Edinburgh Global

Welcoming refugees through community access to classrooms

Local charity, The Welcoming, are using University rooms for free to teach English to refugees and those seeking sanctuary.

The Welcoming using University rooms for English teaching and learning

Since September 2022, local community groups and organisations have been meeting in University rooms for free on weekday evenings.  

This initiative, organised by Edinburgh Local, maximises the use of University rooms in the heart of Edinburgh, removing cost barriers and fostering collaboration and creativity in our community. 

During this time there have been: 40 unique community organisations using University spaces, 846 requests fulfilled, 2,077 hours of space used, around £16,500 saved for local groups (based on what they typically pay for spaces) and around £110,000 of donation in-kind social value (based on corporate rates for hiring out spaces). 

We are proud to be the first university in the UK to offer free community access to rooms on such a large scale. 

The Welcoming 

One organisation benefiting from this initiative is The Welcoming, a Scottish charity supporting asylum seekers, refugees, and migrants in Edinburgh. 

Finding peace and community in Edinburgh 

Night Lau, originally from Hong Kong and now a British National Overseas holder, has been living in Edinburgh for two and a half years and attends English classes with The Welcoming in University spaces. He reflects on his journey and the reasons for leaving Hong Kong, citing the lack of freedom and safety concerns under the current government. 

Adjusting to life in Edinburgh despite the challenges, Night has found a sense of belonging in Edinburgh. He says, "I don’t feel displaced. I know where I belong. My first impression of Edinburgh was really nice. The people are friendly, the air is fresh, and the weather suits me better than in Hong Kong." 

Night has received significant support as a newcomer, including English classes, cooking lessons, football, and cycling lessons. He contrasts the work-life balance in Edinburgh with the fast-paced life in Hong Kong and appreciates the peace and tranquility he finds here. 

Teaching English to refugees in University rooms 

Maureen Watson teaches English as part of the services offered by The Welcoming, using rooms at the University of Edinburgh for her classes. She shares, "I enjoy giving back to the community and have a particular interest in helping those seeking refuge in Scotland. My role as an English teacher helps newcomers settle more easily and become part of the community as their language skills develop." 

Maureen notes the joy of meeting people from diverse nationalities and emphasises that the programmes at The Welcoming are essential for helping New Scots settle in Scotland, learn the language, make friends, find work, and feel welcome. 

The value of free University spaces 

The cost of rent is flying up in Edinburgh and we wouldn’t be able to operate without this fantastic scheme. Not only has this enabled us to further help New Scots learn English and begin to integrate in their new city by making new friends, building self-confidence (often after very testing times) and eventually finding employment and a sense of belonging, but the very fact that they are literally attending classes at the University of Edinburgh is inspiring to our service users.

David Carpenter English for Speakers of Other Languages Coordinator at The Welcoming Association 

University spaces: A catalyst for community support 

The University of Edinburgh's initiative to provide free room access for community groups has significantly impacted organisations like The Welcoming and individuals like Maureen Watson and Night Lau. By offering these spaces, the University fosters a sense of community, collaboration, and support for refugees and migrants, helping them rebuild their lives and feel a sense of belonging in Edinburgh. 

Discover more 

Community Access to Rooms offers local community groups and organisations the opportunity to use University rooms free-of-charge. 

Community Access to Rooms 

Get involved by donating, volunteering or working for The Welcoming: 

The Welcoming