.

Leaders from the three largest political parties in MK Council – Labour, Conservative and LibDem, also pledged support for Citizens:mk’s campaigns 2017-18 and signed the Fight Against Hate charter.

In an evaluation session immediately after the event, this year’s Assembly scored 7 out of 10.