Migrant Access Project

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Main actors

Local Government, NGO / Philanthropy, Community / Citizen Group

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Project area

Whole City/Administrative Region

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Ongoing since 2010/02

A citizen-led initiative to build relationships between newly arrived migrants and service providers.

The City of Leeds has harnessed the strengths of migrant communities to help growing numbers of new arrivals, fleeing war or looking for a better life, settle into the city. The city’s belief is that a citizen-led approach would enable communities, in the first instance, to identify their unique needs, and to develop and implement their own solutions to address those needs. This approach would also mean the city itself could benefit from the more appropriate use of existing services, the creation of additional and more relevant services, better-informed and more employable new citizens and the establishment of more cohesive and productive communities.

The Migrant Access Project is a way for those who have already made links in Leeds to help others. It aims to reduce pressure on highly impacted services. It does so by raising awareness among new arrivals of how the system works, and by helping them put down roots through strengthened relations with existing settled communities. 

Originally published by EUROCITIES, the network of 130 European cities - PDF: 

Sustainable Development Goals

Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all
Reduce inequality within and among countries
Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable
Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels


This project was awarded the 'EUROCITIES Awards' in 2016 in the following category: Participation.

Leeds, United Kingdom

Size and population development
At the 2011 UK census, Leeds had a total population of 751,500, representing a 5% growth since the last census of 2001. Of the 320,600 households in Leeds, 33.3% were married couples living together, 31.6% were one-person households, 9.0% were co-habiting couples and 9.8% were lone parents. The population density was 1,967/km2 (5,090/sq mi).

Population composition
Leeds is a diverse city with over 75 ethnic groups, and with minority ethnic populations representing just under 11.6% of the total population. According to figures from the 2011 census, 85.0% of the population was White (81.1% White British, 0.9% White Irish, 0.1% Gypsy or Irish Traveller, 2.9% Other White), 2.7% of mixed race (1.2% White and Black Caribbean, 0.3% White and Black African, 0.7% White and Asian, 0.5% Other Mixed), 7.7% Asian (2.1% Indian, 3.0% Pakistani, 0.6% Bangladeshi, 0.8% Chinese, 1.2% Other Asian), 3.5% Black (2.0% African, 0.9% Caribbean, 0.6% Other Black), 0.5% Arab and 0.6% of other ethnic heritage.

Main functions
Leeds is the second largest regional city in the UK and recognized as the regional capital of the Yorkshire and Humber region. Leeds has the second largest employment total outside London, with 1.9million in the local workforce, a business base of over 106,000 companies and over 110,000 people commuting to work from outside the district every day. Leeds is a member of Core Cities Group, a coalition of England's major regional cities which work in partnership to enhance their economic performances, and to secure positive identities as places to live, work, visit and conduct business. Key priorities are: Transport and connectivity Innovation and business support skills and employment, sustainable communities, culture and creative industries, climate change, finance and industry, governance.

Main industries / business
Financial and business services, electronics and optical, communications, health and public services, digital and media, bioscience and medical research, manufacturing

Sources for city budget
National Government and taxation revenue

Political structure
The City of Leeds is a local government district of West Yorkshire, England, governed by Leeds City Council, with the status of a city and metropolitan borough. It the second largest local government district in England by population and the second largest metropolitan district by area.

Administrative structure
Leeds City Council is the local authority of the district. The council is composed of 99 councillors, three for each of the city's wards. Elections are held three years out of four, on the first Thursday of May. One third of the councillors are elected, for a four-year term, in each election.

Home to over 140 ethnic groups, Leeds has a rich multicultural heritage, with migrants contributing to the economic, social and cultural life of the city. It has looked to address migration issues through a focus on developing a compassionate city sustained by a strong economy. However, in the face of public sector budget cuts, reductions in services for migrants, and the arrival of many diverse migrant communities, maintaining this focus has proved difficult. Moreover, growing numbers of new migrants were failing to access public services because of language, information and cultural issues. 

As a result, while willing to work and to contribute to their community, many migrants have become disengaged from the world of work and city life. Recognising these problems, Leeds City Council decided to take an asset-based approach to identify potential solutions. Instead of focusing on what is wrong,  it chose to look at what is strong in migrant communities - skills, knowledge, cultures and life experiences - and how these could be capitalised upon.

The lead agency for the project is Leeds City Council and it is supported by two not-for-profit community service providers, Touchstone and Feel Good Factor.

The Migrant Access Project builds relationships so newly arrived citizens and service providers can have a conversation, learn from each other and embrace a community-based approach to developing solutions. Facilitating this new dialogue on the ground, are the project’s volunteer Migrant Community Networkers (MCNs). These people are community leaders who are equipped with the skills and knowledge needed to provide support, guidance and information to their communities. MCNs help new arrivals navigate the complex urban system of housing, benefits, employment, health, education and social services. They also facilitate communities coming together to share their concerns, needs problems and solutions.

As a pilot project, the Migrant Access Project received financial support from the city’s Migration Impact Fund. Once success stories emerged, Leeds City Council made recurrent funding available to increase the project’s impact.

To date, Leeds City Council has provided annual funding of EUR86,000 for the project via Adult Social Care, Public Health Directorates and partners.

Established in 2010, the Migrant Access Project has succeeded in reaching into seldom-heard communities. Despite limited resources, it provides culturally-sensitive and bespoke community solutions. It has, as a result, been recognised as an example of good practice in rising to the challenge of the UK government’s equalities agenda. 

One of the projects highest profile successes is a community group called The Syrian Kitchen. Set up by a Syrian dentist, it trains new arrivals who then volunteer in the kitchen, attend its social activities, and begin to learn about life in Leeds. It also contributes to wider social cohesion by providing a lunch club for older local customers and teaching conversational English to the Syrian community. 

A number of new social enterprises have also emerged from the project. One of these teaches volunteers additional skills such as how to set up and manage an organisation, and provides help with translation, form-filling, signposting and advocacy.

The management team has identified four factors they believe are key to the success and sustainability of asset-based projects: 

  • don’t over-fund or over-regulate
  • encourage and enable neighbourliness and new ideas rather than being prescriptive about focus areas and activities
  • take whatever time is needed to find, inspire and liberate community builders
  • gather stories and statistics to evidence the project’s impact.

Cities in action - Leeds supports migrants’ strengths,  Integrating new arrivals into city life - EUROCITIES, November 2016

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Brussels Capital Region, Belgium


Institution | Urban Award

Pria Bhabra
Leeds, United Kingdom

Pria Bhabra

Individual | Commissioning Officer (Migrant Access Project)

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