Essex Integration has a group of people who offer their help and support for free to refugee families in Essex. They are called Befrienders.

Befrienders provide a very important role at Essex Integration.  Befrienders give a bit of extra support to the refugees’ families to add to and complement the vital support provided by keyworkers. Learning English is an essential part of integrating into the community. So every friendly conversation or sharing coffee together, helps refugee families to become more confident in the language.

Befriending services have been developed to provide refugees with opportunities for social interaction and a sense of being part of a community.

Befrienders Meeting

A meeting of Colchester Befrienders was held recently, organised by Diane, Befriender Co-ordinator, and Eddie, manager at Essex integration. The meeting was held on Monday 3o July, with the aim of sharing ideas to help support families learning English and integrating in the community.

We discussed how to teach them English through activities that help them learn and have fun at the same time, such as playing games together, going shopping or just sharing a coffee. One of the befrienders proposed that he will search for a public place or a café in Colchester, where people can gather. This opportunity to meet and talk will help them build confidence, which is the most important thing according to him. Another befriender suggested encouraging them to talk English with their children to improve it.

Who is Diane?

Diane is the Befriender co-ordinator at Essex Integration. She became involved after volunteering as a Befriender to a family who arrived in her local area. She enjoyed meeting with the family, showing them around her town, and helping them to learn English.

She was excited to have the opportunity to take on the post of Befriender and Volunteer Co-ordinator with Essex Integration. This has enabled her to link with Befrienders across Essex, supporting all the Befriending that is happening.

Who are the Befrienders with Essex Integration?

Befrienders range from retired people to university students with a wide variety in between. Essex integration have Befrienders aged from 18 to 80+ years old and there are lots of different skills and a variety of languages are spoken. Befrienders are from churches, mosques, community groups and next-door neighbours – all people who want to ‘lend a helping hand’.

Befrienders’ activities  

Befrienders get involved in lots of different activities. Some teach informal English to families and small groups, supporting the official college teaching. Others provide lifts to the hospital or medical appointments. Befrienders often enjoy going out and about with families, on trips to the park, shops, library etc. Befrienders’ local knowledge is extremely helpful in helping families to get to know the local area.

Visiting and sharing coffee together, having conversations, being a friendly face as well as providing a chance to talk in English; this is what being a Befriender is all about.

What do you need to be a Befriender?

Befrienders, as the name suggests, need to be friendly and ready to be a friend. ‘’That’s it really!’’ Diane said and added that ‘‘we need people who are ready to communicate using sign and imagination if they don’t understand the language, to try out new ideas (and maybe new foods!) who are open to relating to people of different cultures, respecting cultural differences’’. Empathy, friendliness, respect for others, being ready to talk and to listen, ready to have fun and to share time together, all these things are part of being a Befriender.

How can I be a Befriender?

We at Essex Integration welcome everyone who is interested in supporting and being a friend to our refugee families. Essex Integration ask that new Befrienders fill in an application form and confidential declaration and provide character references. This is to help keep everyone safe.

If you are interested in being a Befriender or would like to find out more about Befriending, please email or, giving your contact details, and we will get back to you as soon as possible.

Befrienders opinions – we asked Befrienders to tell us about their thoughts and experiences:

A, a Syrian guy who started being a befriender 6 months ago, is helping a refugee family by teaching them English for 4 hours a week. He says that being a Befriender has helped him to be able to listen more than talking. He has found the families friendly and polite.

Brian started being a befriender about 3 months ago. Being interested in different cultures and interacting with people, also being able to offer support to people living in a different cultural environment, are the motivations which led him to do this.

He is giving 4 hours of his time during the week to two families by visiting them and teaching them English. Being a Befriender has helped him to have more empathy with what they have been through.

M and E started being befrienders 5 months ago.  As befrienders, they want to be actively involved in welcoming those who have had to flee their homes and countries, whatever the reason is.

This couple give three hours every fortnight. Once they invited them to their home and another time they met them in a café and a walk by the beach.

Being a befriender has given them more understanding of the life and the circumstances of people from another culture.

Andrew has started being a befriender 2 months ago. Being the neighbour to a Syrian family led him to do this volunteering job. He is helping them in different ways including assistance with medical visits. He has found this family very friendly and he is happy to help

Deirdre has started being befriender a couple of years ago. She feels passionately that we need to support people, whose lives have been disrupted as a result of war.

She is helping the families by visiting them and teaching them English for 2 hours a week. She has found the families friendly, lovely and welcoming.


Sue started as a befriender about 2 years ago after hearing about the need to befriend a Syrian family at a Churches Together meeting.

She is involved in different ways, including being on a rota to go shopping with the mothers from two families She feels that every individual is as important as every other: She says “To be able to help and support even in a simple way is a privilege. We can all learn so much from each other.”

Being a befriender is a humbling experience for her, and one which she feels has brought her closer to understanding the realities of the devastating situation in the Middle East. It also made her more aware of the emotional and practical needs of those displaced from their homeland.

The families who she meets are appreciative of help, and friendly, with a sense of humour.

B started as a befriender about a year ago, and helps in a variety of ways.

He says ‘I usually try to help when a need arises, who ever it is.  I think we should be good neighbours to everyone.’

‘The families are always very friendly and welcoming, and now that their English has progressed, it is much easier to have a rapport.’

Alan has started being a befriender two years ago; as soon as he heard about the resettlement of refugees in his area he was eager to help. He is participating in few activities including giving time one morning a week to help with English teaching.

He says “being a befriender gives me delight in being with the families, the joy of learning some Arabic and communicating in it and the pleasure of teaching English which is a completely new experience.” He finds the families an absolute joy and that they are so hospitable and generally lovely.

Alison and her husband were among a group of Quakers who welcomed the Syrian refugee families to Colchester in December 2015, and have carried on befriending since then.

She feels that being a befriender is a very special opportunity. She says “it felt like the right thing to do as a response to people in need in our town.  But the rewards are great, seeing the humour and resilience of people with little or nothing, and learning about a culture very different from our own.”

Being a befriender gives “a sense of sharing in the life journey of people who are adjusting to life in a different country, of making friends with people from very different backgrounds, and thus learning at first-hand how much we have in common.  Witnessing the strength of character of the individuals we have met and whose tragedies and joys we now know.”

“The families that we help are kind, generous, caring, with a lovely sense of humour.  [One] family has a special love of music and the husband will sometimes break out into spontaneous singing of a song from his homeland.”

The war in Syria created a state of despair and danger that forced millions to leave their destroyed homes in a relatively short time. This situation drove them to seek a safer life  . . . . . . اللاجئون السوريون في المملكة المتحدة

خلقت الحرب الأهلية في سوريا حالة من اليأس و الخطر الكافية لإجبار الملايين على ترك بيوتهم المدمره في وقت قصير نسبيا، إلا أن هذا اليأس دفعهم إلى السعي نحو حياه أمن وأسهل في البلدان المجاوره مثل لبنان والأردن وتركيا وكردستان العراق. حيث أصبحت هذه البلدان المجاوره مجرد خطوه على سلم الهروب والنفاذ بحياتهم وحياه عائلاتهم إلى بلدان وأجنبيه أوروبيه

The Syrian refugees in UK
<The War in Syria