London project gives immigrants lessons in being British

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Standing in the queue at a coffee shop in Mile End in East London, Mazeda Chowdhury looks somewhat apprehensive about the upcoming order.

Until a few months ago the 21-year-old from Bangladesh had never ordered herself a drink, her husband would always do it for her.

“I’ll have an Earl Grey,” said mentor Victoria Briggs, 30, and after a confused look from Mrs Chowdhury there are giggles between the pair as Victoria says actually a tea with milk will do fine.

Mrs Chowdhury arrived in the UK from the small city of Sylhet in north-east Bangladesh last year. Her English is faltering but constantly improving after two months of mentoring with Victoria.

The pair are part of an east London project that links newly arrived immigrant women with British mentors to help them adapt to life here.

Volunteers work on a one-to-one basis with the women who hail largely from Bangladesh, Somalia and China.

Vix Garner is mentoring co-ordinator at The Arbour, the organisation running the scheme.

‘Very isolating experience’
She said learning English is key, but the project is also simply about learning how to get by in the UK.

“The mentors are there primarily to assist their mentee in helping them with the English language, but they’re also there to help them access local services; registering with their GP, enrolling at the local library, helping them find their way on public transport.”

The majority of the women that the project helps are coming to the UK on spousal visas. Tougher new immigration rules mean spouses coming to settle in the UK now have to pass an English test.

By Catrin Nye and Sarah Levene (BBC)

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