This year has seen us increase our numbers and thereby the help we are able to provide to our service users. We are booming. Briefly, for those who do not know us we are dedicated to providing help to asylum seekers, refugees and especially refused asylum seekers. Later, this element will be further explained by our caseworker. We are all volunteers except our part time grant funded caseworker.
Every Wednesday we have a very well attended drop-in at The Victoria Hall, in Bolton. At the moment, we are averaging over 150 people signing in at each session. In the last year, we had over 7,000 visits and of those over 1,000 used our Triage and Casework services. Our service users were from 25 different countries.
Everyone has access to our Caseworker through our trained Triage team and our translators. [ more of them later].
At the drop-in, every single service user obtains all day free tea, coffee, biscuits, fruit and later in the day bread to take home. The most destitute are provided, free of charge, with a week’s groceries, toiletries and where needed baby food and clothes. Every single person has access to our free clothes store where we have everything needed in the way of clothes, shoes, bedding, backpacks etc. We have a free onsite barber for the men and used occasionally by women, and are hoping soon to have a ladies’ hairdresser.
At lunchtime, we all enjoy a healthy cooked meal cooked on the premises by our wonderful friends and long-term supporters, Bolton Mutual Aid. This is normally 150 hot meals and sometimes extends to 200.
During the day, we have English Classes for men and women in dedicated rooms off the main hall. Here we teach about 30, either in conventional ESOL manner or in conversation. We have various other activities, such as Card Making, Jewellery and Arts and Crafts design and production. We have a small outside space which we are preparing as a tranquil area and with help our service users are providing the initial work with willow weaving, plant preparation using their gardening skills.
We have a link with the Octagon Theatre who kindly come to us regularly and provide expertise and inspiration as about 20 of our ladies prepare for a demonstration of their cultures through, song, readings, poems and dance.
We have arranged to be visited by BHA, Black Health Agency from Manchester, who provide healthcare and advice to BME communities [ Black and Minority Ethnic]. This is a service much needed by our service users. Initially BHA came weekly to attend to our many clients. Now they attend one Wednesday a month. Incidentally, one service they provide is a completely confidential HIV test taken in another room upstairs with a same day result.
We also have an arrangement BAND a local charity that caters for those suffering with mental health difficulties. They have a monthly stand at our drop-in, another invaluable help to our clients.
We have organised trips out such as a ‘Behind the Scenes’ visit to the Octagon, trips to watch Bolton Wanderers play and a Ladies Lunch at the Octagon among others, and have four other outside trips lined up for the coming months.
We have a full-size Table Tennis table, 2 pool tables, 2 table football tables and an Air-Hockey table.
Crucially we provide a happy and safe haven for those in difficult circumstances, which enables them to socialise, meet with others in similar positions and make use of all the facilities on hand.
Our Wednesday drop-in is only half of it though. On the other six days of the week our dedicated volunteers and caseworker provide much more help, such as:
- Collecting our clients and accompanying them to Doctors and Hospital appointments.
- Visiting them in Hospital.
- Accompanying and supporting them at very lengthy Tribunals and Home Office appeals, recently at Bradford, Manchester and Liverpool.
- Visiting them in detention.
- Helping the homeless into the mainstream, initially obtaining night shelters then hostel accommodation, then into rented accommodation. A long yet worthwhile process.
- Outreach English teaching at various venues.
- Taking our clients to thrift shops or Emmaus and collecting, paying for and delivering furniture to their new accommodation. Making minor repairs to their accommodation.
- Delivering food and clothes to those of our clients too infirm to collect them.
- Meeting and accompanying clients to Banks, Jobcentre, Post Office, Council Offices, Schools, translating and explaining processes whilst there.
- Completing the many and lengthy Home Office forms, normally a two-hour Coffee Shop meeting.
- Collecting food from Tesco every Tuesday evening, and from Fareshare every month.
- Shopping for our food supplies every Friday.
- Collecting and delivering donated Warburtons bread every Monday.
- Meeting clients at stations with maps and details for their journeys and funding their tickets.
- Sourcing and paying towards overnight accommodation in London for families sent from Bolton to Croydon for further lengthy screening interviews. [ Logistically impossible to be completed in a day]
- Collecting clothes and other donated items.
- Giving talks at Churches, Schools, Clubs and anywhere we’re invited to tell of our work.
- Taking our stand and leaflets to many events.
- We’re founder members of Bolton, a City of Sanctuary, and currently supply the Chair, Secretary, Hosting Coordinator and three other committee members.
- Visiting new mother service users with clothes and gifts.
- Countless other kindnesses given freely to our lovely service users.
Our dedicated and happy team of volunteers deserve much respect and thanks. However, without funding our volunteers would have nobody to care for as we rely ENTIRELY on donations and funding, so it gives me immense pleasure to thank our funders:
- The Sir James and Lady Scott Trust.
- The Hilden Trust.
- Bolton Christian Community Cohesion.
- Awards for All [ Big Lottery Fund].
- Bolton Community and Voluntary Services [C.V.S.].
- Manchester Quakers.
- Bolton Quakers.
Also, grateful thanks go out to our regular funders who fund us through monthly DDM’s, one-off donations and the proceeds of various functions. Also thanks to the many individuals and schools who bring in food and clothes, with a special mention to Mount St. Joseph and their Christmas collection and delivery of nearly 2,000 tins of food.
In the coming months, we should have our first website, again through funding.
Incidentally, we are now live on a smartphone app called REFAID, which, although seems like something needed by Premiership referees, is a fantastic aid for refugees and asylum seekers, pointing them towards the services in their area. We are more popular and busier than the previous year. However, crucially, our volunteers seem to be cheerfully giving more and more.
There followed a conversation between the Chair and our grant funded Caseworker
Conversation headings: -
Triage Team: - Five dedicated volunteer members. She continued with listing the many duties they undertake.
Training: - This was predominantly given to them by Shaheda and included training in understanding diverse cultures, understanding client’s pressures and their mental health and the need for patience.
Interpreters: - We have volunteer service users who are trained and sign a confidentiality agreement.
Casework: - Shaheda spoke about the different help needed by Refugees with leave to remain compared to Asylum seekers, and Asylum seekers who are destitute, and the help we provide to all.
Mentoring: - This is a crucial element of casework, especially with destitute asylum seekers.
Links to other organisations: - This is important and we have many links such as with solicitors, Band for mental health, BHA for medical screening and tests [they provide this onsite], Serco where we have a direct link to those providing housing. We are also a referring agency for various night shelters.
Updating with Immigration Law: - She has much training and continuous updates in changes in law from Refugee Action. Additionally, Minesh from Oakmount Law often sits in on a morning, providing a free legal service.
One Day a week: - Paul asked if she only worked one day a week. Shaheda explained that Wednesday was her main day but she worked on all other days. Her work phone is open 24/7 and gets calls at all hours, say when one of her clients has been placed in detention. She comes into her office here on Tuesdays and will also meet clients in coffee shops to complete crucial Home Office forms and will accompany clients to Liverpool for Home Office submissions.
Challenges: - Some of the pressing challenges are when a client turns up with a suitcase and no accommodation and finding them a place to sleep. Also, recently, we are coming across more cases of voluntary return being refused and as asylum has also been refused our clients are condemned to a life in penniless destitute limbo without any basic needs such as food, clothing, accommodation. We can help a lot in these cases, arranging shelters, hosting accommodation and supplying food and clothing and some other costs.
Numbers: - Shaheda said that in the first 12 weeks of this year she and the triage team had seen 308 people from 25 different countries [ here she named the countries and numbers.]
Note, the Chair’s report contained all the above but was conducted on a ‘True or False’ basis, interacting with the audience. We had an attendance of 79 signed in which included representatives of 7 other organisations and crucially, 31 of our service users.