NEWS & BLOG
31 January, 2023 - By Leyla Williams
Looking back, looking forward
We’ve begun this year at West London Welcome as we expected we might – busy as ever, full of the wonderful creative joy of our community, but simultaneously picking up the pieces of the hostile environment against refugees and migrants, whether that be the pain of asylum-seeking people not receiving the subsistence money they’re supposed to receive from the Home Office, waiting years for an asylum decision or facing homelessness.
Here, we reflect on all we did last year and what we have in store for 2023.
Looking for Landlords
As ever we’re looking for private landlords willing to rent to refugees on Universal Credit or low incomes.
In 2022 we supported many newly-granted refugees and Ukrainians with homelessness casework in our partnership with Citizens Advice. The current rental crisis and lack of affordable housing in London is especially difficult for those in our community. When asylum-seeking people are granted Leave To Remain they are evicted from the accommodation organised by the Home Office and face homelessness. Likewise, Ukrainians whose hosting term has expired are in the same difficulty. Renting from the private sector is incredibly difficult given that they have no credit history or savings to put down a deposit. This leaves our advisors working overtime to find temporary emergency housing or searching for sympathetic landlords and neither are easy options.
Can you help? If you have any leads, please get in touch with us. We’re interested in rooms in shared houses or a self-contained housing.
Additionally, if you want to join a conversation about setting up a refugee housing association please contact us at email@example.com
Expanding our Advice Team
We’re thrilled to be starting 2023 by hiring a new Senior Caseworker, who will be supporting our members with advice and casework on housing, benefits, the asylum system, and much more. The casework needs of local refugees, asylum-seeking people and migrants are ever-increasing, and we are committed to ensuring these are met with our expert advice.
Last year we supported hundreds of our community members with advice at our busy weekly drop-ins. Our small advice team consists of dedicated advisors, support workers, volunteer casework assistants and volunteer translators, and it’s not an exaggeration to say they do lifesaving work in people’s darkest days. You can read more about the work of our advice team here.
Knowing Rights, Accessing Legal Advice
This year we’re determined that our community understand their rights as fully as they can in such a hostile environment. We’re kicking off 2023 with ‘know your rights’ workshops on housing and the criminal justice system with lawyers from Lawyers Against Poverty, a movement of lawyers fighting the injustice of poverty, to deliver workshops for our community on the UK legal and asylum systems.
In 2022 we delivered the first of our workshop sessions with Lawyers Against Poverty, which our members learnt so much from. We ran these workshops with our wonderful volunteer translators so everyone could understand the workshops. In the autumn we had workshops on the UK legal and asylum systems, so that our community understood the foundations in which their immigration statuses and support are decided within, and their rights in context.
We were proud in 2022 to have built relationships with legal aid lawyers across London who supported our members with legal advice in times of great anxiety. In November we began a new drop-in to support men newly living in West London who had previously stayed in the notorious Manston, a camp in Kent for asylum-seeking people, which had terrible living conditions. These men had their phones taken from them prior to living in Manston and could not communicate with the outside world. In December, with the support of barristers Antonia Benfield (also one of our new Trustees!) and Shu Shin Luh from Doughty Street Chambers, we organised a mass legal clinic at which 40 of our new members were able to speak with legal aid lawyers from Wilsons, Gold Jennings and JCWI about their asylum claims, their experiences in Manston, and their legal options.
Last year we also supported lawyers with evidence for their strategic litigation work when we’ve noticed issues and patterns affecting many of our members. Large numbers of our asylum-seeking members experience months of delays in receiving their £9.10 per week from the Home Office, payments for those with young children, decisions on their asylum claims, have their belongings taken from them at the border by the Border Force, and other matters. In one case, one of our particularly brave members became a claimant for a case that went to the High Court after the Home Office took his phone and other belongings at the border and didn’t return them, receiving thousands of pounds in compensation and vitally securing the ability for many other asylum-seeking people in the same situation to seek compensation too.
Two new Trustees
We’re delighted to announce that two new Trustees have joined our Board: Antonia Benfield and Efi Stathopoulou.
Antonia is a barrister at Doughty Street Chambers and a specialist in immigration, asylum, human rights and public law. She has been involved in a significant number of high-profile challenges to UK asylum policy and cases that have set the framework for refugee protection in the UK. She regularly delivers training, and has worked closely with us to deliver our recent ‘know your rights’ workshops in partnership with Lawyers Against Poverty.
Efi is the Programmes Manager at Refugee Legal Support, a qualified lawyer in Greece and an OISC-accredited immigration adviser. She has worked in voluntary organisations, research institutes, and independent advisory human rights bodies in Greece and the UK focusing on migration issues and the rule of law as a project manager, a researcher and a caseworker.
You can read more on our website about Antonia here and Efi here.
This year we’ll be making the most of our gorgeous community space with different classes, activities, events and outings – some old, some brand new. On Tuesdays and Thursdays we’ll continue running our popular English classes with our dedicated volunteer teachers, art sessions with Susan Manasian, advice clinics, foodbank in partnership with the fantastic Felix Project, and hot lunches. On Wednesdays our members take classes in knitting and sewing, art with Susan, yoga with the Lumi Foundation, fitness with Candy Myers, and book club with Catherine Davidson and Anna Perera. We’ll be running our regular drumming with Dembis Thioung; games and disco evenings (musical chairs is universally popular). Our Community Outreach and Operations Manager Mehri is organising outings so our members can explore the city; we’ll be hosting an evening with writers; and our annual Refugee Week party in June will be a feast for the senses as ever.
In February we will start opening on Fridays for social afternoons and introducing new opportunities for our members to develop their own groups within our community – hopefully including a Lived Experience group and a LGBTQ+ group.
We also can’t wait to develop our garden this year. Our supporter Karen Liebreich from Abundance London hooked us up Panoramic Landscape Contractors and hey presto we have 6 new raised beds to grow fruit, veg and flowers. Huge thanks to our gardening team led by Helen White for planting it up with winter veg. If you would like to help with the garden this Spring do get in touch.
In 2022 our regular outings included visits to the Royal Albert Hall, Bush Theatre, Kew Gardens, Sky Garden and extremely informative city walks led by Blue Badge Guides. As for events at our centre, we loved hosting our big Refugee Week summer garden party, starting up our games and disco nights, and building a community of evening drummers with Dembis throughout last year – it’s amazing to see our members hyper-focus on drumming rhythms and truly forget about their anxieties for a while. We also adored hosting Exiled Writers Ink for a special evening of performances from writers from around the world.
It was wonderful to see our members blossom and develop their skills over time at our Wednesday activities last year. Pari, a member of our community from Iraqi Kurdistan, had never picked up a needle and thread before she joined our sewing group, but last year was one of the was one of the winners of London Churches Refugee Fund’s Christmas card competition with her gorgeous embroidered snowy design. Pari said that “learning embroidery at WLW helped me to cope with pain and loneliness.”
Our Chiswick satellite group
The incredible work of our Chiswick satellite group who focus on two local hotels, run by volunteers Rachel Le Mesurier and Harriet Morgan, goes from strength to strength. This year they’re back running their weekly sessions of socialising, English lessons and creative activities for local asylum-seeking people on Tuesdays, as well as their Friday coffee meetings in partnership with the supportive Chiswick Cinema.
Last year in August the Chiswick Cinema hosted Handa Ibragheeth, a Palestinian asylum-seeking member of both our Chiswick and Hammersmith communities, to speak at the screening of Fadia’s Tree. The film, produced by Susan Simnett who spoke on stage with Handa, tells the story of a Palestinian whose family were exiled in 1948. This was a vital opportunity for Handa’s lived experience to be heard by the public, and she told her story movingly.
We were thrilled to have won a community award from the Chiswick Calendar on January 12th. Back in November Editor Bridget Osborne interviewed two of our asylum-seeking members and wrote a sensitive piece, Life as an asylum seeker in west London.
Deliveries from Santa
In December we collaborated with Santa, big time. Our staff and volunteers delivered 166 presents to every asylum-seeking child living in 9 hotels across 4 boroughs, which were opened on Christmas day. We couldn’t have done this without the wonderful local schools who prepared presents: Huge thanks to the amazing staff, pupils, parents and guardians at Norland Place School, St Peters CE School, West London Free School Primary, St Stephen’s CE Primary, Fulham School, Latymer Upper School and our friends at St Michael and All Angels Church.
Gifts were also given to all the adults and children who come to our drop-ins.
Join the Welcome Circle
The Welcome Circle is a group of key individuals giving more than £2,000 a year to sustain and respond to the needs of refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants at our centre. We’re extremely grateful for the ongoing support of this wonderful group and would love to welcome new friends to the Circle this year. If you’d like to join, please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org
If you have working, wiped phones to donate, do let us know – we’d love them for our members.
We are also looking for a pushchair for a newborn. For all donation offers please email email@example.com
That’s all for now folks. If you have any questions, thoughts on the centre and our activities, or want to become involved or visit us, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.