Tom leads the way to welcome asylum seekers

Medical student Tom was determined to tackle the challenges that face asylum seekers and refugees who are making a new home in Sheffield. Read on to discover how his Global Community Basketball project used the universal language of sport to create a fun and welcoming space for some of the most disadvantaged members of our community.

I had the idea to set up a basketball project for asylum seekers and refugees in Sheffield around halfway through my medical degree. I had decided that I wanted to do some volunteering, and thought that I’d most enjoy combining it with my love of basketball.
I had initially wanted to volunteer with the city’s homeless population, but I realised that the benefits for asylum seekers and refugees may be even greater. I hoped the project would help its participants feel more welcome in their new home as they could meet a friendly group of students, some of whom would also be from overseas. Many newcomers are fit and keen to remain active. Time in the asylum system can, however, have a negative impact on physical and mental health as asylum seekers are not permitted to work and often find it difficult to access opportunities in society. This is in addition to the effect of traumatic experiences in their home countries. I hoped, therefore, that the opportunity for asylum seekers and refugees to play sport would benefit their overall health.
With support and funding from Sheffield Volunteering, we were able to begin sessions in September 2015. We arranged fortnightly sessions at a sports hall in the city centre. News of the project is spread throughout the city’s community of asylum seekers and refugees via Conversation Club and several charities including ASSIST, City of Sanctuary and the Archer Project. Our team of student volunteers aimed to create a fun, friendly, welcoming space for participants to enjoy playing basketball together.
There were several benefits for me in setting up this project. I learned a lot about the UK asylum system and felt part of my local community more than ever before. I feel privileged to have met people from all over the world and thoroughly enjoyed sharing my passion for basketball with them.
I was particularly touched by one experience during my time in the project. On a very rainy day, one of our participants walked for an hour to attend a session, getting completely soaked in the process! This was a clear demonstration to me that the project really had some value for the people we were working with, and provided a big inspiration for all of us at Global Community Basketball.
Tom’s project has now been developed into Global Community Football; a football club for refugees and asylum seekers in Sheffield. To find out more about Global Community football, read this blog written by one of last year’s project leaders, Ed!
Do you have an idea for a volunteering project? Find out how Sheffield Volunteering can help.