We’re pleased to announce that we’re looking for a Senior Caseworker to effectively support refugee, asylum-seeking and migrant members in our community with advice and casework, as well as support other staff and volunteers in our advice team.
This is an exciting opportunity to join our diverse, warm community of people from all over the world. The role will be a busy, varied and senior position within our skilled, friendly advice team, working in-person at our beautiful community centre and doing some remote work. You’ll work closely with staff and volunteers to ensure members of our community get the essential advice they need in their often very difficult life circumstances.
The job description and person specification can be found here.
To apply, please email us your CV and a covering letter (maximum one page A4) detailing your experience and how you meet the person specification to Leyla Williams, Deputy Director, at firstname.lastname@example.org by midnight on Wednesday 30 November 2022 (new deadline).
Informal conversations about the role are welcome – please email Leyla if you would like to speak over the phone.
Interviews will be scheduled after the application deadline.
WLW is offering an opportunity to join our diverse Board of Trustees.
This is an exciting time to join our community. We’re a community centre and registered charity run for and with refugees, migrants and people seeking asylum, working together with local people to provide a safe, positive experience of community to reduce isolation, build inclusion and confidence, and challenge injustice.
Each week we provide community support, English classes, advice, hot food, a foodbank, clothing, childcare, and social and creative activities. We take a holistic approach to support the needs of our members, from the practical and social to the emotional and playful.
- The Role
We are looking to recruit up to two trustees and are particularly looking for people with some or all of the following skills and/or experience:
- Refugee/Migrant Sector experience – experience of working within the refugee and migrant NGO sector. This could include either working directly for an NGO, or in another related capacity such as working in immigration and asylum law or on campaigns.
- Experience of working in fundraising or HR within the charity sector.
It would be desirable, although not essential, if a candidate had lived experience of the challenges of seeking refuge in the UK.
- Trustee Duties
The general duties of a trustee are to:
- Ensure that WLW complies with its governing document (its constitution), charity law and any other relevant legislation or regulations.
- Ensure that WLW pursues its objects as defined in its governing document.
- Ensure WLW applies its resources exclusively in pursuance of its objects, i.e. it must not spend money on activities which are not included in the objects, however worthwhile they appear to be.
- Contribute actively to the Board’s role in giving firm strategic direction to WLW, setting overall policy, defining goals and setting targets and evaluating performance against agreed targets.
- Safeguard the good name and values of WLW.
- Ensure the financial stability of WLW.
- Protect and manage the property of WLW and to ensure that proper investment of WLW’s funds.
- Support WLW’s Director and monitor her performance.
In addition to the above general duties, a trustee should use any specific skills, knowledge or experience they have to help the Board reach sound decisions. This may involve leading discussions, focusing on key issues, providing advice and guidance on new initiatives, evaluation or other issues in which the trustee has special expertise.
- Minimum Time Commitment
- The Board generally holds meetings at least four times per year. These normally take place in the early evening and last approximately two hours. There may also be additional occasional trainings.
- Trustees should also support WLW at informal fundraising and other events as part of their ambassadorial role as well as making make regular visits to the WLW centre.
- This is a voluntary position, but trustees can claim out of pocket expenses such as those incurred in travelling to meetings.
- Occasionally quick decisions on urgent matters need to be made. Trustees should be
available via WhatsApp as well as at regular board meetings to provide needed input/advice.
- Person Specification
Each trustee must have:
- A commitment to the mission of WLW;
- A willingness to devote the necessary time and effort;
- Strategic vision;
- Good, independent judgement;
- An ability to think creatively;
- A willingness to speak their mind;
- An understanding and acceptance of the legal duties, responsibilities and liabilities of trusteeship;
- An ability to work effectively as a member of a team and to take decisions for the good of WLW;
- A satisfactory DBS disclosure;
- Satisfactory references.
Interested applicants should review the duties and person specification detailed here, and send their CV and a covering letter with the subject line Trustee Applicants to Joanne MacInnes, Director, at email@example.com by midnight on 29 October 2022.
The directors, Board and wider community of West London Welcome stand against the Home Office’s practice of electronically tagging people.
Electronically tagging people is dehumanising and incredibly intrusive. The Home Office has already introduced the electronic monitoring of people on immigration bail using GPS tags, and we are aware that electronic tagging could affect newly-arriving asylum-seeking people coming by boat and lorry, including those currently in detention who were nearly sent to Rwanda last week before the flight was stopped.
The Home Office’s basis for tagging newly-arriving asylum-seeking people appears to be to treat as criminals those they deem are ‘illegally’ entering the country. But under the Refugee Convention, anyone has a right to claim asylum, and nobody is ‘illegal’ for coming to the UK to do so, regardless of the route they took here.
The Prime Minister has defended the plans on the basis of a necessity to stop people absconding, saying it is important that people entering this country did not “vanish from the system”. However, such an approach lacks any evidential basis. A recent Freedom of Information Act response to a request by Brian Dikoff of Migrants Organise found that of more than 7,000 people granted immigration bail between February 2020 and March 2021, just 43 people absconded – less than 0.56%.
Beyond the inhumanity of electronic tagging of people seeking sanctuary, the practice is illogical, disproportionate and represents yet another attempt by the government to enforce a biased approach against those seeking asylum, wasting millions in taxpayers’ money in the process. As Privacy International has reported, these GPS tags enable highly intrusive 24/7 monitoring and livetracking of people’s locations, for no good reason. Privacy International has pointed out that this tracking goes far beyond what is necessary to prevent people absconding, and that absconding isn’t even an issue.
People must be treated with dignity and humanity when arriving on UK shores, not dehumanised and criminalised, and we must all stand against this harmful and immoral practice.
You can read more about the harmful effects of electronic tagging on the Privacy International website here.
We’re pleased to build on the Ukrainian Institute’s launch of their new English school and support them with the huge demand for English classes from newly-arriving Ukrainian learners in West London. These summer classes will be run in addition to the existing English classes we provide each week for local refugees, migrants and asylum-seeking people from around the world.
Call-out for staff/volunteers for this summer programme
Teachers with teaching qualifications (ideally TEFL (CELTA/DELTA) or ESOL), or with significant experience teaching English as a foreign language, and volunteers to help with childcare during classes. If you are interested, please apply to the Ukrainian Institute here.
Sign-up forms for Ukrainians to join English classes
Form in English:
Form in Ukrainian:
Ця форма також доступна українською мовою:
Український інститут в Лондоні радий співпрацювати з West London Welcome, щоб проводити безкоштовні курси англійської мови для українців у липні та серпні за підтримки організації Daisy Trust. Заняття відбуватимуться особисто (офлайн) в West London Welcome (Лондон).
Будь ласка, заповніть поля нижче, якщо Ви зацікавлені приєднатися до наших класів. У нас є місце лише для 32 студентів, і ми очікуємо, що ці місця заповняться дуже швидко. Однак, якщо Ви заповните цю форму, ми також збережемо Ваші дані, щоб проінформувати Вас про можливі майбутні заняття та про онлайн-ресурси для вивчення англійської мови.
Our community has been shocked by government plans to send asylum-seeking people to Rwanda, and by their attempts this week to action these plans. This is an appalling new iteration of the ongoing, everyday hostile environment affecting refugees, migrants and asylum-seeking people in West London and across the UK, that curtails people’s rights and causes fear, distress and harm.
On June 13th we protested with our members and volunteers alongside hundreds of others outside the Home Office in central London to make our opposition to these plans loud and clear. On June 14th, thanks to the tireless work of lawyers, charity workers and campaigners, not a single person was sent to Rwanda, and we were proud to know many of those involved in stopping the plane.
We stand with our asylum-seeking friends for their rights and for justice. Here’s to them and our friends in law firms, charities and communities working with them in solidarity every day.
Prince Charles visited our community at West London Welcome on Thursday 28 April, meeting many of our members and volunteers.
It was an important opportunity for the stories of our friends most affected by the hostile environment to be heard – he spoke with people who have crossed the Channel to seek safety here, who have been in detention, who have been trafficked, who have been waiting 18 months for an interview on their asylum claim, and who are banned from working and survive on only £8 per week from the Home Office. On his visit he expressed concern and a ‘need to do something’ about the situation of asylum-seeking people.
Read more about his visit to us in The Independent: www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/charles-hammersmith-turkey-the-sun-prince-of-wales-b2067649.html
We are proud to present our new short film, A Day in the Life of West London Welcome.
The film is a labour of love that we have created in partnership with our longtime volunteer, director Phyllida Lloyd, and TEA Films. It follows the people of WLW at our centre for a day, listening to the experiences of local people from refugee and migrant backgrounds moving to West London, hearing about what we do together at the centre and from volunteers, and about the joy and friendships that we have built together through community.
The film is available on our YouTube channel here:
The past few weeks have been more busy than ever at West London Welcome. Our centre is located close to the Ukraine embassy, consulate and social club in Kensington, and nearby Ealing has the second-highest population of Ukrainian citizens in the UK. When the shocking war in Ukraine began last month our community were poised to welcome and support newly-arriving Ukrainian refugees arriving into West London.
We have already been supporting a number of newly-arrived Ukrainian families and individuals with finding safe local housing through Refugees at Home, accessing urgent legal advice via Ukraine Advice Project, food, clothes, English classes, childcare, and all the social activities and friendship that comes with joining our community centre. We expect many more people to arrive in the coming weeks, and we are ready to support them.
The needs of our new Ukrainian friends here are complex given the nature of the new visa systems that have been created. Lots of casework and support is needed for them, as well as for their hosts. We are concerned that some Ukrainians arriving into West London are falling into destitution, either because their hosting arrangements have broken down or because they have arrived without visas. We call on the government to ensure that all Ukrainians in the UK, whether they are newly-arriving or have been here for some time, can regularise their immigration statuses and have the right to stay, work and have recourse to public funds. They are all fleeing the same war and no Ukrainian should be punished for the way in which they entered the UK.
If you would like to support our efforts, you can donate to our Localgiving page or to H&F Giving’s Ukraine appeal here. A huge thank you to the many of you who have already sent us such generous donations and messages of support.
We’re looking for a Finance Manager to join our team on a permanent, self-employed, part-time basis.
West London Welcome is a small grassroots charity in an exciting time of growth. We’re a dedicated, supportive and welcoming staff team who are looking forward to working closely with a new Finance Manager. Our community centre run for and with refugees, asylum seekers and migrants is now open three days a week to support 300+ members, and we welcome families and individuals of all ages from 43 different countries.
Our Finance Manager has day-to-day responsibility for our finances, working with our staff team and our Trustees to set and manage budgets, maintain accurate financial records and ensure all financial and compliance requirements are met.
We are passionate about ensuring West London Welcome’s staff reflect the communities we support. We are taking positive action to address an under-representation of lived-experience of refuge or migration, and people from Black and Minority Ethnic (BAME) backgrounds, within our current staff team. We will prioritise applications from applicants with lived experience of refuge and migration and welcome applications from people from BAME backgrounds, if they meet the minimum essential criteria for this role.
To apply for this role, please send your CV and a cover letter no longer than two pages long to Joanne MacInnes, Director, at firstname.lastname@example.org by midnight on Dec 21st 2021.
So much has been happening at West London Welcome recently, from moving into our new premises, to welcoming hundreds of Afghans to West London and walking with Little Amal. We have lots of news and updates for you, first and foremost about our fantastic new home…
Our new community centre
We’re thrilled to report that our new centre in Hammersmith is alive and running and already much-loved by our community. The Leslie Aldridge Trust have very generously funded our renovations. After a number of painting and decorating parties with our members (big thanks to Farrow and Ball for the paint donations and to so many locals for the furniture and lovely furnishings we needed!), we opened our doors last month and immediately felt at home.
Our new space features a large space for English classes and communal dining, offices for our admin and advice sessions, a chill-out sofa area (looking colourful and awesome thanks to Knit for Peace donations), a children’s play area, storage, a soon-to-be-ready kitchen, and best of all our own garden. We’ve already been making the absolute most of our new spaces by playing cricket outside with Fulham Cricket Club, screenprinting t-shirts with volunteers Rachel and Cat, and welcoming in the Flying Seagulls Circus. It’s a rare and wonderful thing to find a space that fulfills all our needs, but we’ve done it!
We’re busy gardening together in our outside spaces thanks to generous donations from Chiswick Community Allotments, Chelsea Flower Show and some wonderful grasses from the legend that is Knoll Gardens. Gardening has been particularly lovely for those in our community who were used to gardening in their home countries. Our kitchen is going to be ready imminently, which will allow for our chef Aisha and the fabulous kitchen team to cook to their heart’s delight – and for asylum-seeking people living in hotels without kitchens to cook themselves meals.
Next month we’ll start opening three days a week: on Tuesdays our Outreach Coordinator Mehri will run our free clothing shop and social time for asylum-seeking people living in local hotels; on Wednesdays we’ll run a variety of creative classes including knitting, yoga, art and meditation; and on Thursday we’ll continue with our usual day centre where people receive holistic support from legal advice and housing casework to English classes, our foodbank, hot lunch, social time, creative activities and sport.
Welcoming Afghans and other new arrivals
Back in August we had the privilege of welcoming newly-arrived Afghans into West London, where hundreds of evacuees are living in bridging hotels while they wait for permanent housing elsewhere. We organised a warm welcome for the Afghans, have been working with the council and a variety of local groups including the wonderful parents, teachers and students at Emanuel School to organise donations and support, and have brought Afghan families into our community. Distressingly the Afghans we know are none the wiser as to when they will be properly housed and have been living without any money or documentation since they first arrived – our Director Joanne and our Afghan member Zia spoke about the ongoing uncertainty faced by Afghans on ITV News, and our Deputy Director Leyla spoke about the same issues on the BBC.
Private landlords are desperately needed to provide homes for Afghans so they can move out of bridging hotels. Please contact us if you have a self-contained flat or house of any size.
Walking with Little Amal
This past weekend we were unbelievably proud to be the flag-bearers for Little Amal, the giant refugee child puppet who has walked across Europe to find her mother and seek sanctuary, as she was welcomed by hundreds of people at St Paul’s Cathedral and around London. Our volunteer, Phyllida Lloyd, directed the welcome ceremony brilliantly with hundreds of children singing Consider Yourself from Oliver Twist – not a dry eye amongst the adult crowd of spectators. Our community of refugees, migrants and volunteers will never forget being part of such an inspiring, joyful and moving day. We also partied with Little Amal at the Roundhouse in Camden together, and some of our families loved meeting her at the V&A. You can see pictures of our time with Little Amal on Twitter here.
As ever, we’ve been busy running trips around London with the help of our fab volunteers. Recently we had an incredible time rocking out to Tina the Musical (all thanks to our volunteer Phyllida who directed that as well!), visited Kew Gardens, the Sky Garden, Tower Bridge, St Katherine’s Docks, gone to the V&A, had a tour of Chiswick House with a wonderful lunch thanks to UCL, and stayed local on the gorgeous Hammersmith riverside.
Chiswick satellite group
For nearly a year now, our Chiswick satellite group have been supporting their asylum-seeking neighbours with a weekly community gathering. This group is a joyful lifeline for those part of it, and shows how much locals can do together by just meeting up and making things happen.
Chiswick is home to two large hotels which are used as temporary accommodation for families, unaccompanied teenagers, single and pregnant women – all of whom are seeking asylum and have made long and difficult journeys to reach the UK to escape extreme situations in their home country. Members of this community are particularly vulnerable and often traumatised. Many people are left for months without any financial support from the Government, no ability to cook the food they like, and often feel very isolated and alone.
At the Chiswick ‘Welcome Afternoon’, asylum seekers and their children can join a communal safe space, eat together, have some English conversation, play some games and make friends. Help is given to register for schools and GP’s and signposting to other services. They provide support (both emotional and practical) for pregnant women, mothers and their babies – including supplying baby grows, nursing bras and pushchairs. For those with no money, phone credit vouchers are given and pre-loaded Oyster cards for important appointments.
You can donate to support our work in Chiswick on Localgiving here.
Rallying against the Nationality and Borders Bill At Parliament Square.
We joined hundreds of friends and allies for the Refugees Welcome rally against the Nationality and Borders Bill at Parliament Square last week. The Government’s new Bill, dubbed the ‘Anti-Refugee Bill’, will only serve to deepen the already hostile environment towards refugees and migrants. If passed, it will attack the 70-year-old Refugee Convention by punishing people by the means of their arrival, creating a two-tier system of treatment of asylum seekers based on whether they travelled here by ‘formal’ or ‘informal’ routes. Most of you will know that there are currently no safe or legal routes for people to get here, so people we know have been forced to take very dangerous journeys by boat. We were proud to come together with other routes to defend the right for people to seek safety by any means. You can see pictures of us the rally on Twitter here, and you can read in more detail about what the passing of the Bill would mean on the JCWI website here.
Joanne and Betul talk food
For your listening pleasure: Joanne and Betul, an asylum-seeking member of our community, talked to the Lecker podcast about the role of food at West London Welcome, from its importance at our centre to how asylum-seeking people get by living in hotels without kitchens for months on end. You can listen to the episode on the Lecker website here or on Apple podcasts here.
At West London Welcome we directly support hundreds of newly-arriving asylum-seeking people who have made life-threatening journeys to reach safety, with our day centre, clothes, foodbank, technology, household items, English classes, legal advice clinics, social activities and community outings.
We are renewing our appeal for donations to continue our essential holistic work. Your gift will help us be ready to support new arrivals from Afghanistan whom we hope will arrive in West London very soon – we previously collaborated with our local council to support resettled Syrian families and look forward to starting this work again. Your support also helps us to assist Afghan asylum seekers already in our community who had to make their own life-threatening journeys here alone – as well as others from 40+ other countries who have fled traumatic life circumstances.
£50 provides our members with travel costs to get to solicitors or doctors
£100 buys two smartphones
£200 will allow us to provide shoes, socks, underwear and other essential clothing items.
Any donations, regular or one-off, are hugely appreciated. You can donate on our Localgiving page here: https://localgiving.org/HelpUsHelpNewArrivals
Take a moment to imagine what you might do in this situation. You and your child have recently managed to escape war in your home country. You survive a life-threatening journey to seek refuge in the UK. You’re housed by the Home Office, but are banned from working or claiming any benefits, so have no way of making any money. You don’t have any family or friends here to help you, so you’re completely reliant on the £5.66 a day you’re supposed to receive on an ‘Aspen’ debit card from the Home Office in order to buy essentials – but you haven’t been sent an Aspen card. How would you survive?
This is the position that Zala* and her two year old daughter have been in for nearly a month now, since the Aspen Card crisis began. Since May 21st, Zala has been living without an Aspen card and hasn’t had any money from the Home Office. This is because the Home Office has botched up the rollout of new Aspen cards for asylum seekers and left thousands of people around the country with no money. We know a number of people like Zala, some with babies and very young children, who have been living without cards for nearly a month now.
As a small charity embedded within the Hammersmith and Fulham community and surrounding neighbourhoods in our patch of West London, we and our members have been in a permanent state of emergency since the Aspen card crisis began. In the first few days of the crisis, we helped our members without cards contact Migrant Help, the Home Office subcontracted charity who operates a helpline for asylum seekers, hoping that the new cards would then arrive at people’s accommodations in a day or two – because how could the Home Office expect people to survive otherwise? But days turned into weeks. Half of the asylum-seeking families and individuals we support have been affected by this crisis. Slowly, after weeks, those who have been living without cards are starting to get them, but a number of our members are still waiting in desperation. The Home Office say they are issuing emergency cash payments, but people have waited weeks for these to come through, and many haven’t received one at all.
To support Zala and our other members in dire need, we’ve done what other small grassroots charities and community groups across the country have: stepped up to the challenge and ensured that everyone we know in this position is able to meet their essential needs, by organising emergency food or money for them. We’ve partnered with the Red Cross and other charities to ensure people can feed themselves. We’ve worked proactively and reached out to vulnerable families that were moved out of West London weeks ago to another part of the country where they know nobody, to discover they were without Aspen cards and going hungry, and organised immediate support for them. We’ve worked with the media to keep a spotlight on this crisis and supported our members to tell their stories, featuring on ITV News, Sky News, the Guardian, The Independent, and Huck. We discussed the issue with our MP Andy Slaughter and he raised it in Parliament. Our staff and fantastic community of dedicated volunteers have set aside time on a daily basis to keep in contact with the asylum seekers we know without cards, in order to make sure they have enough to eat and have emotional support. We’ve been busy running regular community events and picnics to enable people to make new friends and get some light relief from their situation.
Nearly a month on, a number of asylum-seeking people we know still don’t have their Aspen cards, and the Home Office hasn’t formally apologised for the dangerous position it has left vulnerable people in. We continue to do everything we can to support people, but charities should never be expected to fill the void in the basic support the state is supposed to be providing. On our minds throughout this crisis has been two troubling thoughts: why has it been left to small charities like ours to ensure asylum-seeking people haven’t been left destitute after this disastrous handling of the new Aspen card rollout, and how are asylum-seeking people who aren’t in touch with charities surviving this?
*names have been changed
This week for Refugee Week we’re celebrating every day with community activities in the sunshine with our asylum-seeking neighbours in temporary hotel accommodation. Our community events are vital ways for people to make new friends, get support from us, and have fun.
Our Outreach Coordinator Mehri has been out and about coordinating picnics, and we loved having a visit from Councillor Rebecca Harvey, Lead Member for Child Refugees in Hammersmith and Fulham.
It’s been so inspiring to see local people across West London develop communities around different Home Office hotels with such joy, warmth and energy over the past few months. We have a large concentration of these hotels in the Hammersmith and Fulham, Kensington and Chelsea, and Hounslow boroughs, and the asylum-seeking families and individuals living there are incredibly isolated and surviving on very little or no money at all. People have been able to make their first friends in the UK and access food, healthcare and legal aid. The support of these pop-up communities have been a real lifeline for people, and demonstrate the possibilities of what neighbourhoods can achieve together.
The second COVID vaccination doses for all members of West London Welcome are now done!
We’re grateful from the bottom of our hearts to the two brilliant doctors from our local Hammersmith and Fulham NHS Clinical Commissioning Group for coming to our centre yesterday and administering the final dose of the vaccine to the refugees, asylum seekers and migrants we support locally who otherwise would have been waiting for weeks or months. Our members are living in cramped housing conditions, most are ethnic minorities, many survive on only £8 a week from the Home Office or nothing at all and struggle to meet their essential needs, and a number have a variety of health conditions. They are especially at risk of being infected by COVID, so this double vaccination brings huge relief to them and us.
Thanks so much to Hammersmith and Fulham Council for helping make this happen, and to all those in our community who helped with our multiple educational sessions around the vaccine and the many translations of that information for our members, especially local pharmacist Hala Abusin – it did wonders for helping clarify unknowns and dissipate the anxieties of our members, and get us to this moment today.
We’re looking for an energetic, compassionate, and highly communicative Outreach Coordinator to join the West London Welcome team for six months, starting as soon as possible.
The Outreach Coordinator will coordinate and perform our COVID pandemic-related outreach work within Hammersmith and Fulham. Through this outreach work we aim to extend our reach and support many more people that we are able to currently. This outreach work will be hands-on and take place out in the community (not desk-based), focusing on supporting a large number of newly-arrived asylum-seeking families and individuals placed in local hotels by the Home Office, who need a considerable amount of support finding legal aid solicitors, food, clothing, schools and GPs. Post-pandemic this role could extend to include coordinating outings, enrichment activities, and signposting members to groups, clubs, education and work opportunities and other creative projects that are offered to West London Welcome members.
We would ideally like the post-holder to live within Hammersmith and Fulham or a nearby borough, in order to easily perform local outreach work.
To apply for this role, please email us your CV along with a letter of application no longer than two A4 pages long, describing your experience, skills, and why you feel you would be a good fit for the role while bearing in mind the job description and person specification, by Friday 19th February 2021. We will be reviewing applications as soon as they come in, so we may close to applications early. Applications should be emailed to Joanne MacInnes, Director, at email@example.com.
We are passionate about ensuring West London Welcome’s staff reflect the communities we support. We are taking positive action to address an under-representation of lived- experience of refuge or migration, or people from Black and Minority Ethnic (BAME) backgrounds, within our current staff team. We will prioritise applications from applicants with lived-experience of refuge and migration and from BAME backgrounds, if they meet the minimum essential criteria for this role.
After many days of our amazing volunteers sweating away, we and Care4Calais are proud to announce the opening of ‘The Shop’!
A collaboration between West London Welcome and Care4Calais, The Shop is a clothesbank in a storefront for asylum seeking people living in nearby temporary hotel accommodation in West London. Our asylum seeking neighbours in hotels, which include many families with babies and small children, are in dire need of clothes and other essentials given that they arrive in the country often only with the clothes on their backs. Once here, they survive only on airplane-style meals in their hotels, and are given only £8 per week by the Home Office, or in many cases no money at all. They’re banned from working, so can’t earn any money of their own. We will be supporting up to 600 local asylum seeking people in hotels with clothes, shoes, toiletries, books, toys, luggage, phones and other donations over the next month through The Shop.
The Shop was born thanks to one of our Labour councillors in Hammersmith, Councillor David Morton. We wrote to David to ask if there might be a local space we could use to help asylum seeking people with a clothesbank, and he wrote to Hammersmith and Fulham Council. The Council quickly offered us an empty local storefront. Once we’d secured this space, West London Welcome and Care4Calais partnered up and organised call-outs for donations and local volunteers to help with The Shop through both our networks. This collaboration has worked very well, since we’ve been able to reach many more volunteers and bring in many more donations than we ever would have as individual organisations – and we’ve been able to make the most of West London Welcome being deeply embedded in the Hammersmith community.
Joanne MacInnes, our Director, said of The Shop opening: ‘It’s been fantastic to partner with Care4Calais and open The Shop. It’s already proving to be an incredibly effective way of ensuring local asylum seeking people have the clothes, toiletries and other essential items they need to survive through the winter months. Until now, many of these highly vulnerable people, including families with babies, only had the clothes they first arrived here in. We’re also able to pick up on the profound challenges facing these asylum seekers as we meet them at The Shop, and find ways of supporting them through these.’
The Shop will be open until the end of January, with a possible extension.
We’re currently looking for working, wiped smartphones for newly arrived asylum seeking people at The Shop. If you have any to donate, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
As we walked towards Abdullah* standing outside Hammersmith Station earlier this month, a slow recognition grew over his face as we came over in our masks. We waved at each other, knocking elbows to greet each other in pandemic fashion. Abdullah had a couple of small bags with him, which held his life belongings. How are you, we asked, smiling through masks – it’s been a while, hasn’t it. I’m good, he said – much better now I’m back.
Abdullah is an asylum-seeking young man who back in the autumn had become a member of our community of asylum seekers, refugees and migrants at West London Welcome in Hammersmith. He had settled in well, taking English classes at our centre each week, quickly making new friends and building a support network, and taking home fresh food from our foodbank. As an asylum seeker, he is banned from working and ineligible for benefits, and as someone living in a local hotel organised by the Home Office, he was given no subsistence money to survive on – only some airplane-style meals in his hotel which lacked any real nutrition. Pre-pandemic, most asylum seekers we knew were given £5 a day by the Home Office – barely enough to live on – but in this new reality of ‘full-board hotel accommodation’ during the pandemic, they’re given no money whatsoever. So, like other asylum-seeking members of our centre who live in these hotels nearby, Abdullah was entirely dependent on us for hot food, our foodbank, education, immigration and housing advice, and hardship payments to live on. Yet, despite his precarious living situation, he brought good cheer to the centre each week and threw himself into his studies.
Then, one morning in October, Home Office contracted staff suddenly arrived at his hotel and, after giving him less than an hour to pack up his things, moved him to the Napier former army barracks in Folkestone, which are being used to house asylum seekers and have been exposed in a series of damning reports for having extremely poor conditions. For the next month and a half, in the middle of the pandemic, Abdullah lived in a crowded dormitory in these barracks with only makeshift sheets between each bed for privacy, had limited access to healthcare or lawyers, was often not let outside due to far-right groups intimidating people outside the gates, and lived amid highly vulnerable people who were suffering mental health crises and others who occasionally attempted suicide. The former army barracks were particularly traumatic for those asylum seekers who had experienced war. Finally, his own mental health began to rapidly deteriorate, and he called us for help. We worked with his solicitor to move him out of the barracks, and supported him to find accommodation back in Hammersmith. Our community was thrilled when he returned to our centre this month – he even kept his return a secret from his closest friend here in Hammersmith, tapping him on the back and surprising him at the centre to lots of laughter from the rest of us watching.
When the pandemic hit in March, West London Welcome adapted and transformed ourselves in a matter of days to respond to the emergency of local needs the pandemic created this year. Prior to the pandemic, we were a small, relaxed drop-in community centre focused on supporting our members. We had to dramatically scale up what our centre offered and create an entirely new socially-distant way of operating, and were lucky to secure funding to ensure we could support many more people than we ever have before. We’ve kept our charity open for in-person support every week throughout the pandemic, supporting over 300 local asylum seekers, refugees and migrants with food this year, and giving our members weekly hardship payments, legal aid and housing advice, education, referrals for therapeutic support, laptops and phones, credit and data, and a safe space to come when they had nowhere else to go. Such is the importance of people having access to legal aid while they make their case for asylum, and so chaotic are their living circumstances, we needed to work incredibly quickly to find our new members good solicitors in case they were moved on somewhere else. Some of our members are highly vulnerable, needing holistic support from us just to keep going. At our winter party last week, everyone got Christmas presents and support to survive through the holidays. Time and time again, people tell us West London Welcome feels like a family – all the more important when you’ve been separated from your own.
Abdullah’s story is just one of the relentlessly challenging set of experiences the members of our community have gone through over the past months. On top of all the daily challenges the pandemic presents, our asylum-seeking members who have recently come to the UK face an overwhelming number of battles which make them feel powerless. There are currently no safe or legal routes for asylum seekers to travel to the UK, forcing them to risk their lives coming on small boats or by other means. Having arrived often with only the clothes on their backs and a few personal items, here they face chaotic accommodation arrangements, little or no money, are banned from working, have trauma from past experiences of torture and war, and face endless anti-migrant hostility from the government and media. They are constantly moved around different hotels and into and out of former army barracks, with little or no warning. We’ve even had to help one of our members – a victim of modern slavery – out of a detention centre this winter. The papers want people to believe we’re housing a huge influx of asylum seekers in ‘luxury hotels’, yet asylum applications have actually fallen in the UK this year – people are only living in hotels because of a historically chaotic and outsourced Home Office housing system, massively delayed asylum claim processes, and the pandemic requiring people to be housed and off the streets. The UK only hosts a tiny proportion of the world’s refugee population – around 1%. And we know how far from ‘luxury’ these hotels can be – we and other charities support people every day just to ensure they’re getting their essential needs met. We’ve needed to work with community care solicitors to fight to get vulnerable women with babies basic support in these hotels in order that they are able to eat properly. This is the reality of the ‘hostile environment’ during the pandemic.
We’ve been incredibly proud of the way our whole community has come together this year to protect and care for each other – and make each other laugh even in the most desperate of times. Our members inspire us every day, whether they’re local asylum seekers, refugees or migrants running their own English class at our centre or cooking up a feast, or one of our fantastic team of volunteers working tirelessly every week to cook, clean, teach, befriend, translate, and respond to any number of emergencies. Our volunteers include many local people of refugee and migrant backgrounds themselves, who often end up bringing friends and family with them to join their efforts to make newly arrived people here feel supported and welcome. There are myriad webs of these vital pre-existing support networks locally that extend far beyond West London Welcome. We always say that that local communities should be at the forefront of supporting those facing profound life challenges, and this year in Hammersmith and throughout West London we’ve been doing all we can.
If you’d like to donate to West London Welcome this Christmas, our Localgiving page is here.
The theme of this year’s International Migrants Day is ‘reimagining human mobility.’ At West London Welcome, we’ve been building our community with our refugee, asylum seeking and migrant members during an incredibly difficult year. We believe that local communities should be at the forefront of supporting those facing profound life challenges related to refuge and migration, and we wish for and work towards a future in which all people, regardless of immigration status or background, have human rights and dignity. We’re marking International Migrants Day today by celebrating some of our newer members this year, and what they have to say about the importance of building community. Our casework and foodbank volunteer Georgia Fox, who supports our Spanish and Portuguese speaking members at our centre, spoke to and photographed some of our new Latin American members who have joined us this year.
“West London Welcome is a family. At the beginning it was a door to escape lockdown. I’m a people person, I love to be around people and so lockdown was very hard for me. During lockdown I had a new friend Rick, from WLW, who came to our house every week to give us food. I feel backup from the organisation because when you come here you don’t know anything and you feel lost. Now I know I have a place I can go to and share food, meet others, learn from other cultures, have back up and feel support. It’s really nice that even with masks, I feel smiles. I think that time is the most precious thing we have and the fact that all the volunteers share their time which means so much to me. Thank you is a small word for everything that I feel.” – Adilia
“The organisation is very important because they support us in many aspects – with food, legal support, clothes. It is a huge help. I have found many friendship. It is a family that means you don’t feel alone through the asylum seeking process. The organisation unites people from different cultures. You can share experiences with different people from different cultures. The organisation creates a huge circle of friendships of different people coming together.” – Daniel
“The organisation is a blessing because through it I’ve met others from different cultures. The organisation has helped me socialise because normally I am very shy and don’t like socialising. I’m so thankful of the organisation and everything they do to help me.” – Beatrice
“I would have to sit and write down everything that the organisation means to me! We came here not knowing anyone and we felt alone and at the organisation we feel at home. We didn’t come to the UK to take but we came to give what we can. One day we want to be able to be volunteers, to help those that came like us and need help. We are so thankful to all the people that make the organisation possible- all the people that donate things such as laptops, phones, clothes. Although we don’t see them and can’t thank them directly, we are so thankful to them.” – Consuelo
“We feel integrated. It is a welcoming environment with very kind people.” – Gabriela
If you donate to our Localgiving page over the next few days, your donation will be doubled!
The Localgiving Foundation has made £1m grant funding available for organisations like ourselves who are delivering critical work to support their local communities during COVID-19 – like ours in West London. Between today and 3rd November, Localgiving will match funds from donors who send us donations up to £75. Between 3rd and 9th November, donors can have their donations matched up to £5,000. We can benefit from an unlimited number of matched donations.
We’ll be using these matched funds to get local young refugees and asylum seekers WiFi access so they can keep up with their education. So many young people from refugee backgrounds in West London can’t afford home WiFi access and fall behind in their studies as a result, and this digital divide has been hugely exacerbated by the limited re-opening of local colleges this autumn. These funds are so needed. If you’re able to, please donate today: http://localgiving.org/charity/westlondonwelcome/
West London Welcome has opened its doors again for the autumn of 2020. We are, however, running a much pared-down operation than we were prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, and referrals to West London Welcome will be considered on a case-by-case basis – we can no longer welcome anyone to drop in without prior registration.
Our location, opening hours and usual schedule on Thursdays have all been altered since the COVID-19 pandemic. Our pared-down socially distanced service includes our foodbank, lunch, English classes, advice service, and crèche, all of which are being run according to Government guidelines to minimise the risk of COVID-19 transmission as much as possible. Current service users and volunteers are being contacted individually by West London Welcome regarding our attendance timings.
Monthly donations will allow us to keep up with the demands placed on us at this difficult time: our casework is intensifying, and the number of our service-users has doubled. We are supporting some people in our community in every aspect of their lives, from housing, to phone credit, to daily food. For those forbidden from accessing benefits and work, they are depending on our support to meet their essential needs and stay alive. Additionally, we have ambitious and exciting plans for when we open again which your donation could help us realise – more English classes, coffee mornings, a youth club, family evenings, and taking on our first full-time paid staff member for casework and admin.
In her video, Dame Harriet describes how all donations to our appeal are used to directly support the refugees, asylum seekers and migrants who are part of our community at the centre:
‘Before the Covid19 outbreak set in I would visit the West London Welcome centre on a Thursday lunchtime and be greeted with a heaped plate of delicious food, prepared by the asylum seekers, refugees and volunteers, who had all been working together, exchanging recipes from around the world. I could take part in classes – yoga classes, English language classes, join the book club. I saw how much help was being provided, with people’s financial, legal, and practical difficulties, not to mention the warmth of getting together once a week and socially interacting.
Now that the pandemic has set in, of course, none of that is possible. But I’ve been amazed how quickly West London Welcome have adapted to the new situation, and is continuing to try and meet the needs of their service users. They’ve established socially distant walk-in foodbanks; they’ve been delivering food, nappies and toiletries all across London; they’ve set people up with laptops and WiFi at home; they’ve organised all sorts of online activities, classes, casework support, and informal check-ins and chats, all to keep people connected. Refugees, asylum seekers and migrants need our support more than ever.
The West London Welcome community has striven to support each other during every single day of this pandemic, and if you’d like to help them in that work and can respond to this COVID-19 appeal by making a regular donation, you can make a huge difference to their future. If you can’t manage a regular donation, then a one-off donation would be really welcome. You can find out details of how to donate by visiting http://www.westlondonwelcome.com. Thank you so much.’
To make a donation to West London Welcome, please visit our Localgiving page here.
Needlemover.org have interviewed our co-founders Joanne MacInnes and Seema Alibhai about why and how they started West London Welcome. The interview can be read on the Needlemover website here, or below (re-posted with permission).
When Seema Alibhai moved next door to Joanne (Jo) MacInnes, she knew immediately that she had a new friend. What she didn’t know was that the two of them would eventually team up to make a difference in their community.
The UK has seen a dramatic increase in refugees and asylum seekers over the years. According to UNHCR, there were 126,720 refugees, 45,244 pending asylum cases and 125 stateless persons in the UK in 2018. These individuals and families travel far to escape violence, warfare, and poverty. They then have the daunting task of assimilating into a community — in a place they do not know, with a language they do not understand, and with limited resources and opportunities.
Jo and Seema saw the need for a drop-in center for refugees, asylum seekers and migrants, specifically to serve the needs of clients in Hammersmith and Fulham. And so West London Welcome was born, a center that provides a safe space for people to gather, to learn English, to receive advice and support, and to step out of isolation and into community.
How did you end up starting West London Welcome?
Seema Alibhai (SA): I was still working full-time at Viacom so I didn’t have any free time whatsoever. But I would see Jo in the neighborhood, and her and my husband actually became friends first because he was working from home at the time. My husband did the Three Peaks challenge to raise money for charity and wanted the money to go towards a cause related to women and children. He told me to talk to Jo because she had been in the space for a long time, supporting the more vulnerable, the refugees, the community.
So I approached Jo and said, “I have this cheque, here you go.” And she replied, “Thank you for the cheque, but how about doing this with me? It’s been my dream to open a drop-in center for refugees and asylum seekers.” And I said, “What’s a drop-in center?” I had no idea what she was talking about.
By now, I had quit my job and was looking to do something with more purpose and meaning, now that I had time to get more involved, but I didn’t know what other than wanting to support refugees given I myself am a migrant. So she said, “Come with me, I’ve been volunteering at this place for the last three years.”
Jo MacInnes (JM): The Alan Kurdi disaster in 2015 kind of galvanized a lot of refugee initiatives. There was one effort where three women posted on Facebook and decided to take some stuff to Calais and they ended up starting a wonderful charity called Help Refugees. I volunteered with them and did a regular back and forth to Calais. At the same time, I’d been volunteering at the Islington Center for Refugees and Migrants teaching knitting. The Islington Center is open three days a week as a drop-in center for refugees and asylum seekers, where people can learn English, do crafts, find a community.
A refugee has been given official refugee status, they have access to benefits, housing, schooling, healthcare and allowed to work. Asylum seekers are seeking refuge but they haven’t been granted it yet. Here in the UK controversially an asylum seeker can’t work and can’t get benefits. They only have limited access to health care. They are accommodated in often very poor housing but only whilst they wait for a decision on their case. When a decision is made they’ve only a few weeks before they are turned out. They are given only 35 pounds a week to live on. It costs about six pounds a day just to travel in London, by travel card, so it’s not enough money even to leave the house. Many of the refugee & migrant centers like ours pay for people to get out and about and there are several drop-in centers like this in London, but there wasn’t one in our area. So that’s when I said to Seema, “I really think that we should do this. Are you in?”
What did you have to do to get West London Welcome set up?
SA: Jo already had a relationship with the Islington Centre, so she knew how they were structured and how they functioned. So I went a few times to get familiar and I thought “Wow. We can replicate that service in our part of town, under their auspices as an extension of Islington.” However that ended up not being the case because their board decided that they couldn’t justify incubating us. At first we were quite upset because that meant that we would have to start from the ground up, but as it turns out it was the best thing because we’re not as limited and create our own vision of what we wanted to offer. But what’s been really great is that they mentored us in this journey, and they’ve given us access to a lot of their resources helping us to become a fully-fledged charity. So they gave us their knowledge and support but we had to open completely independently.
They laid out the steps, but we had to do it ourselves. We just figured it out. Neither one of us had ever done anything like this. We started very small, we had only 7,000 pounds in the bank and we found free premises very generously donated to us by the Quakers and we figured we’d somehow get people to come. We didn’t think really about the implications.
In hindsight, would you have done anything differently?
SA: I think we learned so much by approaching it that way.
JM: When you do things in little steps, it’s not as intimidating. We started as a Community Interest Group and that meant we were legally allowed to hold a tiny amount of money and meet for social community purposes. And then we realized, if we were going to scale up, we needed more money and if we had more money, we had to become an official charity.
And it happened organically. Initially the idea was aimed at the families that had been officially resettled in West London, in our borough — we had about eight families at the time. In the UK, we have a Vulnerable Person’s Resettlement Scheme which applies mostly, at the moment, to Syrians. Each Council area here in London invites families to come to the UK, which is obviously much preferable to a dangerous journey across the Med.
I was already running the area’s Refugee Welcome group which welcomed the resettled families. So we knew we wanted and needed a gathering place for those families.
SA: And Islington’s funding had recently been pulled back, and they were only going to be open three days a week. So we decided to open our centre on the days they were closed as a way of giving their people somewhere to go on those days.
In addition to teaching English, what types of services or programs are you offering clients?
SA: We have a parenting discussion group in Arabic and French, because the majority of our guests are either from Syria or French speaking Africa. We have knitting, art, photography. We have women’s health clinics, yoga, mindfulness. We have partners to help with hardship services, legal support, casework and housing solutions. And we’re one of the few refugee drop-in centers in London that offers childcare so mothers can access English lessons — we really want to empower people because it’s only once they learn English that they can really integrate into society.
JM: But the most important work we do is offer a community centre — somewhere to go and be greeted with warmth.
You approach your work by “asking as few questions as possible.” Can you unpack what that means?
JM: Some people are refused asylum seekers, so to be able to extend help to them, we have to be sensitive to the fact that people are very suspicious that we might be connected or collaborating with the Home Office. And that’s not our business. We’re not police. We try to welcome everyone without making them feel like they’re getting the third degree.
Initially, we don’t ask people anything beyond their name. There comes a point if they want advice and help over that we may need more information. We do keep a database but only include data when someone is willing to contribute information.
SA: It’s several layers, right? There’s personal trauma that people have gone through, and we don’t want to bring it up unless they want to start talking about it. Of course, we’re a sounding board, but we don’t ask them about their back story because it’s often too traumatic.
Our underlying aim is to preserve human dignity. When you view someone as only a refugee or only an asylum seeker, you inevitably minimize their personhood.
JM: Yes. People don’t come to us for therapy. They come for the community. And it’s a good point, because they are so much more than just that one component.
And along the same lines of dignity, refugees and asylum seekers are very vulnerable populations, but they’re also enormously resilient. So often we view people through that lens of vulnerability as opposed to strength.
JM: Yes, and both are true. Most everyone is resilient and that they’ve got this far through pretty eye-watering circumstances like escaping war or extreme poverty or violence. Some people overcome that with great resilience and then in turn give back. There’s one remarkable man, an English teacher from Syria, and he’s decided he would volunteer and clean hospitals during the Covid-19 pandemic.
SA: There are also the women who cook for us. We offer a hot lunch that’s made by a collective of women refugee chefs and they’ve set up this business called Welcome Kitchen. That again is an example of sheer resilience. It’s a really nice example to our community members that they can make a productive life here in the UK. And we have to remember that a lot of migrants and refugees are qualified professionals in their home countries and most of them really want to succeed — there’s just such high barriers to entry.
JM: The other big barrier is English. We get a lot of young people who came as unaccompanied minors, walking across countries and going through a lot of danger and hardship. They haven’t been in school since they were 14, when they left, and now they’ve got to catch up on English. They’ve missed years of education so they’re just so much further behind in terms of realizing their ultimate career choice. But still marching on and doing it.
Any other stories of resilience come to mind?
JM: There’s a young guy who left his country in the Middle East when he was about 16 and he had walked all the way through Turkey, across the river and down into Greece. He’s said that there are things from that journey that were too awful to repeat. But he was speaking in Parliament last week on what it’s like to be an asylum seeker who can’t work, he has set up his own refugee networks and advocacy groups, and he’s just so nice and he volunteers everywhere. He’s now got his own little studio apartment that we found through our networks.
SA: There’s another resettled family — they came from northern Syria and they were not educated, the parents never went to school. They came here with their young children and three years later, the five-year-old (who is now eight) speaks fluent English. She helps us communicate with her parents and translates doctor’s appointments and parent-teacher meetings and this and that. She has had to rise up and she’s doing an amazing job.
What are some of the misconceptions you’ve encountered about displaced persons?
JM: That most people would prefer to be at home. People get on boats because it was worse on land and they had to leave.
SA: It’s a complete misconception that it’s their choice. Certain factors have driven the situation to the acute levels that we see. They are at our doorstep because of actions in Africa, actions in the Middle East. The other misconception is that they’re just here to mooch on our benefits and on our social systems. But again, I can’t tell you how much they want to be standing on their own two feet, work and contribute. There is such a high barrier to entry, they are given zero opportunities except from organizations like ours. The more we help them assimilate and feel a part of this community and foster opportunities where they can give back and be productive — the more they feel empowered.
JM: And they’re often extremely well educated themselves. Some people just need help with English but that’s the limit of it really.
What have been some of the biggest lessons that you’ve taken away from this personally?
SA: For me the biggest thing is that if you want to do something, do it. You might fail and that’s fine. We made loads of mistakes along the way, but at the end of the day our intentions were in the right place. I think if you do something with the right intention, it will materialize.
JM: I’m also amazed at how quickly things have evolved. During this lockdown, we’ve seen mutual aid groups pop up over the course of the weeks to help everybody in their community. Things can happen quite quickly and you shouldn’t intimidate yourself with the amount of work ahead – just crack on and do it.
How would you say that you move the needle through your work?
JM: We make a real difference to people’s sense of isolation and we are often able to improve people’s lives practically and materially as well. We might have helped get a lawyer that helped to get them their status. We have kept people alive with food and money. We have people taking English classes now online. There’s just a feeling of belonging to a community that we’ve established. Our service users know they can call on us and that they have support. As much as we have to face a lot of difficulties and despair, we have the gratification to know we’re really making a tangible, positive impact on people’s lives.
SA: We have moved the needle not only in terms of the support we are providing for our clients but equally on how we have raised awareness and built not only bridges but true friendships within the community, and sowed the seeds for a future that is so much more accepting and tolerant, highlighting the importance of integration and assimilation in achieving that goal.
Since the COVID-19 lockdown began we’ve been making dozens of weekly food deliveries, been running our socially distant foodbank, and organised regular virtual activities, classes, casework support, and informal checkins and chats. Refugees, asylum seekers and migrants in our patch of London need support more than ever, and the members of our community here at West London Welcome have stepped up to support each other every single day.
We’re still collecting for our COVID-19 Emergency Hardship Appeal, which we’re pleased to report has been generously donated to, but which we would love more donations for, so we can continue supporting the members of our community who really need our help at the moment.
Can you donate any of these food and household supplies?
We’re now also looking for the following items for our weekly food deliveries and foodbank, which we’re increasingly finding are in short supply. These items will go directly to the local refugees, asylum seekers and migrants we support who are in real need and can’t afford to go for a weekly shop at the moment. If you can help donate any of the below items, please drop them between 9.30 – 11am on Mondays or Thursdays at West London Welcome, Hammersmith Quaker Meeting House, 20 Nigel Playfair Avenue, London W6 9JY.
Food and drink
- Fresh fruit and veg
- Tinned fruit
- Tinned tomatoes
- Tinned/bagged pulses
- Stock cubes
- Oil (sunflower or olive)
- Washing powder
- Washing up liquid
- Cleaning materials
- Period pads
- Nappies of all sizes
Thank you so much for any donations you can help us with.
For the refugees, asylum seekers and migrants supported by West London Welcome, the Coronavirus pandemic has created unprecedented increased hardship and destitution for those who were already living on the breadline prior to the pandemic. That’s why we’re launching the West London Welcome COVID-19 Emergency Hardship Appeal today, to raise funds in order that we can ensure everyone in our community has enough food to eat; is safely housed; can provide for their children; is able to communicate and have access to education through laptops, WiFi, and phones; and receives legal advice.
How this appeal will benefit the West London Welcome community
Through this appeal, we will be able to provide a lifeline to the refugees, asylum seekers and migrants in our community who would otherwise be destitute. These funds will allow us to provide food, baby and sanitary items, and phones, laptops and WiFi in order that people can keep in contact with their support networks and allow them to continue with their education while schools and colleges are closed. We will also be able to support people with destitution hardship payments.
How the funding will be spent
- £100 will buy a second-hand laptop for communication and education
- £50 will support those refugees and migrants who have just lost their jobs due to the pandemic and are unable to afford their rent
- £40 will buy a week’s food shopping for a family
- £25 will buy a SIM card with for unlimited calls, texts and WiFi
- £20 will buy nappies, period pads and essential toiletries.
How to donate
You can donate to the West London Welcome COVID-19 Emergency Hardship Appeal on Localgiving here. Please tell your friends! We’re so grateful for your support.
It’s been a very difficult past few weeks for refugee and migrant communities since the COVID-19 pandemic began, particularly since lockdown measures were officially introduced last week. Apart from the threat of COVID-19 itself, refugees and migrants part of the West London Welcome community face numerous challenges while they stay at home: limited access to the charities and social networks they usually rely on for support; accessing the internet for information, communication and education, which many previously relied on charity spaces, libraries and cafes for; living in poor, overcrowded accommodation; and difficulties being able to afford to buy essential living items in bulk if in self-isolation for long periods of time. The vast majority of our community also experience everyday mental health challenges such as anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress, which are being exacerbated by pandemic conditions.
However, as we detailed in our first statement on supporting our visitors during the pandemic, our community – with and alongside other refugee and migrant charities across London – has been working hard to protect the wellbeing of all those we support. We are also continuing to join efforts with others in the refugee and migrant sector to call for the government and local authorities to make urgent changes to ensure the safety of migrants in light of the pandemic.
West London Welcome is continuing to run our services for our community in adapted ways, adhering closely to government and public health guidelines, as follows:
- Monday food deliveries and financial hardship support
- Our regular foodbank on Thursdays, which operates under strict social distancing rules
- We are ensuring as many people in our community have access to phone credit and the internet as possible
- Legal and general advice sessions, English classes, socialising, and other activities are running via phone and online platforms.
We are currently only able to support existing members of the West London Welcome community at this time. If you, or someone you know, lives in West London, is from a refugee or migrant background, and is looking for support from one of our services, please email email@example.com or call 07512789542 and we will see if we can help.
Like other refugee and migrant support drop-ins within London and across the country, we are concerned for the wellbeing of all those we support and work with at this very challenging time. We are in discussion with a number of other organisations to ensure we are taking the right steps to protect the safety and public health of our visitors, staff and volunteers, and to do everything we can to continue fulfilling the aims of West London Welcome during the Coronavirus pandemic: building a safe, positive experience of community with the refugees and migrants who we support with friendship, advice, and education.
We are currently operating a pared-down drop-in service at West London Welcome in light of the pandemic. Government and public health guidance is changing very quickly, and so our current operating strategy may need to change again soon, but as of this week we are running the following service:
West London Welcome drop-in service on Thursday 19th March
- We will be open 12pm – 2pm for existing visitors to use our foodbank and for those with no recourse to public funds to receive travel expenses; we are closed to new visitors.
- No face-to-face classes, legal or general advice sessions, social time, creche, or hot lunch will be provided in order that we can adhere to public health guidelines.
- Nobody presenting with Coronavirus symptoms, or living with someone presenting with symptoms, should attend the drop-in.
- We are putting in place strict social distancing rules and precautions to adhere by public health guidelines and minimise the health risk to those visiting and helping at the foodbank, which will include people thoroughly washing hands before using the foodbank, standing at least a metre away from one another, not making physical contact, and staff and volunteers wearing masks and gloves.
- Legal and general advice, including casework support, will be given over the phone for existing visitors.
Starting from next week, we hope to start running our English and other creative classes through digital means. We will be reviewing whether we can continue running our pared-down in-person service according to changing government and NHS guidance. Regardless of whether our in-person services will be able to continue, we will be doing our utmost to ensure our visitors get all the support they need throughout the pandemic.
We are joining efforts with others in the refugee and migrant sector to call for the Home Secretary to make urgent changes to ensure the safety of migrants in light of the Covid-19 pandemic. You can read a letter sent to the Home Secretary this week by JCWI, Medact, Liberty, and signed by ourselves, here.
Wishing all of our community and beyond our very best. We are extremely grateful to be working with and alongside such dedicated colleagues in the sector at this time, who are doing all they can to support some of the most vulnerable people in the city.
We’d prefer to start this post, which marks International Migrants Day, in a more festive light, but there’s no two ways about it: it’s been a long and difficult year for a lot of us working and volunteering in the refugee and migrant sector, and above all for the refugees, asylum seekers and migrants in need of support, like those who belong to our community here at West London Welcome.
This month’s general election saw some of our most powerful politicians use the most demonising of narratives about migrants as political football for votes, leaving us under no illusions about the uphill battle we all face to defend the human rights of people crossing borders. Anyone seeking asylum or moving for a better life faces relentless challenges, both here in London and around the world. Our visitors arrive at our centre with countless new examples of how they’ve been affected by this hostile environment on any particular week, from being charged extortionate fees for medical care on the NHS, to being denied access to education or living in squalid housing conditions that harm the health of themselves and their small children. Winter presents special challenges for those with precarious immigration statuses, such is the battle in avoiding being made street homeless in the cold by an unstable and unforgiving housing system for those seeking asylum and anyone struggling to afford rent.
As a way of actively resisting such hostility and protecting our visitors in such difficult times, we’re proud to have spent our second year in operation busily building our community, so that those who visit us each week get the vital support they need in the way of friendship, casework, legal, medical and employment advice, English classes, creative and educational opportunities, delicious hot food, trips, and the safety of a positive, familiar, welcoming space that they can always rely upon for good cheer on dark days. Small drop-in centres like ours provide lifelines to people who arrive in the UK to be faced with a deeply ingrained culture of disbelief around asylum claims, and a state that offers vulnerable people astonishingly little support.
Now more than ever, we need the continued support of our friends and wider networks to enable us to, in turn, show our solidarity to our visitors and give them the support they need. If you can, please donate to our Localgiving fund here this Christmas so that we can continue to give our visitors hardship relief, and the social, educational, and legal support they need.
West London Welcome has been proud to have been collaborating with our brilliant friends from Bloody Good Period for some months now, who partner with drop-in centres like ours to enable asylum seekers to get access to menstrual and contraceptive products and education around period poverty. You can read their in-depth report from last month, authored with our other friends at Women for Refugee Women, on the experiences of asylum-seeking women living in period poverty here.
We’re lucky enough to welcome Bloody Good Period back to our centre next week, on Thursday 21st November, for a session focused on contraception – all refugees, asylum seekers and migrants wanting to know more about reproductive and sexual health are welcome. The event is free, and will be led by Dr Steph Hanson, with Arabic and French translators present. Please see below for more details, and we hope to see you there.
West London Welcome will be closed for the half-term holiday this coming Thursday 24th October 2019. We are open as usual next week, and look forward to seeing you all back on Thursday 31st October.
At West London Welcome, visitors and volunteers work together to build a safe, positive community providing shelter, support, and companionship. We aim to reduce the isolation people often feel while living in chaotic housing arrangements and with little structure in their lives. We also provide access to advisory services on immigration and housing, support visitors to understand their rights to healthcare, and help them make referrals for therapy and financial support.
But beyond the centre’s role as a safe space, West London Welcome is also an important place of teaching, learning, and progressing knowledge about life in London. Those who often cannot access or afford mainstream education come to the centre to improve their English or develop any number of other skills through our various classes and sessions. The centre welcomes students of all ages, many of whom have had their education back home disrupted.
For any of you in the UK working, studying, communicating, or just trying to find information, take a moment to imagine how difficult it would be to do these things in 2019 without a computer. This is the predicament of most of the refugees, asylum seekers and migrants visiting West London Welcome – they are in dire need of access to working computers. That’s why West London Welcome is teaming up with the ADOT Foundation to raise funds to purchaseten laptops by September, which will enable the centre to provide IT classes for our clients. The laptops, along with IT training, will give them the necessary skills needed to look for employment, to study, and to access information – key to their ability to settle and lead safe and well-connected lives here in the UK. Clients will also have laptop access to book vital appointments and to get in touch with loved ones.
You can donate to our laptop crowdfunder on our Localgiving page here.
We’re also on the lookout for working second hand laptops and smartphones to give visitors to take home. If you’re able to help, please send us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The West London Welcome writing and reading group after their performance on World Refugee Day on June 20th. From left to right: Fardowso, Elizabeth, Ali, Maria, Jalal, Chirin, Anna, Catherine, and Sarya.
World Refugee Day on June 20th saw solidarity with refugees and migrants expressed the world over. While it was difficult to know how to celebrate this day in a time of record forced displacement and such intense and increasing hostility facing those who need to migrate, West London Welcome was keen to mark the day in ways that could temporarily alleviate the immense anxieties of those who visit us, and celebrate the community we are building together.
With this in mind, we made the focus of the day on unwinding and the community enjoying themselves. This meant a day of delicious food, massages, beauty treatments, drumming, singing, inviting friends of the centre to visit, and performances of some of the centre groups’ hard work over the past few months.
While people dined on the dreamy concoctions of our chefs, we were treated to moving readings of the recent writings of West London Welcome’s writing and reading group. The group has grown tremendously since it began last year – both in size and in the way in which relationships have formed and developed within it – and we have previously chronicled the group’s beginnings, reflections on their experiences together, and their experiments with poetry.
We’re now extremely proud to share with you West London Words: An Anthology of Poetry: a sample of the group’s poetry over the past few months. These writings, by Elizabeth, Gabriel, Chirin, Mounia, Maria, Sarya, Jalal, Betty, Ali, Raj and Fardowso, span a wide range of topics and themes, and many, but not all, relate to the experiences of migration. As the hosts of the group, writers Anna Perera and Catherine Davidson, note, the group aren’t always writing during their sessions; they might just be taking their time reading and discussing poems, stories, books, or plays, and enjoying the blossoming of relationships between group members that this time allows for. This culmination of writings, then, can be understood as a particular slice of the collective experiences of the group and their shared love of the written and spoken word.
The anthology is freely downloadable here.
In their latest production, our young people and others – who are asylum seekers and refugees from Eritrea, Iran, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and beyond – have formed Everyday People Ldn and worked with Music Action International and the Red Cross to film a music video, ‘Take Action.’ The music and video was made at Bollo Brook Youth Centre, which provides vital support for young people in the Acton and Ealing area and runs music studio projects with professional studio engineers and producers.
‘Take Action’ is a call for people from similar backgrounds to those of Everyday People Ldn to do just that: take action, have hope, and start to navigate the hurdle of mental health problems and huge life challenges that refugee, asylum seeking and migrant communities are facing in their everyday lives.
You can watch Take Action on YouTube here.
Writing and Reading group co-coordinator, Catherine Davidson, reflects on the group’s recent visit to the Charles Dickens Museum. The poetry the group has been working on together this spring can be read here.
Spring is the time of year when it is summer in the sun and winter in the shade. ― Charles Dickens, Great Expectations
On Thursday, March 14, the Writing and Reading group from West London Welcome went on an outing to the Charles Dickens Museum in central London. This was organised by Anna Perera, who leads the group with Catherine Davidson. She printed out some beautiful colour timelines and background sheets for us to read on the day.
Shirin, Elizabeth, Jalal, Adia, Catherine and Anna met at the museum at lunchtime. We brought a picnic and ate in the café, next to the garden and fountain. Afterwards we walked through the rooms, taking pictures, taking in memories.
A week later, we wrote and shared some of what stood out in our minds.
We noticed the intimate details of the lives of the Dickens’ family, like the tiny bed where the writer’s sister slept; the bell cord to call the servants in the master bedroom, where we found the dress Mrs. Dickens wore. Elizabeth said it made her appear “like a ghost, all dressed in white, but you couldn’t hear her voice.” The dining room, “all brightly laid out” with plastic food (to quote Elizabeth again, who added, “luckily we’d all had our lunch”). She imagined “the candlelight there in harmony, a link to the past.” In the living room, we noticed the luxury, the line of silver punch spoons all in a row, the rocking chair and smoking supplies, giving us a strong sense of the young writer on the rise in his society.
We went down to the basement, where the engine of the house could still be seen almost at work: the hand press irons all lined up in a row , “just like my mother used” (Elizabeth), the stuffed hedgehog showing us an unusual system of Victorian pest control. Shirin remembered seeing the dried herbs hanging in the pantry. The laundry room “gave us a feeling of physical work of washing up.” Elizabeth “remembered using a stone to hit clothes with rocks by the river, really pounding it.” Shirin remembered us telling Jalal to be careful on the narrow stairs. Not just the bed but all the rooms and furniture seemed so small.
Shirin had the final word when we were there: “the atmosphere made such an impression on me. I will never forget it.”
West London Welcome clients have been directing, producing, and acting in community theatre workshops since the winter of 2018. In February this year, their work culminated in a play reflecting on refugee and migrant experiences of Britain. In this guest post, Chirin, a client and volunteer at West London Welcome and the play’s director and script writer, describes her experiences running her workshops at the centre and the power of storytelling through performance for refugee and migrant communities.
Over the past few months at West London Welcome, we have been holding theatre workshops. Through the power of participation, we as refugees and migrants – most of us women – have worked together to think about and perform our experiences in Britain. In these workshops, we have been exploring a few different things: cultural differences, the challenges of refugee integration, and considering how we can encourage more women to join our workshops.
Drama gives refugees a safe space to share stories and explore working through their trauma. It gives participants hope, and puts value back into their lives. We are able to strengthen our English and tell our stories creatively through acting.
In our workshops we have focused on the struggles of refugee women in British society and the culture shocks they experience when they arrive here. Together, after sharing our stories and talking about our ideas, we used our personal histories and our experiences moving here to the UK to develop a play around the life of a Syrian mother, Sarah – played by West London Welcome client Ehsan – who was resettled in the UK to build a better future for herself and her children. Along the way, we showed her many difficulties as she raised her family within the Western world. By working with the Scheherazade Initiatives on our performance, we made the play participatory, and the audience was able to give Sarah and the other actors their thoughts on things she might have been able to change or do differently as she settled into her new home.
As the script writer of the play, it brought back difficult memories for me: all the years of alienation I felt here when I arrived and the distance from my first home, Lebanon. Through this play, I wanted to show people the suffering of refugees – Syrian refugees in particular – but I also wanted to make it clear that refugees are very capable of strength and adapting to the changing world around us, which is what we do to survive.
As refugee women, we look around us in the UK for other strong women from many different walks of life to come together to support one another as we transition to our new lives here. These drama workshops have been a very important way for us to do that. Through theatre and dialogue, we have created opportunities for ourselves to raise awareness of our experiences and bring attention to the many challenges we face in this country.
West London Welcome’s Writing and Reading group have been writing Rimbaud-inspired poetry this spring. One of the group’s coordinators, Catherine Davidson, has been collecting the writings emerging from their sessions together.
On March 21, we looked at the French poet Arthur Rimbaud’s poem Voyelles. Gabriel read it to us in French, then we read a translation and some modern interpretations. In Voyelles, Rimbaud takes something neutral and abstract – a letter, like A or E – and gives it personality and a story by linking it first to a colour, then feelings and a series of images. It’s a good way to practice the freedom and sense of jumping into the dark that poetry brings.
B, pink, light, beauty
Z, black, suffering
around the world
the end of the world
C, white, calm,
a peaceful place
where everyone is welcome
C, world without danger
— by Betty
the circle of friendship
pale green at the beginning
darker, thicker green
as it grows and strengthens
G: Godly, grey sky
Water falling down on dry earth
To let us grow plants
Water to drink
Sea to be filled with fish to swim
And we go fishing and swimming
Sea from great grey sky filled with water
To sail around the world and transport
Items to different continents
— by Elizabeth
G: Green is the planting
Of God on earth, as green pastures.
Trees from green give oxygen to earth to breathe
Woodlands of green trees with blossoms
Of different colours of flowers
Green gives peace to mind
And calms the day
Fruits from green plants
And lovely love flowers
To the loved one
From green tree.
— by Elizabeth
R is red colour like sunset that is red
Red is the covenant between God and the world
Through the blood of Jesus.
Blood is red.
Jesus is our sunset.
— by Gabriel
G is the grey colour which represents wisdom.
In the elderly period of your life you’ll get grey.
Best friendship grows with grey like a good wife.
— by Gabriel
Gathered in a room in a Quaker House in Hammersmith as this year began, a group of local Londoners wondered aloud how we might open a space for refugees, asylum seekers and migrants living in this neighbourhood and the wider London area, how we could go about managing such a space, and what this all might entail. We were all united in our passion to support refugees, asylum seekers and migrants living locally, and many of our founding volunteers were and continue to be highly active in Hammersmith and Fulham’s Refugees Welcome group, but our path to creating and sustaining the physical centre we had in mind was uncertain. A year later, after carefully developing our recurring Thursday schedule in tandem with our clients and with the great support of our generous funders, we are extremely proud to be successfully running a busy, creative, and peaceful drop-in centre for any refugee, asylum seeker, or migrant who is looking for safety, support and company in West London. Here are some highlights of our first year in operation.
Settling in at the Quaker House
At the Hammersmith Quaker House, which is very generously donated to us by the Hammersmith Quakers each Thursday, we use the five lovely, light-filled rooms at our disposal to flexibly create classrooms, a canteen, a crèche, a library, and an advice centre. We also have use of the peaceful garden outside, which we hold our English classes in on sunny days. On arrival, everyone is met with the offer of teas, coffees and delicious donated pastries from local bakery Patisserie Saint Anne. Volunteer Susan of the Quaker House lays all this out for us, and importantly ensures that those finding us for the first time are immediately made to feel welcome and at ease. The various spaces in the centre are focused around the myriad activities led by both clients and volunteers, and we work together to create a positive, caring environment that welcomes both regular visitors and those who might only ever drop in once or twice on their journey elsewhere.
Progressing English skills
The language skills of our clients regularly joining us for English lessons have progressed leaps and bounds since we first started classes back in January. Clients attend group or one-on-one lessons depending on their level of skill, and we are lucky to have our sessions coordinated by experienced ESOL teacher Martha MacLachlan with the support of a number of other trained teachers. Classes are designed to be flexible and inclusive of all abilities, and are tailored to the groups and individuals in attendance on any given Thursday. The result of this approach, which sees clients being taught by dedicated teachers who teach their classes with a great deal of fun, patience, and care for newcomers and those experiencing any number of life challenges, has been that our clients have demonstrated impressive progress in their language skills.
Our hot lunches are something of a local legend these days. We wrote back in April about the news that one of our chefs, Rose Dakuo, had been nominated for the BBC’s Cook of The Year, and it’s the hard work of Rose and our other chefs (who we pay a Living Wage and who also work at events around the city including at the fantastic Amnesty International initiative Welcome Cinema + Kitchen) that means we get to offer clients and volunteers really delicious Middle Eastern and African food at the centre. The chefs experiment with their concoctions each week, so both regulars and newcomers are always treated to a plate of something new to get to know one another over.
Our centre regularly welcomes visitors from the local community as well as those from further afield. This first year we were thrilled to welcome in Juliet Stevenson, Lord Alf Dubs, Dame Harriet Walter, Andy Slaughter MP, Hammersmith and Fulham Council Leader and Councillor Stephen Cowan, Councillor Sue Fennimore, Councillor David Morton, Phil Storey of Citizens Advice Hammersmith and Fulham, Latymer Upper School teachers and pupils (the latter have also been volunteering at our centre after school), directors from the Nawaal Benevolence Fund, representatives from our funders the Hammersmith Quaker Meeting House and Hammersmith United Charities, and many more from the neighbourhood.
Our advice service is expanding
Some months ago we formalised our relationship with Hammersmith and Fulham Law Centre, which means that clients are now able to access free legal advice on immigration, housing, employment and other matters at our monthly Law Centre clinic. We are excited to be begin working with advisors from Citizens Advice in Hammersmith and Fulham in 2019 to expand our advice service to include guidance on benefits and other concerns of our clients.
An arts-focused centre
As 2018 progressed, West London Welcome established itself as a space that greatly valued creativity and the arts. As such, alongside the knitting classes we started offering back in January, we now offer art for all ages (led by volunteer Susan), games, and morning theatre classes from the Scheherazade Foundation. We have also been extremely lucky to welcome Tunisian visual artist Héla Ammar to run a photography workshop as part of the Shubbak Festival.
Our childcare team at the centre runs an increasingly busy all-day crèche for the children of West London Welcome, freeing up our client families to rest, get to know other clients and volunteers, and participate in centre activities. This is a particularly important service for new mothers and those who often have very little time away from their children.
Finding words at West London Welcome
Centre volunteers and professional writers Anna Perera and Catherine Davidson have been running a reading and writing club at the centre every week, which has developed into a highly creative session complementary to our English classes. In this guest blogpost from November, they describe their experiences of working with different clients and the ways in which they experiment as a collective while learning the beauty of the English language.
Resting minds and bodies
On alternate weeks, clients take mindfulness and yoga classes at the centre, which they have reported greatly aiding them in finding some time for themselves to rest and be at peace with their bodies and mind. Travel costs for asylum seekers to visit us for these classes are funded by Localgiving and the Postcode Community Trust through a Magic Little Grant. Simon Heale, who runs mindfulness classes at West London Welcome, reflected for us in this blogpost on what ‘settling’ in his sessions looks and feels like, and how meditation and mindfulness in a tranquil setting can enable our clients to take a vital pause from their often chaotic and unpredictable lives.
Getting out and about
If you pop by the centre on a Thursday and we’re not in, we might be out and about exploring the city. This year, we visited Kew Gardens, the Victoria and Albert Museum, and QPR and Chelsea football clubs. We have many more trips in store for 2019!
Celebrating our community
Even if we say so ourselves, we do a pretty good job at celebrating the community we’ve built together at the centre, whether it’s a birthday, a religious holiday, World Refugee Day, or really just an excuse to dress up…
To round off the year, our Christmas party this month included carols around the piano led by regular client Adia with musician Sandy Burnett, delicious food as far as the eye could see, presents for everyone, and special guests santa and a frankly far too scary grinch. We loved ending 2018 with a huge sense of pride in the many brilliant achievements of our clients and the superb work of our volunteers, from their setting up of the centre at the beginning of the day to their scrubbing pans in the kitchen and cleaning up at the end. In times so hostile to the refugees, asylum seekers and migrants who visit us each week, we believe we have created an immensely valuable space in our patch of London that offers safety, education, and companionship for anyone seeking support.
— Leyla Williams, West London Welcome
West London Welcome is currently closed for the holidays and will re-open for the new year on Thursday 10th January 2019.
As our first year in operation draws to a close, we’d like to thank those who we and our fabulous volunteers wouldn’t be able to open our centre each Thursday without:
– The Hammersmith Quakers Meeting House, without whom we wouldn’t have a premises
– Localgiving and Postcode Community Trust, who fund our travel costs for asylum seekers to access exercise and meditation services through a Magic Little Grant. You can read the reflections of Simon Heale, our mindfulness and meditation teacher, on the importance of his classes for our clients here.
Thank you so much everyone!
As of today, Tuesday 11th December, until this time next month, Localgiving’s #GrowYourTenner campaign means that any regular direct debit donations we receive from you to support our work at West London Welcome through our Localgiving fundraising page will be matched by up to £10 for six months.
A regular monthly direct debit donation – large or small – will allow us to pay the Living Wage to our refugee chefs who cook delicious hot meals at the centre, cover the costs for lunch ingredients, and keep our Study and Training Fund going so we can fund the English classes, vocational courses, and higher education that our refugee and migrant clients can rarely afford. Localgiving’s #GrowYourTenner campaign is a brilliant way to allow your donations to raise far more money for us than they ever normally would, enabling us to keep doing our vital work supporting local refugee and migrant communities.
Thank you so much for any direct debits you set up for us, friends! You can set one up with us on our Localgiving page here.
For nearly a year now, West London Welcome volunteers Anna Perera and Catherine Davidson have been running a reading and writing club at the centre. In this guest post, they describe their experiences of working with different clients and the ways in which they experiment as a collective while learning the beauty of the English language.
We work with clients who want to deepen their relationship with English: to read literature, talk about words and practice creative writing. We have around six people who come regularly and more who have dropped in to try it out.
A couple of weeks ago, we decided to go out on a walk near the river to find words. According to Gabriel, in French this is called an “Etude du Milieu”. We walked under the A4 to the mall that runs along the Thames. It was a warm day, and the autumn sunshine lit up the last of the summer flowers. We looked for colours, sounds, actions, something beautiful and something surprising.
The next week, all the words we found became a list. We spent time talking over the language – for example the difference between gather and scatter, and then did some writing.
Elizabeth’s etude captured the movements and moments of our walk so well:
Cars and trucks passing, wheels turning with loud sounds – from moving white grey cloud lines on the river, blue water, boats gliding by, young children and teenagers and a boatman speaking through a megaphone, instructing. Two ladies pushing children’s prams, walking along the screened river wall, and birds – flying above the river.
— Anna Perera and Catherine Davidson, West London Welcome Reading and Writing Club Coordinators
Simon Heale runs meditation and mindfulness classes at West London Welcome every other week. In this guest post, he reflects on what ‘settling’ in his sessions looks and feels like, and how meditation and mindfulness in a tranquil setting can enable our clients to take a vital pause from their often chaotic and unpredictable lives.
There are eight of us sitting in a circle in a quaker meeting house near Hammersmith. In another part of the building there is a constant hum of chatter amid the fading aromas of a delicious north African lunch. The voices are a mix, this is London after all: English, Arabic, French, and a few more.
In our room we are all silent, waiting for the session to begin, waiting to just breathe and to perhaps find a way to put aside the worries that exist for all the participants. Six of the eight are refugees, we are in the West London Welcome centre. The session is a meditation and mindfulness class.
The centre, established by Joanne MacInnes and Seema Alibhai, offers a day of respite, education, advice, activities and really good food to people who find themselves here in London, from Syria, the DRC, Eastern Europe. They are all waiting, waiting for their cases to be processed. For some this is two years and for others it is as much as five.
My class is intended to be a pause, a literal breathing space, a chance to press the pause button of our day to day travails. Not to solve, I say, but to watch them and perhaps to begin to change our relationship with them. The theme for today is ‘settling’. It comes in the form of a self-query, as much of my teaching and practices do, to ask ourselves if we can settle as we sit, breathe and observe our immediate experiences: our thoughts, feelings and physical sensations. This is mindful awareness, breathing and watching; it is the basis of a meditative practice.
I excuse my poor French and non-existent Arabic and, along with English, start to use gestures and a great visual aid to demonstrate this settling technique. This resonates with all of them, reminding me of our creative potential, our child’s-mind as Buddhists would say. Their eyes close gently and I offer them the possibility of just observing thoughts, feelings and the body as it is now, and then to allow all of this to settle like dust while we settle our minds on our breathing for five minutes. We then open our eyes and notice a change in the room, a palpable stillness. There is no rush to do anything, nothing to achieve I tell them. We discuss the practice and any issues arising, what the word ‘settle’ means to everyone. Some speak, some just sit and listen. The idea or ideal, I say, is if our lives are currently in upheaval, areas out of our control, if we are needing some stability then perhaps we can give this to ourselves in five minute practices. We can this take this sense of being settled, of calmness into whatever needs dealing with next. A few nods, a few quizzical looks. I say please don’t believe me, just try it.
We practice again, and another three short times, layering the language and experiences each time, until by the final one, we have a real sense of stillness and hopefully a greater awareness of our immediate experiences: thoughts, feelings and senses. I close the class with a short check-out, asking them not to disappear as there is a yoga class to follow. The door opens and we are flooded with the din of people moving from the other activities, to getting hot-drinks and nibbles. Volunteers, staff and the guests themselves. People who have found themselves displaced, a long way from the home and life they knew, looking to find a little piece of certainty.
The centre strives to provide them with a haven for a day. I hope my class gives them, even for 30 minutes, the tranquillity they deserve.
— Simon Heale, West London Welcome meditation and mindfulness class teacher
Thanks to Localgiving and the Postcode Community Trust, we fund travel costs for asylum seekers to access exercise and meditation services through a Magic Little Grant. The Postcode Community Trust is a grant-giving charity funded by players of the People’s Postcode Lottery.
Thanks to the generosity of local Londoners over the past few months, West London Welcome Director Jo’s garage is absolutely heaving with donations these days. To make sure all our goodies go to those who need them this September, we are having an open shop day on Saturday 15th September from 12pm-3pm.
If you are a refugee, asylum seeker, or migrant who would like to pick up free clothing, kitchen items, bedding, furniture, and more, bring an empty bag and come by – £5 travel expenses will be available for asylum seekers. You’ll find us at Garage 69 at Frank Soskice House in the Clem Atlee Estate in Fulham SW6 7SL, which is just off Lillie Road.
West London Welcome is currently closed for the school holidays, but we will re-open on Thursday 6th September 2018, after which we will be open every Thursday during school term time.
See you all soon!
What does a typical day at West London Welcome look and feel like?
The nature of drop-in centres like ours, where we support the many refugees, asylum seekers and other migrants who visit us each Thursday, mean that a day at our centre can rarely be described as ‘typical’. Those who visit us have usually led, and continue to lead, lives that have been continually disrupted; their long journeys to London and experiences before and within this city have frequently been unpredictable and traumatic. Many – though not all – of our clients are in some stage of the characteristically highly challenging and often exhausting asylum application process, and the quickly changing nature of the immigration system and status of individual cases means that the day-to-day lives and immediate futures of our clients are usually precarious and unclear, making the population of the centre an often transient one. Seeking to provide an antidote to the daily uncertainty experienced by so many of our visitors, our volunteers and clients have been working together to create and develop a recurring schedule for our centre on Thursdays, one that both allows regular visitors to depend on us as teachers of English and providers of good hot food and friendly company, but also caters for those who may only ever stop in once in their lives for some companionship on their journey elsewhere.
Opening our doors at 10am, we start each Thursday with tea, coffee, and many a croissant donated by local coffee shops, while clients and volunteers ease into the day and catch up with each other. We’re very lucky that our centre space, which was donated to us by the Hammersmith Quaker Centre, is a true respite from the city; it’s filled with light, and extraordinarily peaceful.
English classes, catering for all levels, begin at 11am in our main hall or outside in our garden on sunny days. A number of trained teachers work with a wide range of materials and props to engage new speakers of English of all ages, while other volunteers run a makeshift crèche for the children of the centre at the back of the hall. A local writer runs our book group in the centre library for more advanced English speakers and writers, where literature is read and debated. Operating out of a nook on the other side of the library is our busy client-run nail bar.
By 12.30pm, clients and volunteers alike can smell enticing aromas making their way through the building from the kitchen, where our chefs (including Rose Dakuo, a BBC Cook of the Year nominee) are busy cooking everyone one of their renowned meals. Our chefs, who also work at numerous other centres and events around the city including at the fantastic Amnesty International initiative Welcome Cinema + Kitchen, are refugees paid a Living Wage through the centre. Hot lunch changes week to week, but reliably features a variety of spectacular Middle Eastern and African food enjoyed communally, which is often followed by some group singing by the piano. For newcomers, lunch is often the simplest way to meet others living locally and to share experiences, histories, frustrations and laughter.
Between 1.30pm and 4pm, the centre space is made use of in every possible way: arts and crafts, games, IT lessons, and one-to-one English tutoring in the hall; yoga and meditation in the library; gardening in our outside area; advice and signposting to other services in private rooms; football on the green by the riverside. Expenses are given out to those with no recourse to public funds to ensure that travel is covered for all those visiting us.
While no Thursday is the same at West London Welcome – sometimes we’ll even leave the centre entirely for a client and volunteer group trip to Kew Gardens or one of our favourite museums – we work to create a space that reliably offers safety, education, creativity and friendship with as few questions asked of our visitors as possible. For those seeking respite and company in West London, our doors are open for you.
Want to support us? We’re very grateful for any donations you can send us on our Localgiving page here.
Most of the refugees and asylum seekers who visit us at West London Welcome each week cannot afford English classes, vocational courses, or higher education.
Refugees have the right to work in the UK, but they often need a recognised accreditation before they can take up paid employment, and studying a course and acquiring a qualification is often the only path to working in their chosen field. Asylum seekers, meanwhile, usually cannot work and have no recourse to public funds, making affording courses or classes often impossible.
As such, at West London Welcome we are launching a new Study and Training Fund in partnership with Hammersmith and Fulham Refugees Welcome, who work locally to identify refugees with training needs. An advisory panel at West London Welcome will make decisions on granting awards for courses on the basis of need and suitability. Over the next year, we hope to pay for ten refugees or asylum seekers to complete a study or training course, and aim for at least half of these to attain an accreditation or qualification.
Our ability to provide this important new fund for our clients really depends on – yes, you guessed it – you! We’re extremely grateful for any donations you can send our way. Donate to our new Study and Training Fund on Hammersmith and Fulham Refugees Welcome’s Localgiving page here.
Roll up, roll up: We and the Hammersmith and Fulham Refugees Welcome Group are holding our first fundraising dinner!
Join us on Saturday 7th July for our legendarily spectacular food cooked by our fabulous drop-in centre chefs, drinks, music by our Congolese Choir, and the opportunity to win a prize at after-dinner bingo, all on the dreamy Hammersmith riverside at Auriol Kensington Rowing Club (14 Lower Mall, London W6 9DJ).
If there’s one thing London is good at during its coldest and wettest months, it’s free warm spaces with thousands of years of history stashed inside them. And so, armed with our Oyster cards and a packed lunch, on March 29th West London London’s clients and volunteers took a trip to the crème de la crème of the city’s museums: the Victoria and Albert Museum.
Centre volunteer Fiona Parkin served as our excellent and knowledgeable tour guide, unfolding the stories behind a choice number of the 2.3 million objects in the museum that represent over 5,000 years of everyday human life. Following Fiona through different floors and spaces, we spent much of our time in the peaceful British Galleries, in which we were immersed into 400 years of British society.
Confronted with a vast history of textiles, furniture, ceramics, sculpture, paintings, jewellery, prints and clothing, Fiona walked us through how these reveal how everyday British society once was and has changed. We particularly loved coming face-to-face with the famous 18th Century Melville Bed in all its glory, and wandering amongst the 17th century gowns, 18th century dresses and post-war styles in the Fashion Galleries.
The trip was a wonderful way for clients and volunteers alike to step back in time together with the museum collections. But beyond all that we gained learning from the V&A, our visit was an ideal opportunity to remind clients of the countless free public institutions, spaces and events on offer to them in the city they live in. We were able to engage with the museum on our own terms, which included a community singing session! West London Welcome will be continuing to make the most of the possibilities open to us to encourage wellbeing, curiosity, and creativity in our clients, and to remind everyone who uses our centre that these cultural spaces are open to us all to explore.
Rose Dakuo. (Copyright: Maria Brosnan for Welcome Cinema and Kitchen)
West London Welcome is excited to announce that one of our refugee chefs, Rose Dakuo, has been nominated for the BBC’s Cook of The Year! More details are on the BBC Radio 4 website here.
Alongside our other chefs, Rose cooks delicious, experimental meals every week for us at the centre and at many other community spaces around the city. We are very lucky to be treated to her fantastic concoctions every week, and extremely proud of her for this wonderful news.
From the BBC Radio 4 website:
‘Rose cooks for her ‘Welcome Kitchen’ West African, and Refugee Cuisine Supper Clubs across London, and for Tottenham based youth centres, advice/soup kitchens, and refugee and migrant projects all over the city. Rose is a talented Ivorian chef highly skilled in West African cuisines ranging from Senegalese to Nigerian to her native Ivorian food – reflecting the ethnic diversity of Ivory coast. Rose’s skill is rooted in her upbringing in Ivory Coast, and after seeking refuge in the UK 17 years ago has dedicated her life to celebrating her culture’s food by sharing it with people – particularly those in need.’
We are thrilled to have five people running the Fulham 10K this coming Sunday 18th March to raise money for the centre. The donations they receive will help us with the cost of hot lunches, paying a Living Wage to our refugee chefs, buying IT equipment, paying travel expenses to asylum seekers who visit us, and teaching materials for English classes. You have quite a selection of wonderful fundraisers to support, so good luck picking – or just throw a few coins everyone’s way…
- You can donate on Hannah Copeland’s fundraising page here,
- Edwin Evans’s fundraising page here,
- Sandy Burnett’s fundraising page here,
- Tamsin Defriez’s fundraising page here,
- and Joanne Preston’s fundraising page here.
If you’re inspired to run the 10K for us too now, email us: email@example.com
Yesterday, we announced that we only had six days left before our Justgiving campaign to crowdfund paying our refugee chefs ended, and asked the world out there to help us reach our target fundraising goal to enable us to pay our refugee chefs the Living Wage to cook a hot lunch each Thursday for our drop-in clients. In a matter of hours, a huge number of very generous souls helped us reach our target!
We are thrilled – thank you so much to everyone who contributed to this campaign. We will now be able to provide our refugee chefs much-needed paid employment into the future, and can continue to serve a delicious hot lunch to all those who visit us.
You can still donate to our JustGiving page here until our fundraising campaign ends on March 18th – any extra funds are a wonderful bonus.
At West London Welcome, we pay our refugee chefs the Living Wage to cook a delicious hot lunch each Thursday for our all drop-in clients. Our funding is very limited, so we rely on crowdfunding to ensure they get paid for the excellent work they do.
We now only have six days left before our Justgiving campaign to crowdfund paying our refugee chefs ends. Thanks to a huge recent outpouring of generosity, we’ve raised 93% of our target – but we need to reach our final goal by raising another £265 over the next six days! Your support is vital to ensure we can provide our refugee chefs much needed employment and serve a hot lunch to people who are in real need of our support. Please donate on our JustGiving page here before March 18th.
West London Welcome is able to run thanks to the work of our dedicated volunteers and donations from members of the public. As such, we need to run a steady fundraising program to ensure we can provide our various activities and resources for drop-in clients and keep running into the future.
We are now looking for a volunteer to help us with writing grant applications. This will be a vitally important role in the West London Welcome team. If you are interested in working with us, please write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Over the school holidays, we will be closed on Thursday 29th March 2018 and Thursday 5th April; we re-open as usual on Thursday 12th April.
However, we are organising a trip for drop-in clients in place of our usual classes to the Victoria and Albert Museum on Thursday 29th March 2018. If you would like to join us, please contact us at email@example.com for more details.
We are proud to announce that one of our directors at West London Welcome, Joanne MacInnes, has won the Civic Honours award for ‘Acts of Courage and Compassion’ at Hammersmith & Fulham Council’s inaugural Civic Honours.
The awards, which were held on the evening of Thursday 1 March 2018, shone a light on ‘community heroes’ in the borough.
Hammersmith and Fulham Refugees Welcome (HFRWG) said of Joanne’s win: ‘We are immensely proud that Joanne MacInneswon the Civic Hours award for “Acts of Courage and Compassion.” Joanne is a driving force of HFRWG, working incredibly hard to help refugees settle into the borough. She faced stiff competition to win the award, particularly from another member of the team: Clare Burnet, who was nominated in the same category. Both we feel were worthy winners.’
Stephen Cowan, Hammersmith and Fulham Council Leader, said of the awards: ‘Hearing all the wonderful things the nominees have done for our community makes me incredibly proud to call H&F home. One of the most important signs of a civilised society is how we look after each other. Those who make the effort to engage in civic life and improve things for all do precisely that. It was an honour for us to be able to celebrate their efforts.’
West London Welcome, our free drop-in centre for refugees, asylum seekers, and other displaced individuals and communities who have settled in London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham and the wider London area, opened on Thursday 11th January 2018.
We are now open every Thursday from 10am-4pm, apart from during school holidays.
Join us in our warm social space to meet friends, have a hot lunch, take English classes, knit, exercise, play games, seek housing and legal advice, and more.