Involving Refugees & Asylum Seekers as Volunteers

In Chelmsford we have a rich and diverse community of asylum seekers and refugees, all of whom have something valuable to offer our shared district.

Many of our new neighbours are highly motivated to volunteer in Chelmsford to improve their English, gain experience, and learn skills, but also to make connections, form friendships, and contribute to the district they are currently calling home.

We are strongly encouraging local charities and volunteer-involving organisations to welcome asylum seekers and refugees to their teams, and have created these pages to help inform, guide, and counter misinformation.

The information here has been collated with the kind permission and guidance of Voluntary Action Sheffield’s New Beginnings project.

If you would like to speak to us in depth about your organisation and your opportunities, then please contact Sally Medd.

Why do it?

Refugees and asylum seekers can:

Bring unique skills and experience – some are highly skilled and knowledgeable professionals. Recent arrivals in Chelmsford include qualified social workers, accountants, addiction specialists, nurses, and academics.

Help you to engage with their communities and widen your recruitment.

Increase the diversity of your organization and raise your standing amongst hard to reach people.

Enhance your awareness of other cultures and inform the work your organisation does.

Help counter bad faith, ignorance, and hate in our shared community.

Are Asylum Seekers and Refugees allowed to volunteer?


But please make sure that anyone you work with is aware of the unpaid nature of volunteering, and that you as an organisation appreciate the difference between “volunteering” and “voluntary work”. This latter distinction is crucial, as conflation may result in a person’s asylum application being denied.

For detailed information, please click HERE.

What’s the difference between Asylum Seekers and Refugees?

An asylum seeker is a person who is in the country legally, having requested asylum, and who is waiting for the Home Office to decide the outcome of their application. The vast majority of asylum seekers in the UK are prohibited from seeking employment, but they are legally allowed to volunteer. Asylum seekers are able to access an alternative set of benefits, called Asylum Support.

A refugee is someone whose asylum application has been granted by the Home Office. They are allowed to stay in the country because they have proved they would face persecution back home. Refugees are legally entitled to work and can access welfare benefits, as well as being legally permitted to volunteer.

What if our role requires a DBS Check?

Asylum seekers and refugees can get DBS checks processed, although the process can be a lengthy one.

For detailed information on this, please click HERE.

However, we also encourage your organisation to be flexible and develop ways for volunteers to be impactful in roles that don’t require a high level of check. Please contact us for a chat and some ideas!

Is it more work for our organisation?

There is huge diversity amongst refugees and asylum seekers.

Some speak fluent English and can be trained up quickly to do the role you need them for, whereas others may not have worked in their home country, will only have basic English and may take longer to train and need more support. Please scroll down to see some of the ways you can support someone.

As with all volunteers, each person deserves to be treated as an individual, and each has their own unique potential to impact your charity.

How can we make refugees and asylum seekers feel welcome, and get the best from them in return?

A few key ways…..

A welcoming environment:

Asylum seekers and refugees are not a homogenous group of individuals. In fact, one of the only unifying characteristics about this group of individuals is the fact that they will have faced persecution, and possibly torture in their homeland, forcing them to flee.

As a result of these experiences, asylum seeking individuals could be traumatised, and now face further issues such as isolation, language barriers, family separation and being in a state of limbo until the outcome of their asylum application is decided. It is important that volunteer coordinators are aware of the multiple and complex issues affecting people seeking sanctuary, and identify appropriate additional support should this be required for an individual to be able to volunteer.

As an organisation, Chelmsford Volunteer Centre will not ask for the reason why people have had to flee their homeland. Instead, we focus on each individual’s desire to volunteer in their new community and not on potentially painful and personal experiences.

That being said….

Some individuals will choose to disclose information about their past experiences and the reasons they have had to flee their homeland. This may be a helpful experience for someone, and valuable education for your charity. In this situation, we would suggest that as a volunteer coordinator you listen, and provide the opportunity for the volunteer to speak. It is important for organisations to have adequate support mechanisms (internal or external) for their volunteer coordinators who may hear about traumatic and painful experiences.

Be clear about everything: 

The British work environment will be different to anything a refugee or asylum seeker has experienced before.

Make sure you have a very clear Role Description that covers hours, responsibilities, and skills required. As with any volunteering opportunity it is important that the role is meaningful and does not amount to job substitution or potentially exploitative, unpaid labour.

Your Induction may need to explain in greater depth how the organisation works, what your expectations of the volunteer are, how the volunteer will fit in, and who they should speak to if something goes wrong.  Give regular feedback to the volunteer to let them know if they are doing things right or not, and to offer encouragement.

Offer expenses without waiting to be asked:

Asylum seekers and refugees have very little income (sometimes just a few pounds a week) and they cannot volunteer unless their travel expenses are paid. They may also feel embarrassed to ask, or unsure if they can. Be sure that you offer expenses up front, without being asked.

Chelmsford CVS commits to reimbursing its travel expenses and other pre-agreed expenses on the day, in cash.

If you do not have an expenses procedure, then please contact us for guidance.

Translated Resources:

Sheffield Volunteer Centre has produced a range of translated resources with documents to help you involve refugee and asylum seeker volunteers. They have kindly agreed for Chelmsford CVS to share these. Click HERE to access them.

They include:

Flyers about about volunteering

Documents to help you involve volunteers in your organisation (e.g confidentiality statements)

Documents for use with service users (e.g. consent forms)

Pro forma Letters (e.g. appointment letters)

Additional Resources and Useful Links:

Chelmsford CVS is facilitating a multi-agency, collaborative forum of key local charities and support services who are involved in the Voluntary Sector’s response to the needs of Asylum Seekers in Chelmsford. The aim of this is to encourage cooperation, avoid duplication, counter misinformation, share resources, and identify ways to meet the needs of people who are newly arrived in our city.

Please contact us if you are organisation seeking more information, or need assistance.

This section will be updated soon with more key local services

NCVO has guidance on asylum seekers as volunteers

Migrant Help UK offers more Translated Resources, and the Free asylum helpline (open 24/7/365): 0808 8010 503

Red Cross services for refugees and asylum seekers in the UK. Email: Call: 01245 291011

ESOL Services:

Please note that NHS health services have a statuary requirement to provide professional, accredited interpreters for appointments with speakers of other languages. This service is commissioned centrally by the ICB. If your organisation/ group seeks to provide a translation/ interpretation service, please check first that your training meets the requirements for anything that touches on health.

OpenLearn – Free online course

English for Women/ English for All – Free conversational English classes. Online and in person in Chelmsford.

ACL Essex – ESOL Beginners – Please note that funding for this is currently only open to people who have been in the country for 6 months.

SayHi – Free speech translation app available for iOS and Android devices




Page updated on: 6/6/23