BUILDING cultural bridges of the aim of a new scheme.
The Regional Refugee Forum (RRF) has started a project to link public and private services and the different ethnic groups now living on Wearside.
Sunderland University will also work with the three-year Changing Lives programme.
Staff and students will be involved in setting up meetings between relevant service providers, and representatives from some of the city’s ever-growing number of ethnic communities.
RFF’s project manager Herbert Dirahu hopes the project can make life better for everyone in Sunderland, especially those who have come from abroad and may otherwise struggle to access essential services.
“This is a project to empower refugee-led community organisations, so they can access services and also advocate for positive changes which supports their communities,” he said.
The meetings will encourage people from different backgrounds to talk openly and comfortably about their culture, and needs from different services.
Rick Bowler, a senior lecturer in community and youth studies at Sunderland University, that was the best way for people to gain a better understanding of one another.
“Often, there is an idea that only ethnic minority groups have culture, but that is not true, we all have culture.
“Some services can struggle to deal with people from outside their own cultural norms.”
Mr Bowler gave an example of Bangladeshi elders, who will often need family members such as their daughters to translate for them when they see their doctor, something he says is inappropriate, despite being well-intentioned.
“This is an example of a service trying to meet a resource need without really thinking it through,” he added.
Far from problems arising as a result of ingrained racism, Mr Bowler believes a fear of causing offence and a desire to be polite can stifle inter-cultural understanding.
“People don’t often know quite what to say to somebody.
“Some can feel it’s a problem to ask somebody what they need in a certain situation but in reality, how else can we ever learn about each other?
“This exciting project is about trying to find an easy way to cross those uncomfortable barriers.”