In October The Spectator will be heading to Manchester for Conservative party conference for the first time in two years, after last year’s event was cancelled because of the pandemic. While the return of party conferences is a welcome sign that things are finally getting back to normal, it’s also a reminder of the damage that Covid and its lockdowns caused over the last year and a half.
Charities were hit hard by the pandemic facing closures after being unable to fundraise or campaign. That’s why The Spectator has decided this year to donate all the ticket money for our events at conference to a charity based in Greater Manchester: Caritas Salford’s Refugee Education Programme.
Our first event, for example, is an interview with Dominic Raab, the Deputy Prime Minister, himself the son of a Czech refugee. So it seems fitting that the ticket money for this event is used to help people like his father starting a similar journey now.
Every weekday night the Caritas’ refugee programme runs a school for over 150 adults in central Manchester who come to the centre to learn English and to receive mentoring and referrals to counselling. The classes are for everyone, from absolute beginners with no prior qualifications to doctors and engineers who are almost fluent but need to pass their English exams before they can work in this country. The centre is not just a school, but the centre of a community that supports those who often have no money, family or friends in this country.
Since it began, the programme has largely been run on a shoestring. It only has six members of staff and mainly relies on a small band of volunteers who give up their free time to teach classes. Yet last year – even during the pandemic – it still managed to help 72 of its students into work or higher education. Already this year, refugees from Afghanistan who are hoping to build a new life in Britain are being enrolled.
The students who come to the Caritas programme are arguably the perfect examples of what Michael Howard once called the ‘British Dream’. Facing persecution in countries like Afghanistan, Syria, Iran and Sudan, they have made incredible sacrifices to reach Britain, often putting their own lives in danger on the way. Now in Britain, these students have decided to study at night classes to improve their English so they can work or study and better fit in. They are motivated, hard working and desperate to make a life for themselves and contribute to our society. In other words, exactly the kind of people our country should be welcoming with open arms.
Take Musaab, who came to Britain after fleeing the conflict in Sudan in 2015. Forced to leave his wife and family behind in Sudan, he crossed the Mediterranean in a tiny boat and was rescued by the Red Cross after six days at sea, before coming to Britain via Calais. He arrived at the Caritas centre when he was destitute, enrolled at the school, eventually began volunteering at the centre himself and then went on to get a first class degree in accounting and finance. He’s now working in banking and still volunteers at the centre in his free time.
There are countless other such stories. Those interested can find out more at spectator.co.uk/caritas. Those who want to donate can leave a message asking for their donation to go to Caritas Refugee Education.