How we used creative workshops to support the health and wellbeing of asylum seeking families

Connecting Care for Children have helped to plan and deliver a series of creative health workshops for local asylum seeking families in partnership with Dr Tamara Joffe from Grand Union Health Centre (and the wider team at West-Hill Health Primary Care Network (PCN)) and Eve Annesley the Community Arts Engagement Manager at Imperial Health Charity.

What’s our aim?

Our ongoing aim is to support the health and wellbeing needs of asylum seeking families living in temporary accommodation at local hotels.

In early 2023, GPs were becoming increasingly concerned about the health and wellbeing of children living in a local hotel in Bayswater. Parents had been presenting to the Grand Union Health Centre with concerns that their children were losing weight and showing signs of malnutrition.

GPs Dr Tamara Joffe and Dr Naomi Katz, head of the West Hill PCN, have worked closely with families to set up a programme of support, including Tamara’s work setting up a Friday Cookery Club at the Stowe Community Centre. The hotel has no kitchen or dining facilities. The weekly cookery club has provided access to ingredients and a kitchen and has been pivotal to building trust with families.

Working with the Arts Team at Imperial Health Charity and Connecting Care for Children provided the opportunity to do something creative and tailored to the needs of children living at the hotel, with a focus on fun and creativity!

What was the solution?

We have run three workshops in the school holidays; a pilot event in the October half term, a drama workshop with Bush Theatre in the February half term and a puppetry workshop with puppeteers Puppet Soup in the Easter Holidays.

Each event focused on different health needs and questions from the families. The February event focused on promoting vaccination and sharing information on Measles. 6 of the 20 children who attended got their MMR vaccination during the event. The event in Easter looked at how to navigate the NHS. Families learnt how to get the most from local dentists, pharmacists, GPs and children’s A&E.

What were the challenges?

Whilst the school age children have become fluent in English, many of the parents struggle with English. The most commonly spoken language for families at the Leisure Inn Hotel is Sorani-Kurdish but there are families from at least 12 different countries. This can make it harder for parents to ask healthcare professionals questions at the event.

Families were just notified that they will be moved from the hotel in June, creating lots of uncertainty in the group. All the families are hoping that they can stay in Westminster so that they can keep the same schools, GPs and other health services for their children.

What were the results?

Alongside improved vaccine uptake and, therefore, better protection from diseases, the sessions have several additional benefits.

Improved mental and emotional wellbeing: Creativity plays an important role in our health. Arts activities can act as positive distraction and relieves boredom, which is a major problem for families living in one room for up to 18 months. Our holiday workshops supported positive wellbeing. Whilst many of the parents face language barriers, the workshops allow participants to express themselves in ways that do not have to be put into words to be heard and understood.

Reduced social isolation: Participants were encouraged to connect with others, both people from the community and healthcare professionals, in a welcoming and comfortable group environment. This can improve bonds between a parent and their child and provide peer support between parents and/or carers.

Developing new skills and sharing knowledge: Gaining creative skills can lead to feelings of achievement and empowerment, as well as building confidence. Arts sessions encouraged participants to share their creative practices from home with the rest of the group.

Improved understanding of children’s health: Participants develop their knowledge and understanding of other key topics such as how to access an appointment; when to worry about a sick child; and how to stay healthy. Tools like the graphic ‘Guess the Rash’ game, helped to engage parents and children, using fun visual aids to open up conversations with health care professionals.

Enjoying healthy food together: These families are restricted to unpalatable food provided through the Home Office, which they have to eat on their beds, in their rooms. It is an uplifting experience to share familiar delicious and nutritious food, freshly prepared by fellow asylum seekers in the adjoining kitchen, in the middle of the workshop.

What were the learning points?

The importance of trust: As a team we have developed strong local relationships with asylum seekers living at the hotel in Bayswater and, more widely, with residents from Westbourne, a highly deprived ward in Westminster. Having familiar and trusted healthcare professionals helps families engage with events and feel listened to. Connecting Care for Children from its wider engagement work exploring vaccine hesitancy with families in North West London, have learnt that having the option to talk to a trusted healthcare professional makes the biggest difference for families.

Access: Dr Joffe has been working closely with the Hotel Manager and Hotel Supervisor at the hotel, making it possible to promote activities with families. The Grand Union Health Centre and West Hill PCN team provided the flexibility so that children could get vaccinated at the event.

Next steps and sustainability

We would like to host more workshops for families, potentially working with local organisations such as Chelsea Football Club or other youth sports providers to reflect the group’s interest in football. Families have suggested henna and face painting as other activities they would enjoy.

We have invited asylum-seeking families living in other hotels in Westminster to join our event this May half term, as well as expanding the invitation to other interested families in Westbourne. Imperial Health Charity are exploring funding opportunities to support a programme of events over the summer holidays.

Want to know more?

Please contact Connecting Care for Children to find out more, email