Give a Gift: what do service users really think about the charities that support them?

Every year the Institute for Social Justice allocates funding to Community Research Grants –  pockets of funding that facilitate projects between York St John researchers and VCSE groups. This year, the Institute for Social Justice have funded seven extraordinary projects, and this blog post explores Dr Berding-Barwick’s work with Give a Gift, a charity supporting refugees and asylum seekers. Written and researched by Maisie Wilson, ISJ Intern.

Dr Raphaela Berding-Barwick has been working with Give a Gift over the past five months, exploring the perspectives of people who’ve been forced to flee from their home country to the UK. Based in Leeds, Give a Gift provides a myriad of services, ranging from advocacy and befriending support to combat isolation, all the way to financial and legal aid to handle accommodation, employment and visa issues. Give a Gift have been tirelessly supporting marginalised groups since 2013, and now they’re working with Dr Berding-Barwick to get new perspectives on the services they provide: the perspectives of the service users themselves.

The importance of asking forced migrants

Give a Gift chart showing 'Our Person Centred Values'

Dr Berding-Barwick tells me that forced migrants who access these services are often seen as passive recipients of support, as objects – and she rightly points out that these individuals are the ones best placed to say what they need and evaluate how helpful the services they access really are. So to find out about how to best support forced migrants, Dr Berding-Barwick is utilising the World Café research method; where small groups of participants discuss issues amongst themselves in a friendly, relaxed environment – almost like a café. As a lowly masters student myself, I’d never heard of this intriguing research method before, and Dr Berding-Barwick kindly explained to me that it’s similar to a focus group, but without the formality of an academic setting. This is just one of the many ways that Dr Berding-Barwick has worked to ensure that the co-participatory nature of this research is baked into its methodology. In the World Café, groups discuss their everyday experiences in the UK, their experiences with different services and are then asked what advice they would give to policymakers to better support them. To further her understanding of this issue, Dr Berding-Barwick is also distributing surveys which ask about the support Give a Gift provides. As a mixed methods researcher myself, I felt immediately drawn to the project, and can’t wait to see what she uncovers.

While the research is still ongoing, Dr Berding-Barwick praises the people who work at Give a Gift – many of which are volunteers – saying that it’s their passion and hard-work that keeps these charities afloat. This is a common finding, and one Dr Berding-Barwick is very familiar with. Before working on this Community Research Grant project, she’s spent 6 years volunteering with refugees and asylum seekers; and has since worked with many organisations that focus on supporting forced migrants – including the Asylum Seeker and Refugee Research Collective in the Institute for Social Justice. She tells me that this collective focuses on human rights and action research that informs policy, practise and pedagogy in relation to migration. Another one of the amazing things I had no idea York St John did.

Why co-participatory?

Hands all come together in circle

In relation to her own current project with Give a Gift, Dr Berding-Barwick is quick to extol the ethos of the Community Research Grants. Much like Dr Shepherd discussed in the last blog post on Menfulness, these projects truly embody co-participatory research th

at involves and embraces those that the research will actually effect. Give a Gift’s ethos aligns with this mentality too, as they utilise a “person centred approach” when providing support. This means that Give a Gift tailor support to each individual person, drawing from their impressive range of services to deliver a bespoke and, crucially, very effective service experience.

Dr Berding-Barwick spoke highly of her experience so far, telling me how working with migrants and Give a Gift staff themselves has given her a unique and quite personal experience. Significantly, she see’s great potential working in this bottom-up, co-participatory way from designing research to carrying it out and disseminating it. Over the next few months, Dr Berding-Barwick intends to hold workshops with asylum seekers and refugees to further engage them in the research process, and to continue investigating what they truly think of the ways that they’re supported, and their suggested improvements. In July 2024 when this project comes to end, she tells me that she hopes this research will be used to inform the future policies and practises of charities like Give a Gift. As someone who works in similar low-in-funding, high-in-passion charities myself, I wish Dr Berding-Barwick all the best with her research – as projects that explore how to maximize the effectiveness of charities working on a shoe-string budget has never been more important.