Three West Midlands cities have started work on a major initiative to help the region's communities get the maximum benefit from migration.
It includes improving migrants’ and refugees’ sense of belonging by offering services including language classes, employment support and the chance to learn new skills.
In October 2017 the EU’s Urban Innovation Actions Fund awarded more than £4 million to Coventry, Birmingham and Wolverhampton for their ‘MiFriendly Cities’ project. The fund provides urban areas throughout Europe with resources to test new and unproven solutions to address urban challenges.
This West Midlands Combined Authority-backed initiative will see the three cities working with eight other partners - including Coventry University and its community interest company CU Social Enterprise - to roll out a three-year programme of activities designed in partnership with refugees and migrants and largely delivered by them.
Plans for the project include:
- a new hub in Coventry through which newcomers can get involved in community and social enterprise projects.
- a pop up furniture factory in Coventry and Wolverhampton to train people to upcycle 500 pieces of furniture to go into 100 home make overs for people in need;
- training up of 60 health champions in migrant communities, to help point fellow migrants and refugees to important health services they often struggle to reach and regular language classes delivered with the support of student volunteers from the cities’ universities
- the establishment of Social Enterprises to support employment for the wider community, with a focus on migrants and refugees;
- a £70,000 social enterprise fund and £80,000 fund for grassroots projects
- specific work to promote rights awareness and undertake legal health checks among migrants and refugees, with a focus on paths to citizenship for children and young people;
- training over 100 refugees and migrants as citizen journalists and citizen scientists to engage with the media, share their stories, and help evaluate the MiFriendly Cities initiative;
- further 300 refugee and migrant participants to be recruited onto an OCN National accreditation in introduction to digital manufacturing course through city’s Fab Lab, a key skills need for local industry.
Coventry City Council is leading a consortium of 11 partners on the project, including Birmingham City Council, Wolverhampton City Council, Coventry University (and CU Social Enterprise), Coventry Refugee and Migrant Centre (CRMC), Central England Law Centre (CELC), the Refugee and Migrant Centre Black Country and Birmingham, (RMC), MigrationWork, Migrant Voice and Interserve.
The West Midlands is the most diverse region in the UK outside Greater London – and the second most diverse in the European Union – with over 100 languages spoken daily within its borders.
On the award of this grant, Councillor Abdul Khan, deputy Coventry City Council leader, said:
“Coventry has a long and proud history of opening it arms and welcoming people who choose to make the city their home. I’m delighted with this award and I’m excited about the projects it will help deliver not just in Coventry but across the West Midlands. The MiFriendly Cities project recognises the valuable contribution refugees and migrants make to our communities and how we can all benefit from their integration.”
Coventry University Vice-Chancellor, John Latham, said:
"It’s testament to the rich diversity and pioneering work of the West Midlands region that our leading cities are attracting this level of funding from Europe to act as models of good practice in helping migration benefit everyone. I’m quite sure I speak for all involved when I say we’re proud to be reaching out a welcoming hand to migrants and refugees, and to be creating an example for other areas of the country, and the continent, to follow.”
Nazek Ramadan, director of Migrant Voice, said:
“After a recent parliamentary report explained how the tone of some of the media debate on migration is damaging integration, it’s more important than ever that we pursue creative ways to challenge division and bring people together. When migrants are listened to and our contribution valued the whole community benefits.
Sue Lukes, chairwoman of MigrationWork, said:
“De-industrialising cities across Europe are grappling with a range of challenges, including migration. This project offers cities in the West Midlands a fantastic opportunity to learn from each other, as well as other European cities, about how best to tap into the creativity and innovation of their migrant citizens.”
Toni Soni, centre director, Coventry Refugee and Migrant Centre said:
“This project will provide opportunities for all communities to engage in improving social cohesion and integration, and helping to build a more united and prosperous future for the region. We are delighted to be part of it.”