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The incredible impact of the National Lottery on refugees and asylum seekers across the UK

27th June 2023

With Refugee Week 2023 just celebrated across the UK, it’s timely to delve into our data to spotlight how National Lottery funding has, since 1994, supported people forced to flee.

“I arrived in the UK through many hardships.”

Yacoub (using his first name only) tells some of his story in a video made by Nottingham and Nottinghamshire Refugee Forum (NNRF) just prior to Covid-19 arriving in the UK. Forced to escape armed conflict across his homeland, Sudan, Yacoub had found himself with refugee status in Nottinghamshire. At that same time, a National Lottery funded employability project led by St. Ann’s Advice Centre and dubbed ‘Money Sorted D2N2’ had a far-reaching partnership in operation across Derby, Derbyshire, Nottingham, and Nottinghamshire. And so it was that NNRF provided relevant, personalised, one-to-one support to Yacoub, alongside hundreds of other people between 2016 and 2023.

Over many months, Yacoub was assisted to register with the NHS, take English language classes and open a bank account. He gained work experience and found a first job – also he was reunited with his family here in the UK.

Watch the video above, and you’ll hear Yacoub in his own words (with English subtitles).

In less than three minutes, Yacoub speaks volumes about the lived experience and life chances of refugees – something that charitable organisations across the UK help with, thanks to the money raised by National Lottery players.

Update, June 2023: Yacoub still has a caseworker occasionally helping him at Nottingham and Nottinghamshire Refugee Forum (NNRF). Those support ties were never broken as, though he moved into work before Covid, throughout the lockdowns Yacoub and his wife were getting weekly check-in calls from NNRF volunteers.

Today, Yacoub is ‘getting on quite well’ although ‘he was last in touch with NNRF in 2022, wanting support to get new housing because he was being harassed by neighbours.’ Having had different jobs, Yacoub has regular income through his current work as a Deliveroo driver which, reportedly, he enjoys. Importantly, he continues to build his life here with his family.

Given Yacoub’s story, what’s the bigger picture of National Lottery funding - most relevant to refugees - since 1994?

Over 2,500 projects, organisations and/or venues have, collectively, received more than £143M of National Lottery funding to support refugees, since 1994. The data - drawn from here - holds some useful insights.

Mapping the relevant dataset shows a healthy distribution of grants reaching deep into Scotland and right across the UK.

Graphic that represents a data visualisation showing where Lottery players' money has helped refugees (1994 - 2023).
Data visualisation showing where Lottery players' money has helped refugees (1994 - 2023).

Which kinds of activities were funded?

The wide range of project activity engaging refugees, and the type of organisations delivering, sometimes co-producing with refugees, is impressive. Most activity is “charitable”, as you may guess, the lion’s share awarded by the National Lottery Community Fund. But the range includes Arts, Sport and Heritage funds too. That range of relevant support is clear from just the quickest of glances:

Who had the biggest single grant?

Oasis Cardiff - just over £1.5M in 2022 to lead a partnership that delivered projects with refugees aged 18-30, having co-designed the activities with a mix of young asylum seekers and refugees.

The smallest grant?

Cardiff again, however ‘Opera in Situ’ received £500 in 2016 for a very different project involving refugees, with opera scenes freely performed in unusual venues, and on the street.

Who’s received the most money in separate grants, combined, since 1994?

The British Red Cross Society has received just over £5M, in different grants. Having helped countless people since Victorian times, it seems fitting that some of National Lottery players’ money helps the Red Cross to this day, to help refugees and others.

Visual analysis

Working with available data (and keeping in mind that Note in the map above) we can use a different way to visualise the data for insights. Below, the bubbles show relative scale of funding across the UK’s regions.

About one third of all relevant funding since 1994 has gone to organisations working in areas across Greater London. Perhaps not surprising given that city’s destination status, also its huge and diverse population.

Graphic that represents the relative scale of National Lottery funding across UK regions that has supported refugees (1994 - 2023)
Relative scale of National Lottery funding across UK regions that has supported refugees (1994 - 2023)

How about now?

The hideous scenario in Ukraine has seen the high point in relevant funding since 1994, awarded across the National Lottery family of distributors. And this need continues. This year’s Refugee Week (19–25 June 2023), saw just shy of £10M announced by the Community Fund in Northern Ireland [N.I.] for a very wide-ranging set of activity (310 grants) – and that range includes a handful of projects with a focus on refugees.

Three N.I. highlights sum up well the strong variety, and potential impact, that Players are having right now, helping refugees through funding awarded by the National Lottery:

  • Northern Ireland Refugees and Asylum Seekers Women Association (BOMOKO NI) will be using a £10,000 grant to fund running costs and buy essential items for refugee and asylum seekers who are struggling due to the cost-of-living crisis.

  • Refuge Language CIC will be using a £266,954 grant to provide free English classes for refugees (and asylum seekers) and help them integrate. Over five years, classes will be taught across Belfast but also new areas like Bangor and Carrickfergus for people who can’t travel.

  • Fermanagh Rural Community Initiative (FRCI) in Enniskillen, will be using a £10,000 grant to support refugees to improve their English language skills, help them integrate, and remove barriers to employment.

Looking across those three grants in Northern Ireland, you can see the more urgent assistance around arrival (year one in a foreign land) plus the UK context of a cost-of-living crisis; then the language skills for those people getting a foothold; and finally, employability and integration focuses for refugees who are that bit more settled and able to take some next steps. For each stage, National Lottery funding is a vital lifeline.

Graphic that represents a natural drop-off during COVID (2022-22). Peaks interestingly correlate with the ‘war on terror’ (post-2001), the height of Brexit (2016-2019), and Ukraine (2022).
There was a natural drop-off during COVID (2022-22). Peaks interestingly correlate with the ‘war on terror’ (post-2001), the height of Brexit (2016-2019), and Ukraine (2022).

"Charitable souls”

Being forced to flee, leaving everything behind and perhaps everyone you love, is unimaginable – unless, like Yacoub and countless other people, you have had that lived experience. Since 1994 - the year the National Lottery launched – over 400M people have been forced to flee, turned into refugees, according to the UNHCR. Such people escape war-torn countries, or a disaster-ravaged land, or life-threatening persecution. A small proportion reach the UK – in 2022, the UK Government granted refugee status to just over 20,000 people.

For some people like Yacoub, a chance to change their lives is found through the caring and impactful work of UK organisations, funded by the National Lottery using the money raised by Players. It’s quite a human chain of fate, fortune and funding.

In closing, here are some words from a separate National Lottery Community Fund ‘Building Better Opportunities’ (BBO) project, similar to the one supporting Yacoub in Nottinghamshire. The poem below comes from a London area BBO project - there were 19 BBO partnerships, spanning all 33 boroughs, 2016-2023. These 19 Lottery funded partnerships supported a wide range of people, but two London projects were, specifically, aimed at refugee support.

One such project was ‘Working West London’ (WWL) led by East London Advanced Technology Training (ELATT). This achieved some highly impressive results despite having the second smallest grant among those 19 Greater London BBO partnerships.

A case in point is Louiza Babou, one of more than 700 refugees, all of them unemployed or economically inactive, supported by the ELATT-led WWL partnership in London. These people benefitted from months of personalised, specialist support. All made skill gains in terms of English language and employability, as well as softer outcomes across areas like mental health and confidence. Results? Impressively, 187 people found work or started up as self-employed; in addition, 232 more refugees were helped into job training, or else to make their own progress through education.

Those impacts are immense - and they ripple from individuals like Louiza, to their families, and into communities.

Louiza Babou’s words, below, offer us all a final pause for thought, reminding us of why this good cause funding is so vital to so many.

A refugee
Overnight, life has turned upside down, nothing is going right.
The awakening was made to the sound of explosions and shooting.
Without knowing where to go, or how their future will be like. Scared people are forced to leave their homes.
All their goods and sometimes even their dignity are omitted.
Lost, they walk from country to country, looking for a peaceful life.
Their hungry children are deprived of their basic rights.
Rejected by some, despised by others,
They try to be stronger and keep hope.
Dreaming of a better future and a place where they will be welcomed.
One day, their nightmare will be over.
They will arrive in a place where they will be well received.
Charitable souls will look after them and help them to integrate the community
They will be refugees, even if they never wanted that. They try to adapt to their new life and heal injuries from their past.

Louiza Babou

Notes to editors

Keep track of Refugee Week and celebrate the years ahead:

Nottingham and Nottinghamshire Refugee Forum (NNRF):

NNRF was a partner in the Money Sorted D2N2 project that helped many people, including refugees like Yacoub. This was led by St Ann’s Advice, Nottingham, which has published Yacoub’s video, and a legacy evaluation for their entire project:

East London Advanced Technology Training led the Working West London partnership that helped Louiza and many hundreds of refugees:

The two partnerships listed above were joined by 130 similar partnerships, which made up the Building Better Opportunities (BBO) programme from the NL Community Fund.

Find out more:

Data used for this data story was sourced from