Sophie's mentoring experience

Sophie is a Projects Coordinator at online mentoring organisation Brightside

I signed up to be a Routes mentor because I was looking for an opportunity to make an impact and to enhance my leadership skills. I have experience of campaigning for refugee and asylum seeker rights from university and have a keen interest in the power of women supporting women so naturally Routes was the perfect fit for me!

I would recommend being a Routes mentor to a friend or anyone seeking an opportunity to develop their mentoring skills. I work for a small organisation therefore this opportunity has provided me with a chance to develop practical skills for future line management outside of the formal work structure developing my listening, communication and time management skills and patience.

My mentee and I hit it off instantly. Sara (not her real name) greeted me with the most amazing smile and we went straight in for a hug. Our first session went really well and it was surprising how at ease she felt – this also helped me to relax! Sara and I are very open and honest with each other which I think is key to building a mentoring relationship, if she is ever having a tough day she will just let me know. Equally if she is in the mood to power on with a full English lesson she will say so. I’ve both enjoyed and found it challenging to vary our weekly sessions to get the best out of our time together.

Sara’s goal is to work as a nurse again. This will be a long journey requiring her to gain the right to work and restudying for her qualifications.* Despite this rather uphill struggle she is good at breaking down her goal into smaller steps. When we first met she told me that she wanted to work on her spoken English so this is where our focus has been for the past 10 weeks.

I remember during our first session that we banned the phrase ‘I can’t speak English’ as Sara can speak English. We have focused on strengthening her confidence in her spoken English ability. Some weeks we just talk and discuss funny English phrases like ‘bits and bobs’ or work through English exercises online or complete Sara’s English lesson sheets. I’m amazed how far Sara has come in a few short weeks – I can now barely get a word in during our hour long sessions!

She accepted my challenge of ordering our coffees in week 8 with ease – a task that would have terrified her in week 1 and is hoping to start ESOL English classes in September to work towards her qualifications. ESOL classes are accredited courses that provide recognised qualifications that are crucial for getting jobs or moving onto other courses. It is great to know that Sara is supported by her English teachers and is ready to start her next step in her English lessons after our time together on the programme comes to an end.

A massive highlight was when Sara told me how a stranger on a bus had complemented her English ability at random. Hearing praise from a stranger really helped Sara to see how her English is improving and to believe that the positive feedback she receives from both me and her English teachers is true.

It has been really enjoyable to use my experience of mentoring from my workplace and previous mentoring roles in a new way. I’ve always worked with young people so it’s been great to gain experience of mentoring someone older than me and not in formal education. My experience as a Routes mentor has demonstrated how mentoring can support asylum seekers in Britain and how working with someone to achieve what may appear a small aim to outsiders is actually the start of a mentee’s journey to a bigger goal.

Applications for our autumn 2019 programme close on Friday 6th September. Apply now!

*Asylum seekers in the UK do not currently have the right to work. Find out more about why and the effects of this here.