Working Together & Learning Together – a Partnership approach with Northumberland Syrian Families

Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust

Contact: Emma Bell -


With a budget of £640 million, Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust provides a wide range of health and care services to support more than 500,000 people living in Northumberland and North Tyneside. We’re an integrated organisation, providing acute and community care, as well as adult social care on behalf of Northumberland County Council. Our ambition to enhance staff and patient experience together, as part of an integrated approach, has the potential to reach a great number of people: we provided care to more than two million people in 2019. We are also one of the North East’s largest employers with 9500 dedicated members of staff. Northumbria has been rated as Outstanding twice by the CQC in the last 5 years.

General Summary

The resettlement of families that have fled violence and terror is a life that is unimaginable to most. Leaving such violence to settle in a new country after witnessing such atrocities should in theory, be a positive experience, however, being placed in a community that has little cultural understanding of that journey and no shared language, it can be fraught with anxiety and trepidation.

This programme grasped the nettle by the root and sought to understand what truly mattered to the Syrian refugees. It worked side-by side with the families to help understand what would bring more joy to their lives and to support them in having a community where they felt safe and could thrive again.

Community Culture Northumberland – a Role Models programme for BAME communities reached out a friendly hand to those struggling, and shared the privilege of watching families learn and grow.

We started with scared and vulnerable families, but through trust, community spirit and love, we are no longer separate communities, but rather one big extended family with 15 proud Syrian role models leading the way for their family and friends.


Northumberland has a Black Asian Minority Ethnic community that is significantly lower than the national average (1.56%). Countywide consultation revealed prejudice and a lack of empathy for the BAME community. At this time, the Syrian refugees had begun to resettle in the area and this had created some community tension. Our aim was to create a community role models programme so that the refugee families would have members of their community to turn to for mentoring, support and social connections. It was also the intention to work with the role models and local communities to build cohesion and trust. This was very important to the refugees as they felt quite isolated and unsettled, particularly when first arriving. Residents living in Northumberland had been influenced by negative media and had little understanding and an inaccurate perception of the refugees and their journey. The refuge families wanted desperately to integrate and be accepted by the community but with a lack of shared language and some cultural differences, this had become difficult.


We started by spending time with the refugees to understand what their journey had been like and to see what they would like to do to help them settle in the area. Our first surprise was that the families had been scared to come to England. They had been told a lot of false information in the camp and had feared their arrival. The false information included stories told to the mothers of how their children would be removed and horror stories about how they would have to sleep on a floor with 8 other families.

Slowly, our trust began to build and we established what the families wanted – to become role models by creating a video clip which would be shown to new refugee arrivals; so that no- one had to be afraid when they landed and so they could get an understanding of their surroundings.

We worked in partnership with the local authority that was responsible for housing, education, training and transport. We also worked with the big lottery to secure funding for the role models programme including the DVD clip. Finally, we worked with Northumberland Sport that helped fund the very first Northumberland Refugee football team named El Namur (check spelling of this???)

When creating the film clip, the families were able to share their experiences of life before England and how much it had improved since leaving the camp. They shared positive stories of their healthcare treatment, images of their houses and highlighted how safe and happy they now felt. This filled many of them with pride and shortly after, several members of the refugee community (including children) took their role model status and began presenting at conferences, talks for health and local authority as well as delivering workshops to those who wanted to gain a better cultural understanding of their lives.

Being able to be part of this programme had a significantly positive impact on self-esteem and many of the young boys, young men and dads joined together to form their first football team. This was taken very seriously and very competitively!


The community gained a much greater cultural understanding of the refugee’s journey and lives. Strong bonds grew between the families and residents with beautiful exchanges of sharing foods and recipes. The 15 role models became informal leaders and along with others, took part in the video clip which is show to new arrivals. Furthermore, the role models presented at the first Community Culture Northumberland Conference and delivered a workshop to over 100 delegates. The measurement was the increase in self esteem. Families reported feeling unsafe upon arrival and afraid. After the programme and work with the resettlement team, the families developed a strong fondness for Northumberland and began to thrive. Language skills increased, children began attaining high grades at school and some of the men secured both voluntary and paid employment.

Furthermore, due to the trust that had been established, families accessed healthcare services. Those with medical conditions received timely and appropriate treatment and those wishing to prevent ill health accessed stop smoking services and weight management programmes.

The refugee community has continued to role model this for new arrivals. Rather than continue to work intensely with the families, we felt it was far more empowering to allow them to carry out the good work within their own community. We still maintain good relationships with the families and are always available for additional support if needed.

Standing Out

Its heart and its ears. We were lead by what truly mattered to the refugee families. We had a plan of what we hoped to do and we scrapped that and went with what they felt was important to them. We truly listened and showed our respect for them by acting on what they wanted us to do. We didn’t make any assumptions and were open to learning. What made it different was that we were willing to scrap our plan, recognise that the families knew much better than us what would work, and went with their ideas. This in turn helped them to flourish; it was a truly beautiful partnership.

Key Learning Points

It’s okay to scrap it and start again. Be humble in your approach – we don’t need to know all the answers all of the time. Cultural understanding is so important. Admit if you don’t know and be willing to learn. Find a Community Leader who already is respected. Invest your time and be prepared to answer some tough questions. You must give a lot to earn the respect of those who have travelled a difficult journey. Finally, be willing to learn. If you do that with an open heart, you will receive so much more than you could ever imagine

Watch the Presentation Here!