Stories

Our community members come from more than 70 different countries, each with their own histories, journeys and current life experiences.

Our Humans of West London Welcome series enables people to tell their stories. 

Chioma’s Story

“I work in the NHS at Charing Cross Hospital as a healthcare worker these days, looking after people. I’m training to be a nurse and can’t wait to qualify. But it’s been a very long journey to get to do what I love."

“In 2019 I was forced to flee Nigeria for my life with my three young kids. I’d recently lost my husband and I was incredibly vulnerable as a young widow facing many very dangerous situations on my own. I was so worried for the safety of me and my kids that I eventually decided to come to London to seek asylum, since I had distant relatives here and I thought we would be safe.

Only a few months after we arrived in London to stay with our extended family, Covid struck. My relatives told us we had to leave the house and we found ourselves homeless. We called the Home Office, who sent us to an asylum hotel in Hammersmith.

It was so isolating. I didn’t know what to do – I was very depressed and confused, and we barely left our small room. The kids didn’t have enough to eat. I was thin, and sick with worry and stress. The asylum hotel manager was becoming more and more worried about me, but couldn’t get me to leave my room. Then, one day in winter, Jo, the Director of West London Welcome, stopped by to visit some members of the charity who were also living at our hotel. The manager told her about me, and Jo thought she would try to see if she could help. She came up to my door and knocked.

It was a life-changing moment, when Jo invited me to come to WLW. The first thing she did was give me vouchers for food – she could see I was frail. At the hotel, it was chaos because of Covid and the kids were hungry. Then we started going to WLW, and that was when our journey really began.

Leyla, Deputy Director of WLW, found us a great legal aid lawyer to take on our asylum claim who started working with us. He was so supportive. Covid was an especially difficult time for us asylum-seeking people – the Home Office was in turmoil, with an extremely long backlog of asylum claims.

Our claim took several years, during which time we were forced by the Home Office to move four times – shuttled between North London, Reading, Hounslow and Hammersmith. Worst of all, due to our all the moves the kids often couldn’t attend school and for a while we couldn’t visit WLW.

It was whilst I was in despair during Covid, thinking that our asylum claim would never be granted, that something incredible happened. I saw a job advertised as an NHS healthcare assistant at Charing Cross which I had all the right skills and experience for, and asked WLW’s advice on how to get legal permission to work on the shortage occupation list so I could interview for it. WLW and my lawyer supported me to navigate the application process, and amazingly I got the job. Even though I was still seeking asylum, I was able to begin to work at the hospital.

One wonderful day a few months later, we were finally granted refugee status. But after we got refugee status we had to immediately leave our asylum housing and faced homelessness again. WLW’s Senior Caseworker Alison worked really quickly and managed to find us a private landlord known to the community, who have rented us a flat right here in Hammersmith with a year-long tenancy, close to the kids’ school.

Now I’m working three twelve-hour shifts a week and getting professional training through the NHS to become a nurse. But despite all my shifts I’m still a part of the community at WLW. I volunteer and am part of the advanced English class. I’ve made close friends with other WLW members, especially other Nigerians, which has been amazing. Every week it’s like coming back to my core support system.”

Joseph’s Story

Joseph is just 22, but everyone says he’s an old soul. After only six months in our community, it’s difficult to imagine West London Welcome without him. He’s a star of the Advanced English classes and a key participant in book group. He’s known for his cheerful and chatty disposition, his love of good food and his sense of humour. But he has been through more in his young life than most of us ever will.

Joseph came to this country from Uganda in 2018 following the death of both his parents. He was just 16, but mistakenly classed as an adult who could fend for himself. He lived alone in a hostel in West London. With the exception of his brother, he had no support and no one to talk to at all. Joseph had already lost the sight in one eye after getting caught up in political violence in his home country. Then, after arriving in England, he got ophthalmia in his other eye. Eventually, he lost his sight entirely. For a long time, Joseph barely left his room. He was depressed and terrified of the strange, unfamiliar city outside his door.

Then, Joseph’s disability support worker at the local council told him about WLW. Initially, Joseph struggled to get to the centre as he was afraid to take public transport alone. But he was soon connected with WLW volunteers who lived nearby, such as Sophie, who took him door to door every week and helped him learn to walk with a cane. Joseph’s confidence steadily grew and he is now able to navigate London’s bus and tube system by himself. Through WLW, Joseph was connected with the Prince’s Trust, going on various activities with them around the city. Recently, he even tried rock-climbing. He loved it and can’t wait to do it again. Not even a rock face is off-limits to Joseph now.

It’s the small things about WLW that mean the most to him. It’s the “hi, how are you?” from other community members, the shared joke with a volunteer over lunch, even a simple offer of a cup of tea on a cold day. Joseph isn’t just given food and left alone. Volunteers and other community member friends will help him to get exactly what he needs and tell him what he’s eating all the way through the meal. The other students in his English class read out the worksheets to him so he can participate in class discussion. Jo, the charity’s founder and director, secured Joseph a new iPhone, opening up a whole world of audiobooks through Audible. Community member Pari goes on regular walks with Joseph around his neighborhood. Joseph’s English teacher, Rick, sends him the materials for the lesson the week before, so he can listen via a text-to-speech app. In WLW’s book group, community members will read out sections if needed. Joseph’s favourite book was Small Island by Andrea Levy, a story of four Jamaicans emigrating to London after World War II. Joseph’s disability support worker recently visited him at the centre and said the difference in Joseph in just six months is nothing short of astonishing.

On the first warm day of this year, Joseph went on a WLW group trip to Kew Gardens. His phone rang. It was an excellent solicitor who wanted to take on Joseph’s case, thanks to the work of WLW Deputy Director Leyla who had been trying to find him legal representation for months.

Joseph’s ordeal, however, is by no means over. Six years after his arrival in the UK, he still has unresolved immigration status. He exists in limbo. Conscious of all the wasted years, he just wants to start his life. Joseph is academically gifted and deserves to get a degree. But without securing his right to remain here, it is almost impossible for him to go to university. He dreams of becoming a lawyer who can help others and feel useful. But while he is seeking asylum, he’s not allowed to work.

Rick, Joseph’s English teacher, often brings in a poem for the end of class. He likes to use poetry to get a conversation going or introduce more complex vocabulary. A few months ago, he read “When I Consider How My Light is Spent” by John Milton with the students: the poet’s meditation on going blind late in life. The language moved Joseph greatly, as Rick hoped it would. In the poem, Milton describes his talent and spirit trapped inside him. He feels useless and scared in a “dark world and wide”. This is how Joseph felt when he first came to the UK. Thanks to WLW, Joseph’s world isn’t dark and wide any longer. Through the charity, he has found a community and, in so doing, found himself.

Lihn’s Story

When we first met Lihn at West London Welcome in 2021, she had recently claimed asylum and was vulnerable, isolated and desperately missing her young children after she had fled Vietnam for her safety without them. Lihn was a regular visitor to our centre, visiting twice a week and volunteering in our free clothes shop on a third day. Despite speaking limited English she quickly made many friends, and became a well-loved member of the community. But despite the warmth and support she found at the centre, she was often tearful and could barely sleep. Our casework team, English teachers and volunteers worked closely with her to support her through the asylum process and improve her health and confidence over time.

As someone seeking asylum and living in a local Home Office hotel, Lihn was banned from working or claiming benefits, and had to live on just £8 a week from the Home Office for two years, severely impacting her self-esteem and ability to plan for the future. Staff and volunteers at West London Welcome had to constantly give her hope.

We found Lihn an excellent legal aid lawyer, Milla Walker at Luqmani Thompson, and worked closely with Lihn and her lawyer to support her through navigating the asylum system and the long wait for an asylum decision. In 2023, Lihn received refugee status, which meant it then became possible for her to then apply for family reunion – a step towards reuniting with her children.

But having received the good news of her refugee status, the Home Office then gave Lihn just 28 days to leave her asylum hotel and find alternative housing options. She was faced with street homelessness. Like thousands of others newly with refugee status, since Lihn had been banned from working and forced to live on so little from the Home Office for so long, she had no savings for a deposit or credit history, and was confronted with a private rental market in which very few landlords are willing to accept housing benefit rates. In addition, she was still learning English and lacked the confidence to navigate the housing market alone. Our Senior Caseworker stepped in and worked hard to find her safe, stable housing in London so she wouldn’t face the streets.

In January 2024, Lihn received the wonderful news from her lawyer that the children’s family reunion visas had been approved. But it was up to our advice team to quickly secure funding for the flights, which would have otherwise been completely unaffordable for Lihn, and work out practicalities before the visas expired in March. We found a charity, Together Now, to find the flights, and our casework team worked collaboratively with them and Lihn’s lawyer to navigate the bureaucracy of family reunion paperwork and logistics of bringing the children safely here.

In February 2024, at long last, Lihn’s two children arrived at Heathrow from Vietnam on their family reunion visas, where Lihn was waiting to give them hugs after years apart. We drove the family home from the airport and helped make the children feel comfortable. After 2.5 years of holistic work to bring the family back together, it’s clear it really does take a village.

Masoumeh’s Story

In 2022 Masoumeh fled Iran. Today she is one of our wonderful core volunteers who we are currently supporting through the new refugee homelessness crisis. Here is her story.

Like many other Iranians, Masoumeh and her husband had to flee Iran for their safety. After arriving in London, Masoumeh and her husband were housed in a series of different Home Office hotels, suddenly moved from one to the other by the Home Office at a moment’s notice with little explanation. In these hotels they were not allowed to cook, taking away what Mausomeh felt was the little dignity and choice cooking would have given them in their everyday lives. Instead, they lived on microwaved meals given to them by the hotel and on their small weekly £9.10 Home Office allowance. Her husband has a stomach condition and the hotel food given to them often had little nutrition, greatly affecting his physical and mental health.

West London Welcome stepped in to support Masoumeh and her husband, supporting them to navigate incredibly poor Home Office housing conditions. While staying in a local asylum hotel, the couple were able to access our fresh groceries and hot lunches each week, improving their diets. They joined our English classes, creative activities and trips, making new friends from Iran and across the world, expanding their social networks and giving them the vital friendship and community they needed to regain hope and escape the isolation of their tiny hotel room. Both Masoumeh and her husband became volunteers at our centre, cooking up delicious Iranian food in our kitchen and helping around the centre.

In September 2023, Masoumeh and her husband finally received their refugee status – something that would normally be worthy of huge celebration.

But as with all asylum seekers granted refugee status, they were given only 28 days’ notice to leave their asylum accommodation and find themselves a job, Universal Credit, and somewhere else to live. After approaching the council for support, the council told them they didn’t have capacity to house them because they didn’t have any particular vulnerabilities, and the couple found themselves suddenly on the brink of homelessness.

Having been banned from working or receiving benefits while seeking asylum, the couple had no savings for a deposit or credit history, and had no connections with spare rooms. It is almost impossible for refugees to find landlords willing to accept housing benefit and enter the private rental market. Due to the thousands of asylum decisions being made by the government, councils and charities are scrambling to find people accommodation and there simply aren’t enough affordable rooms out there for people to live in. People are going from their asylum hotels straight to the street after being granted refugee status, unless they have a caseworker at a charity like ours supporting them.

That’s when we reached out to our amazing volunteer community. The couple are currently being hosted by a kind host who has been able to offer them a free room, while our advice team works with Masoumeh and her husband to find a longer-term housing solution. 

In the future, Masoumeh wants to study medicine, and we can’t wait to help her make this happen. For now, while she and her husband work out their next steps, her voluntary work is essential to the weekly running of our community centre – she devotes much of her time to West London Welcome community members and friends, from organising food and clothes donations to cooking her famously tasty Iranian recipes.

Dori’s story

Dori’s story

When we first met Dori and her two young children during the pandemic, the family were traumatised from their experiences in their home country of Albania and were extremely isolated in their cramped hotel room where they had barely left their room for four months during the pandemic.

The family suddenly had to escape their hometown after threats from gangs and lost everything. Dori was exhausted from anxiety while struggling to survive on only £8 per week from the Home Office, and her children were subdued and had lost the ability to interact with others. The mother had no idea that the children had the option of going to school.

For the past few months we have supported Dori and her family to rebuild their confidence and trust in others, understand their rights as asylum seekers, and find friendship and respite in the West London Welcome community. Our volunteers slowly helped bring Dori’s children out of their shells and learn to laugh again, playing football with them outside and supporting them at our Children’s space.

“Before we found WLW my 9 year old son could not make eye contact with anyone and he was very angry. Now he is at school and we have good accommodation and better food, he smiles brightly and that gives me such peace.”

We found the family an experienced legal aid lawyer, helped to move them into better housing and give them new clothes, and provided them with fresh, nutritious food as they had been struggling to eat the unhealthy food given them at the hotel. The children enrolled in school and are thriving, and Dori has bonded with other mothers at our centre and has started taking English classes. Dori has told us that finding West London Welcome was like “finally seeing a light along a very dark and difficult road – thank you very much to all of you.”

Ali’s story

My life in the UK didn’t really get started until I went along to West London Welcome one day. I came to London by myself at 17. I had no friends and was very unhappy and needed somewhere to live.

Ali’s story

They found me a host family, helped get me a flat, and introduced me to youth charities where I met friends and became a youth leader. They enrolled me in college to improve my English. Anytime I need help they are there for me and if they can’t help they put me in touch with others who can. Before my interview with the Home Office I was very anxious, so they sent a nice volunteer with me to the interview and that really made me calm down and relax.

Last month I finally got a positive decision on my asylum claim from the Home Office which means I have the right to work and begin my life. I don’t think I could have got refugee status without West London Welcome’s help. My life is so busy now – I’m doing acting, music, and every week I volunteer at the day centre. Everything positive in my life started with West London Welcome.

Sachin’s story

When Sachin first walked into our centre in the summer of 2019 he was street homeless and had been riding buses all night in order to get some sleep. He looked utterly exhausted. He had no money, and had no idea how he was going to continue surviving on the streets of London.

A victim of torture back in his home country while living in a war zone and being wrongly accused of being a member of a militant organisation, Sachin fled to the UK 17 years ago to claim asylum and live his life without fear. After arriving in London, Sachin was given Humanitarian Protection, legally worked for a number of years running his own businesses, and found friends and a partner. But in 2014 his permission to stay was revoked. He no longer had the right to work, couldn’t afford to rent anymore, and his life fell apart.

Over the past two years we have supported Sachin to get back on his feet and start a new life. We helped him to get off the streets and into safe housing, access our foodbank, and have given him financial support, a bike, a laptop, and phone credit. We found him a new, reputable legal aid lawyer to work with him on his fresh application to remain in the country. He now has a volunteer role at the centre and thrives in a support network of friends that he can count on for emotional and practical support.