Community Ambassador Saleha inspired to set up integration football league

Published Tuesday 10 December 2019 at 8:38

An Audley woman is planning a new football league to help refugees and asylum seekers integrate into local life having taken part in the Community Ambassador programme.

Saleha Bhayat has recently completed the 12 week programme, delivered on behalf of Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council by Spring North working with Blackburn Rovers Community Trust and Care Network Hub.

The Community Ambassador programme aims to empower local people to take a lead on projects to help build a stronger community in Blackburn with Darwen – and it costs them nothing to take part.

It’s part of the borough’s Our Community, Our Future social integration programme, funded by the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government.

Saleha attended a Community Voices event in the summer to get together with other local residents to discuss what it’s like living in Blackburn with Darwen. There she heard about the Community Ambassadors programme – and was so inspired to get involved that she went straight to Ewood Park to join a session!

45 year old Saleha said:

It came along at the right time for me. I haven’t worked since 2016 following a breakdown. I’ve been volunteering to build up my confidence again and to get involved in my local community.

Taking part in the course made me feel like somebody again. I feel more able to voice my opinions now.

During the 12 week Community Ambassador programme, Saleha and others in the cohort explored the multicultural make-up of the borough, went on local cultural visits, gained an understanding of community development, and developed leadership skills and project management skills to help them set up their own social action projects.

The diverse group also had the chance to visit Belfast, to explore the importance of connected groups and integration, learning lessons from the issues the Northern Irish capital has experienced. They took a tour of the city’s main attractions including the Peace Wall.

Mum of three Saleha commented:

Seeing the Peace Wall was empowering. It made me want to do more for my community back home.

It was also a really good opportunity to get to know the other Community Ambassadors better. We talked about our backgrounds and learnt more about one another.

Now that she’s completed the course – gaining an ASDAN qualification – Saleha is planning her social action project. With support from Blackburn Rovers Community Trust, she’s exploring funding for a football league that will get refugees and asylum seekers mixing with people of different nationalities, and playing against local teams. She wants to also collect donations of football boots and strips to help the refugee community get involved in local sports opportunities. She also plans to explore how she can work with existing projects that have similar social integration goals.

Saleha said:

I’ve seen refugees sharing football boots, taking it in turns to play because they only have one pair between them.

When my husband came to the UK from Iraq, playing in a football team really helped him to have a purpose while he wasn’t working and to make friends – he’s still in touch with the friends he made now.

I want to help other people who are new to the area to use sport and social activities to integrate into the local community.

Other recent Community Ambassador graduates are working on their social action projects – built around sports, arts and culture, local schoolchildren and multicultural celebrations and tackling issues ranging from loneliness, isolation and wellbeing, to supporting homeless youths, and helping people develop a better understanding of different cultures.

Alysia Moorhouse, Contracts Manager at Spring North, said:

Watching the Community Ambassadors grow in confidence each week, and develop some really innovative solutions to the barriers of social integration in our communities, has been an absolute pleasure to see.

We’re looking forward to embedding more ambassadors across Blackburn with Darwen to create projects that will really benefit people of all faiths and cultures.

The next Community Ambassador programme starts in January, meeting on Monday evenings at Ewood Park. To find out more and register for a place, contact the Community Ambassador team on or 01254 304597.

There’s also a drop-in event to talk to the team on Friday 13 December between 1.30pm and 4pm in Care Network Hub, opposite Blackburn library in Town Hall Street.

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