Syrian refugees are being given a helping hand to start a healthy life in Northumberland.
Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust is bringing together more than 50 refugee families through its community education programme to help people be healthy and feel part of the community.
Safwan Omar Agha and Arij Alnfawi and their four children were one of the first families to arrive in November 2016, after fleeing Syria to Lebanon due to the civil war and conflict.
Safwan, from Cramlington, said: “I came to Northumberland because my home wasn’t settled due to the war in Syria. Life was very difficult due to the bombing and fighting and I was very scared for my family’s safety.”
The trust’s education programme called Community Culture Northumberland, which is funded by Big Lottery, also supports Black Asian Minority Ethnic (BAME) and Lesbian Gay and Bisexual Transgender (LGBT) communities, as well as refugee families.
It involves developing local networks designed by and for refugee families, BAME and LGBT members of the community, to help address anxieties and feelings of isolation, and raise awareness of the range of NHS and local services available. This aims to help these communities to feel inclusive, happy, healthy and safe in Northumberland.
The trust has also delivered training and supported family members to volunteer as role models and share their experiences with other Syrian families moving to the area.
Sawfan, who volunteers as a role model to other families as part of the programme, added: “The people here have been very welcoming towards us.
“We used to hate our life, but now it is so much different and we want to help others to feel welcome in their new home.”
Health trainers at the trust also work with families as part of the programme to give advice about healthy lifestyle choices, including healthy eating, exercising and sexual health as well as safety in the home.
Tracy Bruce, health improvement specialist at the trust, said: “The programme is about bringing people like Safwan together with other families so they feel connected and regard Northumberland as a happy, healthy and safe place to live.
“We provide very practical support such as organised activities to local leisure facilities to give families the confidence to meet other people.
“We also worked with families to develop a football programme with other young people in the area after some families wanted to play football.
“It’s important that we provide services like this so that BAME and LGBT communities can access NHS services when they need them to enable refugees coming to the country feel welcome and know support is available to help them become part of their local e community.”
The trust works closely with Northumberland County Council which provides one-to-one support for refugee families including help registering with a GP and dentist, setting up utility bills, bank accounts, orientation of local area, finding schools and arranging English classes for adults.