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Fircroft College in Selly Oak – the first Birmingham College of Sanctuary

At a ceremony at the end of June,  Fircroft College became the first college within Birmingham to officially receive its College of Sanctuary award. Working with sanctuary seekers in new communities in Birmingham and the West Midlands is nothing new to Fircroft, an adult education college which 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 on 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 is located in its original building in an old Cadbury family home in Selly Oak, 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 who 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”.