Another case study from the Basis Project. You can find more case studies on our website.
My name is Mathieu Kapasi and I’m the project manager of the Congolese Association of Merseyside. It’s a community organisation that was set up in 2004 and was registered as a company limited by guarantee in 2006.
You will have heard on the news what is going on in Congo – the UK is not the first choice for people coming from Congo because they are French speakers, but there is an opportunity for them to come to the UK and most of them were sent to Merseyside; many in the Kensington area of Liverpool. That is why we set up the organisation and based it here.
We set up the organisation because we found that many of our people from Congo face very hard challenges in UK society because of the language barrier and because their qualifications are not necessarily recognised in the UK. They don’t know where to go and how to solve those problems – that is why in 2004 a group of Congolese set up the organisation
I have not lived here for too long. I have been here for three years only. When I came to the UK the organisation was here but there was nobody to run it and I took on that responsibility to try to help Congolese people when they have immigration issues and show them how to contact mainstream services. That is why we set up the organisation.
My name’s Lee Omar and I’m the Organisational Development Officer for the Basis Project and I’m based in Liverpool. I’ve been working with the Congolese Association in Merseyside for around two years. When we first met we met in a room above a shop to talk about the aspirations and the aims of the organisation. They quickly let me know that they had a grand vision to help Congolese people integrate into the local Liverpool community. They saw a gap in the sector for someone to provide services and also be a link or a hub to refer Congolese people to the mainstream services.
As the organisation grew we noticed that people had another problem – not just the language problem but the skills problem as well. We are from Africa and there is not the same level of using IT as it is here. That is why we wanted to set up a project to help people to get into society by learning some basic skills in English. French, Maths and IT.
In 2008 Lee came to us because many Congolese people had contacted Refugee Action and he wanted to see if he could help us.
We worked together to develop good governance through training, and to develop robust systems around financial accounting. We looked at project development and developed a fundraising strategy which got rolled out over the next 12 months and saw the organisation move into their first small office. It was a small room about the size of a prison cell but it was on a main road which gave them a bit more visibility. Mathieu volunteered in this small office every day for a year or so. While he was there he built up some really good systems of good practice around managing the project – for example, everyone would sign in and there was excellent monitoring an devaluation. It was best practice for running a project and a community organisation.
They quickly grew out of this small room and moved into the centre we’re in today which is on one of the busiest high streets in the Kensington area. They’ve got the shop front and 12 computers in an IT suite where Mathieu, with his academic background, delivers training where people can get a qualification around IT. There are also English language classes and job skills classes where people can get help with their CVs and practice interviews. They’ve also helped people access placements – there have been quite a few people who have been through this centre and have now got full-time, contracted proper jobs.
I think this is the Congolese Community’s greatest legacy to this community. We’re in an area of high unemployment Jobs are scarce. And I’ve seen people who came to this centre 18 months ago speaking very little English and feeling very isolated get support from the organisation. It’s hand-holding at first – taking them to the Home Office to go through the legal requirements for a refugee. Then they start learning new skills and eventually the organisation helps them to be ‘employer-ready.’
That’s true integration, I think. Someone who has a job and can speak to their neighbour and colleagues.
It’s a great thing that they’re doing down here.
When we set up the organisation we didn’t think it would grow so quickly. We started with Congolese but now we work with many, many other communities. We try to accommodate everyone to help them solve their problems.
To give them advice, information and skills is not enough. The target for everyone is to find a job and our challenge is to link the organisation with the job development market to help find jobs for people.
For the organisation itself our aim is to move from a community organisation to a social enterprise. This is the way we are looking for the growth of the organisation.