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Training Document for Speak Street Refugee Program

For trainers of new volunteers and Refugee Support Officers:

Trainings to be held every three months at the Centre for Migrants and Refugees in Islington for Skill donors assigned to Street Speak by Creatives Against Poverty. Volunteers from other groups also welcome.

Session setup

In an ideal scenario, divide session into groups and have each group perform two real life quagmires for the whole groups. Take comments, concerns suggestions and positive feedback. If there is very little time, the session leader/s should read out quagmires and discuss possible responses. Seating should be arranged in horseshoe, with the facilitator/trainer in the centre.


Session introduction

CAP trainer 1: Welcome to your training session! You've been part of our skill donor program for a few sessions now so we thought it's time we had a session to relflect on what we have all learnt here. We have had several heart warming moments with refugees making stirring speeches, and making endearing statements on their experiences as they find their footing in a new place, thanks you for being part of this process.

CAP trainer 2: However, as with any human interaction, there were many moments in the program where we were stuck for words or unsure about the right response as the refugees and asylum seekers we work with become more confident and ask more pointed questions.


Sharing Session

But first: a sharing session: This is where we sit together and share what we know, how we feel and get clarifications. No question or answer is wrong, every comment helps us learn and grow from your sharing of your experiences.

Ask: What is Speak Street? What is it they do?

Ask: What do we hope to achieve here together? (note responses on white board where possible).

Ask: what is your role as a volunteer? In two hours of your time what are you expected to do?

Take as many answers as possible.

All trainers please do manage your time, and check with host NGO or corporate partner how much time you have to train participants.

Format: Role play sessions

A large group (example 12 skill donors) will be divided into groups of three.

Role plays outlining situations that volunteers have come across over the last few months will be outlined and skill donors/volunteers will be given an opportunity to suggest possible responses to potentially challenging or even uncomfortable conversations that may crop up.

Write out note cards or print sheets with different role plays.

Use scenarios that reflect frequently encountered situations, modify if needed.

Divide groups into threes or fours, pairing experienced skill donors with new volunteers.



Role play example 1

Situation: Refugee student or beneficiary says, “Are you rich?”

Response: Always remember to remain calm. Take a moment, breathe, and smile. This question is often uttered as a playful challenge, or sometimes in genuine admiration, it is not meant to make you feel guilty. It is not an appropriate question but let us think how you can respond to it, without making the refugee feel humiliated.

Suggested Answers: Discuss your appropriate answer with your team, then perform as a role play, making two volunteers play refugees and one play the volunteer.

You could say: “I am fortunate to have enough to pay my rent and take care of my needs and allow me to take time out for volunteering and helping here.”

You could turn the question around and say, “How is this relevant to this session or to our relationship? Tell you what. If you can tell me how it is relevant, I will think about the answer. Do you know the meaning of relevant?” Use it an opportunity to discuss a new word and to emphasize that it is important to ask relevant and appropriate questions in any setting, in interviews and in other situations they may find themselves in.

Reality check: This happened to a volunteer on the Speak Street refugee support program and it make her uncomfortable. She ended up saying her father was a farmer, even though he wasn’t, the students kept pressing her to talk about her family and she felt guilty and mumbled an answer just to get past the question and back to English language practice.


Role play example 2

Situation: A student says, ‘listen, don’t tell anyone, but I overstayed my visa, and I am thinking of getting married to stay in the UK.” What do you do? Discuss responses as a team. Write these down. Discuss.

Response: Explain that you cannot keep secrets that could end up getting the student into trouble with the law, explain that as a volunteer you have a duty of care, and that secrets that result in harm cannot be honoured, and advise that student to tell Joanna as soon as possible.

Reality check: This happened to as at an English language session but the volunteer advised the person to leave the country as soon as possible given that she had a happy family and a safe country waiting for her back in her country of origin. The student has left and has gotten in touch with the volunteer via Instagram to say she is well and everything worked out. She did not get married, nor stayed illegally in the UK.


Role play example 3

Situation: The refugee you have been practicing English with realises you like to go to bars and clubs and you like to dance or that you listen to the same sort of music. During a discussion about festivals or events, the refugee asks if there are any free ones, and you happen to be playing a gig in a band and can invite the student. Or you have free tickets. The refugee student expresses an interest in coming along. The student has asked to ‘hang out’ outside sessions before. What do you do?

Response: If you have a situation where the refugee students are always asking you out to events or asking you to join them for tea, you could explain how you have to divide your time between work and family and/ or creative projects, but that you will see what you can do at the Speak Street project that is fun and social. Discuss responses as a team and write down your reasons for responding one way versus another.

Reality check: We have a responsibility to avoid creating unrealistic expectations that we may not be able to meet. If you invite the refugee student to your gig, or to hang out with your friends, you may indicate to the refugee student that you will spend the evening with them. If you have to juggle with different members of your family, or different sets of friends, the situation may leave the student feeling rejection, which they have to deal with a lot, just by default, because of their status as refugees. It is important to extend invitations in ways that you can meet expectations, and that remain comfortable for both. You may also suddenly, ad inadvertently create a feeling of resentment, with the other students wondering why they weren’t invited, or suddenly have all the refugee student group hoping for an invitation. Rather than single out any individual for attention, perhaps you can help the founder or session leader organise a picnic or event, like a graffiti walk or free concert that everyone can benefit from and where you can meet expectations. We have to stay focused on the goal of the program. You are here to share a laugh, exchange ideas and help with English conversation practice. You are in a boundaried relationship and here in the sessions, it is a horizontal and equal relationship. Out there in the real world, you may find yourself forced in a vertical relationship, particularly if the refugee student feels a sense of rejection or inadequacy because you tried to include that individual in a situation they are not prepared for.


Solution: Perhaps you are a meditation or yoga practitioner, or a juggler, or maybe you can lead an interesting walk, or maybe you’re a musician and can lead a musical session, or maybe you can come up games and icebreakers – whatever your skill, we can use it to create a fun environment for the refugee students. Let us know and lets figure out a way to match Speak Street's mandate for creating a social environment for the refugees to practice English in.



Role play example 4

Situation: You take the refugee group on a trip with Speak Street, and a student thinks someone across the street is looking at them in a way that will curse them or give them the evil eye. Or they think an object that we are looking at or pick up could be cursed by witchcraft. They become anxious and express views that could be perceived as paranoid.

Discuss appropriate responses and give reasons for choosing that response.

Situation: You are discussions a worksheet and one of the questions for refugees is, “`You have a heated argument with your boss at work, or your neighbour, she is getting very agitated and you notice that both voices are raised: What do you do?” One of the refugee students says, “Oh women always go a bit crazy because they get (possessed by) the evil spirit in them.”

He says it half in jest, you feel. What do you do?

Responses: We discussed this one with Joanna Bevan the founder of the Speak Street program, and we were delighted to hear her say that ‘to condone a sexist or discriminatory or homophobic remark is to condone it’ and to hear that we were on the same wavelength of wanting to gently confront this sort of comment in a way that allows the beneficiary or refugee student to see the negative impact they would have if they continued to think in this way or continued to harbour these views or continued to express such ideas. That is the first step in helping them decode their own prejudices or brainwash that may have resulted from years of societal interaction, these ideas may not be easy to overturn, and they will not disappear in a day, but we can help them realise that these ideas will be an impediment in their interaction with others in the UK who are respectful of gender, race, religion, ethnicity and are careful not to express/formulate/think of ideas that could be hurtful to others.



Role play example 4

Situation: The number of refugees is quite large and volunteer turn out is low, you are paired with four refugee student, and find yourself zigzagging through exercises because two of the refugee students are advanced and two need to take a lot of time to read and re read the questions. One of the advanced refugees keeps making disparaging remarks about the ones who are slower to formulate responses. The remarks are jocular, but you can see that they generate a certain amount of discomfort every time they are uttered. What do you do.

Responses: You must be careful not to allow this power imbalance to demotivate the students who are struggling. You must be respectful and expect others, beneficiaries or volunteers to be just as respectful of the fact that languages take time to absorb and everyone must be given that time. Discuss responses and try them out in role plays if there is time.

Reality check: This has happened several times on programs we have served at over the course of eleven years and across seven countries. The advanced students can sometimes take on a cocky or even sarcastic persona, boasting about their own achievements and belittling the progress of others. It may be because these students suffer from low self-esteem, deal with perceived failure or rejection elsewhere and are over-eager to celebrate their own achievements in this context. Still, it is not an excuse to humiliate anyone else. We must remain vigilante and shut this dynamic down immediately.

The most effective response I have tried: I stop the session and tell them a quick anecdote of how I feel when I am grappling with a new language in a new city (and I do a lot of that because I changed city fairly often as a journalist), Or I tell a quick story of what it is like to learn Italian in an attempt to engage with my partner’s family, and how difficult it is for me, and how much I enjoy listening to them talk, but how difficult it is for me not to have access to their ideas, and how helpless I feel when someone looks at me for a response, and how stupid I feel when I try to string the few Italian words that I do know, together, and realise who inadequate my response was. But I also tell them that I hope to persevere and that I am always grateful to those who are patient with me, and let me take my time, and I feel reassured when they repeat themselves, so that I can take a moment to understand each word and deduce the meaning, and I consider each person who takes that time my teacher.


Role play example 5

Situation: Student asks you to step out for a smoke, what do you do

Response: I am sorry, I don’t smoke during work hours/ I don’t smoke. Let us talk here.

Discuss responses.

Reality Check: You have committed to work at Speak Street as a skill donor at Creatives Against Poverty. You have two hours to support a maximum number of students. Ask yourself: Is stepping out for a smoke really necessary? We know that best practice in a program stipulates that you should work with students or beneficiaries in plain view of as many staff members as possible, so stepping out of a session or into a room and closing the door would be inappropriate in your role. It would also complicate matters if you were suddenly to be accused of misconduct, and we seek to protect you just as we protect the beneficiaries.

Situation: A student insists on asking for your number or email.

Response: discuss with session leader or founder, Joanna.

Reality check: Again, the issue is our ability to create unrealistic expectations. If it is to coach them on an interview for housing, or for help in helping them apply for another program, Joanna will probably agree to the interaction. Still, please be mindful that you are part of a program that someone has worked hard to set up, and that beneficiaries place a lot of trust in, and that every interaction you have should be in keeping with the overarching goals of that program, which is aimed at supporting vulnerable individuals which they practice English in a fun social environment, not befriending them or becoming their personal mentors.


Role play example 6

Situation: If someone seems particularly desperate to speak in private about a personal problem, please refer them discreetly to Joanna.

Responses: You may feel you are shirking the responsibility of a good citizen or volunteer or simply feel like you are betraying your instinct as a good human being, but please allow us to reassure you that your role is to support the individuals who sign up practice English with conversation and reading and comprehension skills and to help us create a safe space for them. You may or may not have the skills to support vulnerable individuals in any of the other ways that they might need. And if you do have a separate skill set, for e.g. if you are a certified life coach who happens to have worked at refugee camps for eleven years, we will still ask that you please discuss with Joanna, or the session leader how you can tailor these skills to this particular program.


Role play example 7

Situation: You wanted to commit to a weekly schedule but you can only work at the program once a month, are you still useful?

Response: Keep a diary and record your feedback and interactions, this way the volunteer going in the week after you knows what happened in the session. When you open a window into your own interactions with students you are helping to train all the volunteers who are able to fill in for you when you are away at work or on holiday.


Session end information

End with a ten-minute session where volunteers can share how they feel, what they need to better serve beneficiaries and then feed back to them what the program requires and how they are doing. Thank everyone for their valuable time, energy and enthusiasm.


Notes for session leaders:

Volunteers must not be given instructions or told what the solutions are, or lectured at. We consider volunteers a valuable, productive and interactive part of the design and delivery process of any program and feel their ideas, suggestions and contributions must be taken into consideration where appropriate. This will build a healthy volunteer force that a founder can rely on a consistent basis. Volunteers only take ownership of programs where they have a stake, and that having the ability to give input. Volunteers must be given guidelines, and then given a brief on the sort of complexities that arise as you support refugee students, drawn from real life experiences. We must respect the fact that even new volunteers bring with them a treasure trove of life experience that they could tap into to give us intelligent, kind, simple and elegant solutions the questions that can make us start, or cringe, or feel uncomfortable or cornered. Volunteers must take ownership of their training process and learn from each other’s experiences. New volunteers should be paired with experienced volunteers. 



Speak Street Safeguarding - Do’s and Don’ts


Beneficiaries, staff, volunteers, and all others who provide services for Speak Street.


Speak Street works to create a safe environment for all those participating in its work, and places safeguarding at the core of its services, activities, events, and practices.


Staff and volunteers will receive Safeguarding Training annually. Please read our safeguarding policy statement - a copy is available from our website.


Some of the Speak Street beneficiaries are vulnerable; many have suffered serious abuses of their human rights and are currently facing numerous challenges. All Speak Street personnel (volunteers, staff, and practitioners) should strive to follow best practice and agree to the following:


  • Be kind and respectful to all Speak Street beneficiaries, treating them equally and striving to support them within the activities and services of Speak Street.

  • Be professional and maintain a high standard of personal conduct at all times. Be friendly with beneficiaries, but not friends.

  • Unless it is part of your role, do not ask beneficiaries personal or sensitive questions. It is likely that you will meet beneficiaries who are facing specific difficulties in their lives. You should refer them to the session leader, who can refer them to suitable services.

  • Recognise the trust placed in Speak Street personnel by beneficiaries, and treat this trust with the highest sense of responsibility.

  • Encourage and respect beneficiaries' voices and views.

  • Work in an open and accountable manner at all times. Work in view of others whenever possible. Be wary of working alone or unobserved. If this isn't possible, make sure others are aware of where you are. Be willing to accept questions or criticism regarding good practice.

  • Expect others to work in an open and accountable way, and be prepared to question or criticise the practice of others if necessary.

  • Use appropriate and respectful forms of communication. Physical aggression, intimidation, verbal abuse, or persistent shouting are unacceptable. Any form of assault (e.g. hitting, kicking, pinching, slapping) will be reported.

  • Be aware of the possibility of peer abuse (e.g. bullying, discrimination, victimisation, or abuse of others) and be aware of and attempt to minimise harm caused by unequal power relations between beneficiaries.

  • Be inclusive and involve all beneficiaries, ensuring no biases on the basis of gender, ability, ethnicity, religion, or any other status.

  • Use appropriate language at all times. Do not swear and never make sexual or suggestive comments to others. If someone makes such comments, be ready to enforce these boundaries in your response.

  • Do not work under the influence of drink, drugs, or illegal substances.

  • Do not engage in any online activity that may compromise your professional responsibilities.

  • Use physical contact only where necessary. If contact is necessary (e.g. for first aid), explain what the contact is for and change your approach if he/she appears uncomfortable. If you need to comfort a beneficiary, use minimal contact (for example, hold a hand if necessary rather than a hug.)

  • Be aware of situations that may be misunderstood, such as being alone with a client in a room or car, which may make you vulnerable to allegations of misconduct.

  •  Do not take photographs or videos of beneficiaries, including on personal phones and cameras, without express permission from both the session leader and the beneficiaries.

  • Always be vigilant and aware of how actions can be misinterpreted by beneficiaries. Be aware of and respect each individual's personal space. Be aware that actions made with good intentions may seem intrusive or intimidating.

  • Physical relationships are not permitted between Speak Street personnel and beneficiaries.

  • Do not give out your email, phone number, or personal details without the permission of the Safeguarding Officer. Permission will only be given in exceptional circumstances.

  • Do not arrange to meet a beneficiary outside of Speak Street without the permission of the session leader or Director.


Reporting concerns


Take seriously any suspicions or allegations of abuse, and report any concerns (either verbally or non-verbally expressed by a client) to the session leader or Speak Street director.


The Speak Street management and session leads will ensure that:

  • A culture of openness exists to enable any issues or concerns to be raised and discussed.

  • Opportunities exist for staff and volunteers to feedback any concerns and receive training.

  • Work is planned and organised so as to minimise risks.

  • Beneficiaries are empowered and there is a discussion of their rights, what is acceptable and unacceptable, and what they can do if there is a problem.


This is not an exhaustive or exclusive list, so please talk to the Speak Street session leader or director if you have any further suggestions or concerns.

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