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Refugee and asylum seeker ukulele band brings festive joy to people living with dementia

  • Band formed from English language students – including people from Syria, Sudan and Iraq
  • Improves their English language skills while helping integration into the community
  • Part of Mayor Rotheram’s Test and Learn initiative which offers £2m attached funding for innovation in adult education

A ukulele band formed from refugees and asylum seekers brought festive joy to people living with dementia – while helping boost their own English language skills.

The group of English language students – including people from Syria, Sudan and Iraq – were joined by members of the Neston Strummers, who have been teaching the instrument.

The event was the latest from the Liverpool City Region Mayor Steve Rotheram and the Combined Authority’s pioneering Test and Learn initiative to encourage innovate ways to improve adult education.

Mayor Rotheram launched the scheme over three years ago to tackle local market failures for skills and has supported innovation in learning, addressing gaps and enhancing adult learning with over £2m per year or 5% of the devolved adult education budget.

Wirral Met College has used the Test and Learn funding to create a unique curriculum of events – including crown green bowls – to help refugees integrate into British life while boosting language skills.

The students played and sang festive classics, including Jingle Bells, in English, Spanish and Arabic, and recited a poem for the residents at Meadowcroft Community Wellbeing Hub, in Bromborough, Wirral.

Mayor of the Liverpool City Region, Steve Rotheram, said:

“Bringing people from all walks of life together through the power of music is what our area does best. While we know the real challenges that face our new residents as they settle into their new life, we want to try and help make that transition as easy – and enjoyable – as possible for them.

“Having control over how our adult education funding is spent locally means that we’re able to try out new and innovative ways of supporting people in their moment of need – and this pilot is a perfect example of that. We’re empowering people to start afresh and build a better future for their families – and immerse themselves in the communities they’re now a part of.

“Our region has been a sanctuary to people seeking refuge for centuries and it’s a legacy we’re proud to continue today. Our message is clear: the Liverpool City Region is open to all. We will give you the support you need to help you – and our area – grow.”

During the first year, a total of 31 pilot projects were funded by Test and Learn, widening participation in particular to include disadvantaged groups.

Almost 1,800 learners took part, costing less than for mainstream adult education but generating much more in social value.

The care home class was designed in response to this year’s Test and Learn theme of wellbeing.

It was created to help students learn through interaction whilst giving residents a boost with a live music singalong.

Sue Higginson, Principal of Wirral Met College said:

“It’s initiatives like these that show what it is to be a community. I am so proud of our ESOL students who continue to inspire all around them through the challenges they have faced and overcome to be here, with their love of learning, and openness to finding out more about the local area and developing new skills like playing the ukulele! But it is so much more – it is partnerships like these that our help our students settle in their new home and that’s why they are so valuable.”

Jenny Paton, Deputy Chief Executive of Age UK Wirral, said:

“Our clients thoroughly enjoyed the Christmas Carols and listening to the students playing ukuleles. We have been working with Wirral Met this year to build connections with their students helping them to understand the impact of Dementia, so it is lovely to see students and clients meet together in person.

“Our clients love the opportunity to engage with new people and the students have definitely brought the Christmas spirit with them today! Thank you for involving us in such a wonderful opportunity.”

Joanne Anderson, Mayor of Liverpool and Combined Authority Portfolio Holder for Education, Skills, Equality and Diversity, said:

“Test and Learn is producing some amazing results in adult education and this is a great example of what can be achieved when we think more creatively.

“Students who have come here from other countries are learning important language skills in real-life situations as well as integrating into the communities where they live.”