Be Online 2016: Developing Skills in the Latin American Community

04 Mar 2016 |Written by Holly Bagnall-Bell

When you think of refugee and migrant communities in the UK it’s not often that your mind immediately jumps to the Latin American community. Before my Be Online visit last week to see IRMO (Indoamerican Refugee Migrant Organisation) I was unaware that there was such a huge population of Latin American, Spanish and Portuguese speakers who have moved into the London area.

IRMO is a community centre in the heart of one of the bigger housing projects in Brixton, and it is very well placed to help those who need it. In the last 30 years IRMO have been working to support and integrate those coming from Latin American countries. In 2008 there were 113,500 individuals represented in London and this number grows every day.

The centre itself is well set up for welcoming in new and old attendees with two adjacent spaces that are used to support the community. During my visit I was shown around the learning space where ESOL classes are held: a double classroom with plenty of room to keep up with the high demand. My hosts Lucia and Morgana explained that there’s a huge waiting list for the majority of their services. At the moment there are 60 people waiting to get a place on the English My Way course which is currently already supporting 120 people. In 2015/16 the ESOL sessions themselves took 1296 hours of structured classes followed by 144 hours of conversation classes - reaching over 500 students.

Whilst I was there I also witnessed volumes of people waiting for sessions to get advice, mainly on employment rights but also on other pertinent issues such as keeping children safe, improving literacy, and helping local people to improve their health and wellbeing. The Latin American population often fall into low skill roles when they enter the country, such as the cleaning and catering industry - this centre aims to provide people with the confidence and skills to move into a career beyond these roles and into a living wage career. There’s a huge problem of unfair treatment in low skilled jobs, so the centre supports people to fully understand their rights and look at how they can move into a role they can develop further in, helping them to support their own families better.

While a lot of the activity at IRMO is based around helping people develop their work and social skills, there is of course a strong thread of developing digital skills too. In 2014/15 the centre hosted 84 hours of basic online skills learning for 30 students, alongside the advice services and ESOL education. Lucia and Morgana explained that if someone drops into the session for one of the activities, they always make it known that there’s so much more to offer, and encourage people to try it out. The tight knit community also mean that learners often reach out to their families and friends, making them aware of all that IRMO can offer, and encouraging them to get involved too.

Being one of the only centres in the area specifically for Latin American people, the centre has had a huge effect in the community. Just under 170 people used the advice given at the centre to improve their working situation and 132 one to one sessions were held - a massive 250 students in the 14/15 period moved into vocational training, further education or advanced English classes. Even in a short time the effort and care put into the centre really shows; the foundations built by IRMO have changed London-based Latin American people’s paths for the better.