Refugee Week 2023: Celebrating our Free thinking course for Asylum Seekers and Refugees

As a College of Sanctuary we were proud to celebrate Refugee Week 2023 by highlighting our Free Thinking course for new communities

Funded by the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA), our Free Thinking course, 10 weeks, residential – 3 days, 2 nights at the college each week – has been running for a number of years and is for refugees and asylum seekers from new communities living in the West Midlands, who have suffered trauma, modern slavery or trafficking. 

Our Free Thinking students are as motivated and hard-working as our other students, often bringing with them a back-story of challenge, hardship and injustice.  The difference with our Free Thinkers is that the barriers they have faced in life, the lack of opportunities given to them and the absence of support they have experienced before finding the path to Fircroft, has been in other countries. 

Added to that is the terror of persecution, fear and desperation that hopefully, our students born in the UK, have never experienced.  Our Free Thinkers, many of whom are refugees and asylum seekers, come from a range of different countries and at Fircroft they find friendship, support and people who really listen to them and see them as individuals, as well as learning new things.  Several of our current Free Thinkers are from a country that forbids free will. As a young person in that country you are expected to achieve the highest possible grades at school, college and university after which you are told what profession you will go into.  You are not allowed to have your own dreams and goals of what job you want to do and how your life will look, rather, you are dictated to.  It is very easy to say, or do, the wrong thing in this particular country, with imprisonment or death if the rules are broken.  Our two Free Thinking students, one who has a teaching degree and the other an engineering degree, accidentally went against the rules and realised they had to leave the country urgently to save their own, and their families’, lives. 

Another of our Free Thinking students is from a different country where he was subjected to modern slavery.  He was treated so badly he did whatever he could to escape, sometimes taking dangerous and life-threatening risks, to get to the UK. 

So how has Fircroft helped them?  All our Free Thinkers say we help them to create their own community.  They find they have things in common with fellow students and many of them form strong friendships by the time the course has finished.  They stay with us 3 days, 2 nights each week, where they escape their everyday lives to focus on themselves and their studies, including their ESOL (English language) classes.  They have our 6 acres of grounds to relax in and our course helps them to understand British culture and values, supporting them to feel more at home and welcome in the local community.  Importantly, we teach them that free will, freedom of speech and acceptance are things that we value and embrace in this country.  They also have English language lessons, as although their English is adequate, they are all keen to improve.

When our Free Thinking students are asked about how they feel living in this country, they all express extreme gratitude.  It is tempting to think that for the refugees and asylum seekers arriving in this country who are granted residency, that here their lives are relatively stress-free, comfortable and peaceful.  This may be true in some ways, but not in others.  A number of our Free Thinkers are staying in hostels and half-way houses, which can be stressful living conditions and they dream of one day being able to work and afford rent for their own accommodation.  Living in Birmingham, they say they feel lonely, everyone busily getting on with their own lives.  Although they are so thankful to live here, if things were different, they all say they would prefer to be back in their own country with family and friends.

Our Free Thinking students say that coming to Fircroft College gives them resilience, useful skills to help them progress and above everything, hope for the future.

A previous Free Thinker, Leticia, says “Now I feel strong.  I can keep going and I have learned to manage my stress about what happened to me before”.

Find out more about our Free Thinking course, how it has changed lives and how to apply, here.