With the support of Newcastle College ESOL department we delivered a Zine making workshop, art sessions, and interviews, to explore what life has been like for refugees and asylum seekers during the Covid-19 pandemic.

There was a huge variety in experience, so for the most part we focused the script for Omid on thematic overlaps; difficulty accessing nutritious food, unexpected trauma triggers, the grief of separation from family and trying to maintain connection via technology, challenging living conditions, loneliness, fear of the virus, and a sense of powerlessness in people to protect themselves from it. Perhaps the most frequent commonality amongst participants, however, was the enthusiastic determination to study and improve their English, and a deep gratitude for the support of Newcastle College, Newcastle Council and other services in the city.

The reason we focused on the stories of participants who had stayed in hotels was in part to act as a counter narrative to some national press and media stories; during the pandemic many outlets propped up misleading rumours about ‘plush’ conditions and stoked an already hostile environment. The stories shared both by our participants and around the country were in stark contrast to this.

Artist Betty Hill worked with students to create the pieces of artwork seen in the exhibition; we felt it was important that participants who were not able to participate in script and story development because of our differing first languages, were instead able to express themselves and their experiences through art. As hope and optimism swelled in even the most soul stirring, harrowing conversations, we decided to focus on that as a theme. Please see below for the artwork.

A young man finds himself living in temporary hotel accommodation after seeking asylum in the UK shortly before the Covid-19 pandemic. We see his struggle to keep himself safe, healthy, and mentally well in an environment where he has very little agency or connection beyond a telephone screen.


Newcastle’s Response to COVID-19
The impacts of Covid-19 and lockdown on asylum seekers and refugees

Researchers from Newcastle University led on reports understanding the impacts of COVID-19 on asylum seekers and refugees. For asylum seekers and refugees, the impacts of the COVID-19 crisis overlap with many other challenges and inequalities that pre-dated the pandemic. These pre-existing hardships and the challenges presented by the pandemic, combined to leave many highly vulnerable in this time of crisis.

There are hopes that lockdown community spirit could help to tackle islamophobia in the city. Researchers at Newcastle University say the community spirit shown during the Coronavirus crisis could provide a foundation for greater understanding and improved relations between different groups.

Community Champions

The Newcastle City Council community champions programme has been an integral part of working with Ethnic Minority groups. This format has given the various Ethnic Minority groups around the city a platform to have a say in the vaccine programme. They have given invaluable insights that have helped contribute towards delivering vaccines around the city. We recently held 4 pop up vaccine sessions at local mosques where a total of 252 people came forward to get a vaccine.

ESOL Provision

As part of Newcastle’s English for Integration Fund funded English language provision in the city, N.E.S.T – a student volunteer project run out of Newcastle University Student Union – was able to respond to Covid-19 by supporting asylum seekers and refugees through English tuition and community integration support.

N.E.S.T switched to online provision that was running within a few days of the city locking down. They adapted services due to the pandemic such as increasing support for asylum seeking children who were unable to attend school through children’s activity videos and bedtime stories, setting up a pen-pal scheme via email, and providing online lessons where face to face provision was unavailable.


Please consider a financial contribution to one of the incredible charities or organisations supporting refugees and asylum seekers currently trying to settle in Newcastle. As we all know, Covid has put a particular strain on these services, so donations are vital, now more than ever.

West End Refugee Service (WERS) – https://www.wers.org.uk/donate

Action Foundation – https://actionfoundation.org.uk/donate/

North of England Refugee Service – https://refugee.org.uk/donate-through-ners-and-help-the-refugees/