Katharina Cavano l Palladium - Apr 03 2024
Meet the Team Helping Refugees in the UK Adjust to their New Lives

“The process for immigrating to the UK can seem like a one-size-fits-all, but what I’ve learned over these past 6 months is that rarely does that size fit anyone perfectly.” Phoebe Smith works on the Refugee Employability Programme (REP), which is funded by the UK Home Office to provide tailored and flexible employment support to refugees arriving to help accelerate their progress as they adjust to life in England.

Palladium manages the program in the South East of England, where Smith and her colleagues work each day with their ‘clients’ – refugees who have been given indefinite leave to remain in the country and need help integrating and finding work into their new communities.

For many within the asylum system that integration process requires starting with the basics and building from there. “Most of my clients are single men in their mid to early twenties, though some families and single women as well, all from Afghanistan, Sudan, Syria, Iran, and Iraq,” explains Smith. “Most of them have been here for close to a year while they wait for the immigration process to go through.”

Once that process is complete and refugees receive notice that they’ve received indefinite leave, they’re shifted into the ‘move on’ period from asylum support to mainstream provision, a process which can happen really fast and one which people may well need help navigating. Though some will have spent their time during that waiting process going to English classes or accessing support from Liaison Officers, Smith explains that there are others that don’t have a CV and may have different priorities, traumas, and experiences they are dealing with.

This is where Smith and the REP team step in and go to work. The team works on a case management basis, assessing needs and creating personal development plans to identify and address integration, assist them with getting into English language classes, and identifying employment barriers—all while maintaining meaningful and frequent contact with individuals over time. “Each refugee will have up to 18 months of support, which will be determined by the length of time needed to truly integrate, and which we will expect to vary,” notes Becky Brocklehurst, Operations Director at Palladium.

“We look at every aspect of people’s lives, from their family to education and beyond, to understand where they are and any complications or barriers, they may be facing in order to help them through their journey of integration into work and everything that goes with it.”


Smith recalls one of her first clients, a young man from Sudan who she still meets with regularly. “I met him on the day he needed to leave the hotel (his temporary accommodation), he came to me with no plan and very limited English.”

“We went straight to a day centre where we got him a sleeping bag and a tent and then I had to have the difficult conversation with him about how he was going to need to sleep outside for a bit until we could sort out accommodation,” she adds emotionally.

That was only their first stop.

They also stopped off at a community fridge to stock him up on food and a charity shop to get him layers of clothing. She also provided him with a list of where he could go to get hot meals and signed him up for a service called Streetlinks that regularly checks on people in the mornings to verify that they’re still ‘sleeping rough’; they also provide support to access temporary accommodations when available.

“He was homeless for about four weeks total and every morning I’d meet him for a coffee so that he could defrost and we could do a daily check in. And the whole time, he was going to college two days a week for English courses and volunteering once a week at the Sanctuary Café to help other refugees.”

“He showed up every Friday for volunteering regardless of his situation,” notes Smith who adds that she nicknamed him Sunshine in her mind.

Creative Solutions and Hope

What Smith, and her colleagues, have learned since they began on the job was the importance of creative solutions. “Even though you can see a clear solution to many of the problems we’re facing everyday, we have to think outside the box, we have to network with local charities and organisations, and we’re constantly asking people whether they know someone who can support in one way or another.”

The program’s clients are all unique in their needs says Smith and no two people have been the same and days are so varied. “It’s difficult work, especially when some clients’ needs are so high.”

Today though, she shares that Sunshine is currently living in Brighton. “I saw him yesterday actually, he’s in sheltered accommodation for two years, has a support worker, and he still has me,” she says. “He has a roof over his head, and we’re working on getting him into a new college, but in the meantime, we’ve helped him with his CV and applying for jobs.”

Despite the hard days, the tough calls, and difficult conversations, Smith shares that there’s also a lot of joy in the job too. “I find hope in the little things that we’re able to achieve and sometimes we have fun interactions with the clients, we share laughs and I get to see their personality and learn more about them and who they are.”

And for someone just arriving in a new country, without community or common language, the little things can be just as important, too.

The Refugee Employment Programme is preparing refugees for work and life in England. For more information, contact info@thepalladiumgroup.com.