Thursday, July 24, 2014

STARs Get Ready for the Bright Year Ahead!

STAR committee members met in London last month to start making preparations for running their STAR groups for this coming year. Couldn’t make it or just interested in what went on? Check out our highlights from the day!

image

STAR National Volunteer and MA Geography student at King’s College London, Tom Jessop, writes about his experience at STAR Committee training 2014

On Saturday the 14th of June newly appointed committee members from STAR groups across the UK gathered in London for STAR’s annual committee training event. Jam-packed with a range of talks and activities led by the STAR national team and featuring guest appearances from the likes of Maurice Wren of the Refugee Council, STARs from Reading to Nottingham and from Sussex to Leeds came together to learn about refugees and to share their exciting plans for the coming year.

image

Kicking the day off with a bang, STAR’s chief executive, Emma Williams, alongside STAR national team members Emily Crowley and Jack Hansen, welcomed the STARs by talking about the asylum system in the UK. Among the key facts, Emma talked about how almost 24,000 asylum applications were made in the UK during 2013 and about how asylum seekers in the UK are forced to live on just £36.62 per week. Emma went on to talk of all the fantastic achievements made by STAR groups throughout the last year. We saw more than 200 events held across the UK and a total of 590 volunteers gave up their time to support more than 2,000 refugees across a broad range of volunteer projects from homework clubs to English conversation classes. STARs, you are brilliant!

imageimage

We were then lucky enough to be joined by Maurice Wren, Chief Executive of the Refugee Council, who delivered a fascinating talk on the problems currently faced by refugees and on the opportunities that refugee activists have to achieve maximum impact for refugees and asylum seekers this coming year. Speaking of the success of the recent UK-wide Syrian resettlement campaign, Maurice highlighted why the work of STAR student groups is so fundamentally important to those seeking refuge in the UK. Thanks to the sustained campaigning, countless letters written to MPs and the overall hard work of STAR and other charities, the UK government is now starting to resettle Syrian refugees.

image

Talking of STAR he said, “the image of STAR, for those outside the organisation, is of a very dynamic movement that’s engaged, active, well-coordinated and targeted”, and went on to thank STARs for their efforts and for all the great work they have been involved in. Go STARs!

Giving advice about what STAR groups might want to think about over the year ahead, perhaps his most interesting recommendation was that “although convincing the hostile, the sceptical or the agnostic is important, I think more importantly for us as activists, is finding ways of mobilising those who are already sympathetic, but are not active”.

He concluded with some short but fitting advice for STARs to take away: “lets celebrate our successes, lets apply those lessons that we’ve learnt, and lets get stuck in”.

Following a tasty lunch, the STARs took part in a series of interactive workshops. These offered a great opportunity for committee members to talk about their plans for campaigning, volunteering and running their respective STAR groups, and enabled STARs to share and take away some fab ideas from other groups. The STAR national team were on hand to give loads of great tips on anything from how to run a freshers fair stall to how to coordinate an effective volunteering project. We loved listening to all of your ideas and can’t wait to hear about all the sleepouts, cake sales, speaker events and movie nights you have planned!

imageimage

A short break and a star-shaped group-photograph later (STARs you are looking good!), the day continued with an inspiring talk on the Equal Access campaign. Talking of the phenomenal progress made during the year by STARs at universities across the country, in campaigning for equal access to higher education for asylum seekers and refugees, STAR’s Jack Hansen talked about what STAR groups can do to keep momentum going in the right direction. Get in touch with Jack if you need any help with campaigning.

imageimage
imageimage

Shrouk El-Attar, NUS Wales International Students’ Officer, and Gamu Sadomba, who is soon to become one of STAR’s trustees, then shared their personal experiences as refugees coming to the UK, and gave powerful talks on the task ahead in the campaign for Equal Access. Speaking of why the campaign is so fundamentally important, they explained that although we have come a long way, refugees and asylum seekers are still denied their right to education and that until Equal Access is achieved, we have a great deal of work still to do.

image

One student called the Equal Access talks the highlight of their day, commenting: “I found Shrouk and Gamu very inspiring”, whilst another added that it was “nice to see people so passionate about what they are doing”. Make sure to get in touch with Jack if you need any support with your group’s Equal Access campaigning.

image

The final talk of the day was led by STAR’s Emily Crowley, who talked about ‘How to Change Minds and Win Support’. She encouraged students to think about how they might do this and advised them of some of the creative and exciting ways to go about growing their STAR networks. The most important advice Emily gave to STARs looking to recruit new members and win support was to know your facts, be confident but calm and be prepared to listen.

Looking forward, STARs talked of their excitement for the coming year and of their goals. One student said “we hope to to gain more support within the uni and get some more sustainable volunteering”, and another noted that they hoped to “make [their] volunteering groups more effective for the refugees and asylum seekers that use them”.

As a newbie to STAR, I took a great deal from attending committee training and found the whole day fascinating. I guess you could call it a crash-course in everything STAR! Though I learnt a great deal, what impressed me most was the attitude of every STAR member I met. You were so positive and inspiring! Your commitment to welcoming refugees to the UK, and the time and effort you all dedicate to the cause is something you should all be incredibly proud of!

image

Posted by STAR team on 24/07/2014 at 10:37 AM