On Thursday 24th June 2021, Fircroft College became the first college in Birmingham to officially receive its College of Sanctuary award from the nationwide organisation, City of Sanctuary. The application process is justifiably rigorous. City of Sanctuary describes a College of Sanctuary as: “…..a FE college that helps its students, staff and wider community understand what it means to be seeking sanctuary and to extend a welcome to everyone as equal, valued members of the college community. It is a college that is proud to be a place of safety and inclusion for all.”
Working with sanctuary seekers in new communities in Birmingham and the West Midlands is nothing new to Fircroft, an adult education college that embraces diversity and maintains the same ethos of social justice as its founder, George Cadbury Jnr. In recent years, Fircroft has worked extensively with refugees and those seeking settled status, including the delivery of a West Midlands Combined Authority course, Free Thinking, for those with lived experience. Not only does Free Thinking help to increase confidence, improve language and maths skills, teach employability skills including employment law but it also builds a mini community. The students enter Fircroft on their first day, unsure of what they are signing up to, and leave after ten weeks as each other’s confidants, supporters and lifelong friends, with ambitions of progressing to greater things. Fircroft intends to increase the frequency of these courses in the future. The latest course finished 23rd June this year.
The college has also delivered extensive ESOL courses to those seeking sanctuary, including acting as a delivery partner for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) community based Talk English project ending in 2020 and providing online ESOL courses throughout COVID-19.
Fircroft was established in the early 20th century by George Cadbury Jnr. who began the college by educating his workforce during their lunch breaks with the college eventually being housed in his old family home in Selly Oak, Birmingham. Fircroft remains in the original building, surrounded by 6 acres of landscaped gardens and is seen by its students as a little oasis of calm, hidden away from the busy Bristol Road. The college is seen as a temporary place of sanctuary for many of its students, some of whom have been through past challenges and are seeking to change their lives through education. Since COVID-19, the college has seen a large increase in applications for personal and social development courses, including those focusing on stress, anger management and mental health.
Mel Lenehan, Fircroft’s Principal and CEO says “It is a great honour to receive College of Sanctuary status which demonstrates our commitment to people from all parts of the community. Everyone has the right to live a life free from fear, prejudice and persecution and Fircroft is a place that gives its students confidence and skills that enable them to move forward in life”.
Yasir Wahbi, Treasurer to Birmingham City of Sanctuary, was pleased to hand over the award and said “Listening to the Free Thinking students’ lived experience and how passionately they feel about their time at the college, this is what College of Sanctuary is all about. It is a pleasure to recognise Fircroft as a College of Sanctuary and we are looking forward to hearing news of their projects and work with new communities in the future”.
Nick, a Free Thinking student who finished his course recently said “When we all came to Fircroft we were all very afraid and nervous, unsure of what to expect. The course started and we all realised we had been through similar experiences and we could understand each other. We have become real friends through this course and we are now ready to move forward into the future”.