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Picture of our Hope United students

St Helens College’s refugee and asylum seeker football team, Hope United FC, took on Community All Stars, a team of town councillors and the community, as part of celebrations to mark Refugee Week.

The team of English for Speakers of Other Languages students, made up of players from countries including Iran, Sudan, Honduras, Senegal and El Salvador, have been training with St Helens Town AFC, in preparation for the friendly match, which took place on on Sunday 25th June at Ruskin Sports Village.

The weekly training forms part of St Helens College’s curriculum and is funded by Mayor Rotheram’s pioneering approach to adult education funding, which provides funding for colleges and training providers to test and learn new, innovative ways of teaching and learning.

The football sessions were created to improve students’ English language skills but to also help them integrate into their new home and learn about life in Britain.

Katie Balmer, ESOL Tutor at St Helens College, said:

“The idea of the training sessions was to give the students something to do outside of the classroom – wraparound care really. The sessions have been fantastic. They leave so much on the playing field and their physical and mental wellbeing is totally taken care of.”

Paul Piert, First Team Manager, St Helens Town AFC, said:

“We were asked to put on some sessions, and we jumped at the chance because it’s what we do and enjoy – the development and the way the lads have come on has been brilliant.

“They have all got more involved as the weeks have gone on and they always have smiles on their faces. It might be an old cliché about football breaking down barriers but it is true. There is me and the coaches, local lads with broad accents – and then people from all over the world including a keeper from El Salvador people from Sudan. It has been really enjoyable seeing how they buy into the whole things and all the jokes.

“We use football to find common ground, help them strike up new relationships and we learn from each other. For the first couple of weeks they were bringing us food from their countries – it is just a nice vibe, a nice environment.

“We have been told that we are saving lives, because some of these people have lost everything. It is something so simple – giving your time up for people – but makes somebody’s life different. It might sound dramatic but that is the feedback we were getting from the council and the College. It is touching to us that we are having that effect on people.”

Previous ESOL student, Caleb, a former semi-professional footballer who came to the UK from El Salvador, who is now studying the Level 2 Diploma in Digital Technology at St Helens College, said:

“It’s a really fun session and my teammates are great – Hope United is like a family. The name is because we are all from a lot of different countries and we are hoping to achieve a great future here and the best way to make it is by being united.”

Current ESOL student, Dana, who came to the UK from Iran, said:

“We really enjoy the classes and the training sessions – the people at the College and the club have been great with us. We are sometimes in a bad situation thinking about things back home and our families, but things like this help by making us happy.”

The match was covered by Granada Reports with the College’s Head of English and Maths, Andrea and ESOL Tutor, Katie appearing on the regional news! See the clip below: