Yorkshire is an intriguing county to live in and Doncaster has a uniqueness all of its own. Even though it’s been granted city status, Doncaster has the qualities of a town—showcased by the locals’ colloquial mannerisms and by the engaging (if sometimes suffocating) nature of life here. It can feel as though young people in this city live within social structures that limit their chances. Life for young adults and “persons seeking asylum” (I use the word “persons” instead of “people”, because the latter has too often been used to lump us together rather than to recognise us as individuals) can be particularly stifling.
I had the privilege of working with a young man from Iran who is seeking asylum in the UK after arriving here in 2021. He had to wait nine months for his work permit from the Home Office, and when it came the only job in the area he could find was at a car wash. There are many reasons why young adults seeking asylum might have trouble finding satisfying work. Cross-cultural dynamics between locals and migrants in Doncaster are complicated. And some young adults, including many young persons seeking asylum, suffer from problems such as illiteracy or depression.
The young man I was working with has dyslexia, and social integration was very hard for him. I started teaching him English on a one-on-one basis, two days a week, to build his confidence. Over time, as his English and reading improved, he became more aware of the opportunities available to him in Doncaster—including a programme of work experience and skills-building with the South Yorkshire Police, South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue service and the Prince’s Trust. It was aimed at young people aged 16 to 25 who are not in work or full-time education. Crucially, it was open to young persons seeking asylum on a case-to-case basis, depending on their right to study or work.
My young friend applied for the programme—he wanted to better himself and be of use to the community while his asylum claim was pending—and I was overjoyed when I heard that his application was successful. But not all young people in Doncaster are fortunate enough to win a place on such a scheme.
Many of the city’s young adults who face tough challenges—including those in foster care and those seeking asylum—aren’t able to access opportunities in sport, arts and culture. The government pledged in 2017 to provide opportunity area schemes within Doncaster, but some of the programmes in disadvantaged places haven’t lasted—they lacked the durability and sustainability to engage people over the long term. Many young persons seeking asylum were not able to take part in these schemes anyway.
Doncaster Council is trying to provide opportunities for young adults in disadvantaged areas to gain life skills. But mental illness among young people in the city—who already face the pressures of school, further education and finding stable work—has skyrocketed since the Covid-19 pandemic began. This is especially a problem for young persons seeking asylum who don’t automatically have the right to work. Without community engagement, and involvement in programmes like the one my young friend joined, too many young people fall through the cracks.
What a waste that is! Doncaster has an older population than average, so we should be looking to our young adults as leaders, encouraging them to take more responsibility in planning activities based on their interests. The peer group model—when people are brought together by something they share—could help them develop life skills and resilience.
Doncaster, dear reader, has a wealth of things for young adults to do. However, we need to make sure young people aren’t excluded from the activities that do exist. If we could put together a busy schedule for young adults of programmes and events, covering arts and culture, live events, and sport, imagine how they would thrive.