The ever helpful guides at the BBC Open Centre in Queens Gardens are used to welcoming individuals to the Centre who reflect Hull’s newly found cosmopolitan society.
Many are refugees from persecution in their homelands where their families still live, others are from new EC member countries in Eastern Europe making their special contribution to the local economy as well as supporting their families back home. As individual visitors to the Open Centre they use the free thirty minutes internet access provided by the BBC where the guides log them on to the net .
This usual routine was rocked on its heels when CSV Action Producer, Christine Barker was contacted by Oxfam Migrant Workers Project Co-ordinator, Farah Kurji. It was time to think big!
Farah had organised a media training course for migrant workers to be delivered by Hull College. The aim of the course was to ‘ get people to feel comfortable with the media’ which was where BBC Radio Humberside had been asked to help. The Station had agreed that on the final day of the course, all fifteen students plus the Hull College course staff, would be given an overview of the station’s operations and a guided tour of the BBC building, incorporating visits to the recording studios together with the use of recording equipment.
These tours are run like well oiled machines by the guides with this one being led by highly experienced Joan Venus-Evans with the highlight for some of the students of being seated in a Radio Presenter’s position and being photographed by their friends, no doubt to be whisked around the world in due course!
The make-up of the group was truly cosmopolitan with students from Palestine and Poland, Lithuania, and Kurdistan and Columbia and all with a spoken English ability which put many of us locals to shame. After completion of the tour we gathered together in the Open Centre classroom where our visitors were only too keen to interview each other on BBC recording equipment. With English as the common language I heard Milda from Lithuania interview Leonardo from Columbia and Akbar from Kurdistan quiz Aleksandra and Iwona from Poland. It made me realise how lucky we all are in speaking English and also how we ought to try harder with other languages.
Akbar (left) with course organiser Farah Kurji
From the five students I talked to I learned that they were all on an ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) course also held at Hull College with an exam looming in the summer. They felt that being on the media course was a positive way of extending their knowledge of English and British culture. They’d arrived in Britain from varied backgrounds with the non EC students having trained as a farmer, a surgeon and a structional engineer. Sadly their skills were not being fully utilised for various reasons leaving them to perform more basic work here in the UK. The EC students were here to improve their English and gain specialist education skills which were either unavailable to them in their home countries or too costly. One or two intended to remain in the UK for a while whereas others wanted to return home to use their new skills.
Keenly observing and assisting the students with their radio interviewing techniques was Broadcast Journalist Lisa Crawford, famed for her talent spotting ability. Her finely honed skills soon zeroed in on two potential threats to Andy Comfort and Lara King who needed little persuasion to return and take part in a later programme.
With the evening over we were all thanked by our guests in both English and their mother tongues, with the jolly Akbar, a farmer from Kurdistan with a well developed sense of humour giving us the traditional Kurdish farmers farewell by wishing us ‘that our wives would always be fat and our cattle always fertile’. I think it was that way round but it didn’t matter.
We’d met a bunch of charming hard working strangers all eager to play their part in our society and we’d all learned from each other. I recall some really clever person once said ‘To teach is to be taught’, After our experience with this group, I couldn’t agree more.