We live in a rural area, but it might surprise you to know that Somerset is home to people from all over the world. Over 5,000 children with English as a second language are in Somerset's Schools. At one of our English clubs, we've welcomed people with over 25 first languages. And around 1 in 7 of the population is not UK-born.
Moving to another country can be difficult, and we know that it's not only the language that can be a problem. Cultural differences and other ways of doing things can make life seem more stressful, and prevent access to services.
In Somerset, you'll find lots of help. Below is a short guide. If there is anything we can do, contact us. Most of our staff have come to the UK to live as children or adults, and we speak other languages too.
The Diversity Voice Team
10 Tips from other migrants to Somerset
We asked some of the learners at our English club for their top tips for other migrants.
It might be different for you, but here's what they said. >>>>>>>>>>>>.
The text under is written for level CEFR B1. B1 is the English level needed for most work visas from January 1 2021.
The links go to other organisations, and are suggested ways to get information.
We don't take responsibility for these organisations, or the information.
If you have a helpful link, please email us.
County: An area in the country.
The Council/local authority: An organisation which controls a county, or part of a county.
District Council: A council of the districts in Somerset (Mendip, South Somerset, Somerset Wesr & Taunton, Sedgemoor).
County Council: The council for all of Somerset.
Somerset is mostly a rural county. About 570,000 people live here. Somerset has 4 districts: Sedgemoor, Mendip, South Somerset, and Somerset West & Taunton. The biggest town is Taunton. There is a city, Wells, in Mendip but it's much smaller than Taunton; only 10,000 live there. It's a city because of the historic cathedral. Other towns are Chard, Frome, Shepton Mallet, Bridgwater and Yeovil.
Somerset is famous for cider, apple orchards, Cheddar cheese and Glastonbury Festival. There are lots of historic buildings and places to visit.
In Bridgwater and Yeovil there are bigger migrant communities than in other parts of Somerset.
A lot of help in the UK is free. Charities and community groups, and local authorities do this. In the UK, charities are a little different to in many countries. There are charities for all kinds of things.
In Somerset you can get advice from Citizens' Advice about money, legal and other problems. This is a national charity. There are hundreds of other charities which help with things such as medical problems, disability, housing, domestic violence, alcoholism, gambling and more. Charities don't only help with problems. There are charities which help with things such as saving energy, community buildings, sports clubs and more.
Your local authority can help with problems about Council Tax, housing, education and more.
Diversity Voice has an advice service; we speak your language. We can help you to contact other organisations.
Find your local Citizens' Advice.
Email Diversity Voice
Diversity Voice has English Clubs around Somerset. At English Club, you can meet people, and get other help too.
Register here. Or join our Facebook English Club.
Some other places offer lessons. You could try looking here.
A few colleges might offer exams in English for speakers of other languages. They are called ESOL exams. There are 5 levels: Entry 1,2,3 and Level 1 and 2. It takes about 1 year to do a level. Not all colleges offer ESOL and it is not usually free. At some colleges, you can do a basic English exam, which native speakers can do too.
There is 1 language school in Somerset, in Yeovil. Courses are not free.
You can do an online exam to get a certificate. It's not free, and you may need some help before the lessons. Diversity Voice can help with this. Sometimes, we do courses to help people to do these exams.
The main bus company is First Bus. You can get an app., and pay for your tickets before you travel. Or, you can pay with cash on the bus. Don't use big notes, and try to have the right money. At bus stops, there is usually a timetable.
Buses stop at all stops if they see you waiting. Some seats are reserved for disabled people, or people with children. These are near the front, and there is a sign.
First Bus Guide: How to catch a bus
Coach: A bus that travels longer distances.
For travelling longer journeys, perhaps to go to London, you can book a seat on a coach.
National Express is a national coach company. You can buy coach tickets from other places online too, and there are smaller local companies that might be cheaper.
National Express tickets
Travel between London and Somerset, and a list of Somerset train stations
It can be difficult to get from one station to another in Somerset by train. Trains are better for long journeys. You can buy a ticket online from several places.
Buy tickets online
West Somerset Railway is an historic leisure railway. It's a charity. The railway runs along the coast of Somerset and stops at several stations.
Speed limit: How fast you can go.
Highway Code: The rules of the road.
There are strict laws about driving in the UK. You should know the Highway Code, and make sure you have the right licence. Speed limits are in miles per hour (mph). On motorways, the maximum speed limit for most cars is 70mph (112 km/h). In towns, and where you see street lights it's usually 30mph (48 km/h). Be careful, as these are sometimes less, especially in villages. Signs at the side of the road say the speed limit.
If you buy a car, you need to have vehicle tax, insurance and an MOT. An MOT is a safety test for all cars more than 3 years old.
Buy car tax online - You can't buy tax if your car doesn't have an MOT
No claims bonus: A discount on car insurance if you have not claimed.
Third party insurance: Pays money to the other person if an accident is your fault.
Third party, fire and theft: Third party, plus payments if your car is stolen or in a fire.
Comprehensive: Comprehensive insurance covers more. It might cover things like items in your car, it might let you drive another car which is insured or it might and it probably pays you money for car damage, even if an accident is your fault.
Most people buy insurance online. Some places to try are here and here. In the UK, car insurance is for the car and driver, not the person. You need different insurance for each car. There are 3 main types of insurance. Third party insurance is the least you need. If you travel for work, you need business insurance.
To get an MOT certificate, you need to book an appointment at a garage that does MOTs. You can book an MOT up to one month before the certificate ends.
You will see a sign on garages which offer MOTs. There is an official list of safety checks. The garage will tell you if your car has passed or not, and will tell you what work needs to be done for it to pass. They will usually phone you before you collect your car to ask if you want them to do the work. If your car fails, you cannot drive it away if it has no MOT.
If you have a road accident:
Vehicle registration number: The numbers and letters on the front and back of your car.
1. make sure everyone is ok and write down the registration of the other car immediately.
2. Exchange your contact details with the other person: name, address, phone, vehicle registration number. It's a good idea to take photos of the damage and the scene of the accident. Make sure you get their details.
3. Tell your insurance company what has happened. Phone them. They will probably email you a form.
If the accident is serious, if someone has been injured, or if the other person leaves without giving you their details, contact the police. Call 999 if it is an emergency.
What to do if you have an accident
Housing association: An organisation which owns and lets housing. They don't make a profit.
Rent: What you do when you pay money to stay in a home.
Let: What the owner does when they let you stay in a home.
Landlord: The person (or organisation) who lets a home to you.
Letting agent: A company which manages homes for a landlord (also called an estate agent or property agent)
Council Tax: Money each home must pay to the council
If you are living in the UK legally, you can rent housing. Most people rent from housing associations or private landlords. There are strict laws to protect people who rent.
It might be difficult to rent from a housing association. There are long waiting lists, but if you are disabled or have children it might be easier. If you have lived in Somerset for 6 months, you can use HomeFinder.
HomeFinder: to look for places to rent in Somerset
To find a private let, you can go to a letting agent. You can find a letting agent in your town centre, or try online.
Rightmove Gumtree Prime Location Some places to look for a home online.
Diversity Voice has a guide to renting. It explains the laws. Never sign anything you do not understand, and remember that the system for renting is probably different to in other countries.
Your rights as an international migrant might be different.
Chartered Institute of Housing: Rights for Migrants
Rubbish and Recycling
In the UK, your rubbish and recycling is collected from outside your house. You have different coloured bins for rubbish, and for different types of things which can be recycled. You need to find which days your recycling is collected. It's free; it's included in your Council Tax.
Somerset Waste Partnership
Each home must pay Council Tax. You will have a bill after you move into your home. If you live alone, you have a 25% discount on your Council Tax. You can pay for your Council Tax monthly.
To find the cost of your Council Tax, first use your post code to find the Band for your address (A, B, C etc)
Next go to your District Council website to find the cost
Look here for Somerset West & Taunton
Look here for Mendip
Look here for Sedgemoor
Look here for South Somerset
Every home must have a TV licence if someone watches live TV. You can buy your licence online.
Buy a TV licence online
GPs and dentists
GP (general practitioner): A doctor who does not work in a hospital; the place you go for non-emergencies.
Prescription: a certificate to get medication.
Emergency treatment in hospitals is free for anyone in the UK. Some other treatment is also free. You rarely need to pay for any medical treatment in the UK.
If you are living in the UK legally, and have paid any surchanges you have to, you can register with a GP. Most GPs work in groups, called practices. You don't have to wait until you have a problem to register. It's free.
To register, go to your local GP and tell them you want to register. Your children need to register too. Register as soon as possible, even if you don't have a problem.
Find your local GP
Find your local dentist
If you need medication, your GP will give you a prescription. There is a small payment for prescriptions for some people. Take your prescription to a pharmacy. You will find pharmacies in some supermarkets, in town centre shops, like Boots, and in pharmacies in town centres. Look for a green + sign. Go to the pharmacy counter, and ask how long it will take. Go back later to collect your medication.
Who has free prescriptions
If you have a serious problem, your GP will send you to see a consultant at a hospital.
To get an ambulance, call 999 at any time.
Only do this for emergencies. They will ask which service you want (fire, ambulance, police). Tell them where you are, and what the problem is. An ambulance will arrive very quickly.
If you're not sure what to do, call 111 at any time. They will ask you about the problem and decide whether it's an emergency.
The UK has strict laws so disabled people can live and work like people who don’t have a disability. In Somerset, there are lots of charities and services which can help you. Call Diversity Voice and we will find the help you need.
Mental health means problems about how you're feeling. In can also mean psychological difficulties. In the UK, it's ok to talk about your mental health.
Diversity Voice works with MIND in Somerset. MIND is a mental health charity. They offer help to people with mental health problems, like talking groups. Our support workers can help you in your first language to get support.
MIND in Somerset
Having a Baby
If you're having a baby, you can get all the help you need free, from the NHS. There are also laws which let you take time off work and be paid. You may also be able to get benefits an payments, called Child Tax Credit and Child Benefit.
Maternity rights at work
Most people have a baby in hospital, but you can also have a baby at home an still get help. You can talk about this with your midwife, doctor or nurse. A midwife is a person who helps when you have a a baby.
Tell your GP if you are pregnant. They will arrange everything for you and give you information.
UK maternity services are flexible. You can make your own choices about what happens when you have your baby, and who is at the birth.
After you have your baby, you must register the birth within 42 days.
Register a birth in Somerset
Diversity Voice Coronavirus translations
EAL: English as an additional language.
In England, schools and childcare providers are inspected by OfSTED. OfSTED reports can tell you more about a school, but you should look at the school website too. You must apply for a place, and which schools you can apply to depends on your address.
If your child doesn't speak English, there may be help in schools and nurseries. If your child has medical problems or other educational needs, the school can help with this too. There are also special schools for children with extra needs.
The School System
Early years setting: anywhere that offers places for children under 5. (Also called nurseries or pre-schools)
Under 5: If your child is under 5, they probably need a place at an early years setting.
5 - 11: Children of this age go to primary school. The first year at primary school is called reception. Children join reception in September after their 4th birthday.
11 - 16: Children of this age go to secondary school.
16 - 18: Most secondary schools have a sixth form for this age group, or they can go to college, or leave school at 16.
Some schools have places for children aged 4 - 16 or 18. A few schools are middle schools, where children go until they are 13.
Applying for a place
Admissions: applying for a school place for your child.
There are different rules, depending on the age of your child and when you apply. These links have more information but we can help if you need a translation.
Secondary school admissions
Primary school admissions
Usually, you apply for a place for your child to begin in September. You need to do this as soon as possible, about one year before. Children stay in the same school until they need to move to a secondary school. If you apply at a different time, there might be different rules.
Pre-schools (also called early years providers) are different kinds of places for children under 5. There are rules about how many hours your child can have free at nurseries.
Early years entitlement
Helping your child
PTA: Parent-teacher association
Diversity Voice works in Somerset's schools and early years settings to help children who speak a different home language. We work with Polish children, but can tell you how to get help if your child speaks a different language.
See our web page for parents, where you will find information about the help we offer, including tips for developing your child's bilingual skills.
Diversity Voice Parents
Most schools have a PTA. You can join the PTA to become more involved with the life of your child's school.
Council Tax: A local government tax that must be paid by each house.
Benefits: Extra money from the government if you have low wages, or no wages.
Some people can get government money to help with rent, Council Tax or extra pay. This is called benefits. Getting benefits depends on your immigration status, how much your earn, if you have a job and other things such as if you have children. There are also benefits if you are ill, or if you are looking after someone who is ill.
Applying for benefits can be complicated, but you can get help to do this. You can also get help if you have debt. A good place to do is your local Citizen's Advice office. Diversity Voice can help too.
Find your local Citizen's Advice
If you can't afford to buy food, you might be able to get food from a food bank. Food banks collect food from supermarkets and other places and give it to you for free, or very little money.
Diversity Voice is a member of the Food and Support Alliance and can help you to contact food banks. You can contact us in confidence, and a support worker will help you if you need an interpreter.
We work with several voluntary sector organisations that provide free community support for anyone dealing with money problems, and can provide an interpreter.
Never take advice on immigration from someone who is not registered.
Diversity Voice works with the Home Office, and we have contacts that can give you free or low-cost legal advice if need be. You can contact us in confidence.
EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS)
Don't pay anyone to help you to apply to the EUSS
Citizens of the EU, EEA and Switzerland who lived in the UK before Deember 31 2020 must apply to the EUSS before June 30 2021 if they want to live and work here after that.
Diversity Voice has immigration workers who can help you to do this, for free. Your children must apply too.
Contact Diversity Voice about EUSS
Apply to the EUSS yourself
The new points-based immigration system
From January 1 2021, there is a new immigration system for anyone who wants to come to the UK. If you want to apply, you need to do this before you come to the UK. If you applied to the new system, welcome!
New immigration system: information for EU nationals
Applying for a visa to come to the UK
Other immigration issues
Diversity Voice works with immigration lawyers. We can sometimes arrange legal advice free.
If you came to the UK on the new immigration system, you, or your partner probably already have a job.
If you came to the UK using the new system as a student or spouse (husband or wife), there are strict laws about what work you can do, and if you can work. Your visa information tells you.
If you are allowed to work in the UK, you can look for work.
The most common ways to find work is online, or through a staff agency (also called a recruitment agency). Staff agencies are private businesses; they're not owned by the government. You may see them in your local town centre.
You should never pay anyone to give you a job.
Online job advertising
JobCentre Plus is owned by the government. They help people who are unemployed to find work.
Find your local JobCentre Plus
You might be asked to apply online. If you don;t have a computer, or Internet, try a library. Libraries charge a few pounds for you to use computers.
The UK has strict laws about employment, to protect employees.
Your rights at work - in many languages
You should receive 5.6 weeks or more paid holiday, and if you are over 25 at least £8.72 per hour. There are laws about how many hours you should work, leaving work to have a baby and health & safety. If you have problems, we can help.
For most jobs, you don’t need to get your qualifications recognised in the UK. If you want to work in a specialised field, for example in teaching, medical care, social work or in some higher level jobs in other areas, your employer will need evidence that your qualifications are equivalent to those in the UK. ENIC is the organisation which provides this service and can provide you with a statement of compatibility.
Learning a new culture isn't easy, and sometimes even small differences can be worrying.
Culture is about the things you can see and touch (like food, or clothing) and also about what people think, and what is normal. The UK is not mono-cultural, but there are some ideas that almost everyone agrees with. Open your mind and listen - there is more than one way to be normal!
We asked learners at one of our English classes what most surprised them when they first came to Somerset. You can see how it's different for everyone. We haven't corrected grammar mistakes; this is exactly how people explained.
"I call my boss by his first name, and no title. This would be very rude in China, and I have difficulties even saying it!"
"Everything is online. I my country we must go to offices and take documents."
"Marmite. Do not eat this."
"Driving is so polite! When people flash their lights, they're not angry, they mean you go first! I think this is not correct law, but it's nice! In Italy, it's very different. "
"People smiling always in the street and saying hello looks like crazy people. In Russia you can't do this. Here it's normal and not crazy."
"The police are more friendly, and no guns. One time, I had car accident, and police came and helped me. I saw this policeman, maybe next month and he remembered me and asked if I was ok."
"I have disability. In UK, I can go everywhere and it's ok. At work, my boss made special desk for me.
"Recycling. We don't have this, or maybe rich people have it. In my country we pay for the people to take rubbish and if we don't pay they don't come. I discovered about recycling and now I help other people about this."
"The people sometimes they volunteer and there is no pay. First, I thought it was bit crazy. Then I did volunteering because JobCentre tell me about it, and you get reference and things for cv. It's good idea."
"I can't let my children go out to play alone. I think this is not so good. The people here have children with an adult all the time. I love my life, but not this."
"I love people smiling, happy, friendly. This is same in my country, but only for friends."
"I love pubs in the countryside. This is not like a bar. This is place you can go with family, children play in garden, and eat. After you can go for walk. In summer it's nice."
"Work is little more stressful, because I do work that is different. I must put in the boxes quickly and my boss is not happy if I don't make so many. If I maybe find work like beauty therapy, I will be happy."
"I came from Brazil and I was thinking maybe the culture is like America, and I know about this, but it's very different. People here are more quiet. In Brazil I was rich but here I am poor but life is safer and I can relax."
"Only thing I was surprised about is British people are very funny. In books I read before in Portugal, I thought British culture was very serious and have a lot of rules, but it isn't like this. I love British humour, they laugh at friends but not in a bad way. You can buy any food you want to buy and English people eat food from all over the world. I don't like weather, or the times of my work. It's shifts and I never did this before."
"I was surprised there are so many migrants. I thought maybe this would be like this in London but not Bridgwater. I miss Italy, because in England the winter is dark and people stay in their houses at the evenings. The thing I was surprised about is that many things are cheaper here, like clothes and things you need in your house. Also, there are many places to go shopping in big shops not in the town. I didn't discover this for about a year."
Our thanks to Red and Green Groups at Westfield English Club, winter 2018/spring 2019.