Winter 2017 Newsletter

Welcome to the Islington Centre for Refugees and Migrants Christmas newsletter! We would like to take this opportunity to thank you for all your support over this year. Together, we have achieved so much – and we hope this newsletter gives you a flavour of the incredible work that we, as a community, have done to support asylum seekers and refugees this year.

Although we have made huge progress this year, we must remember that there is so much work still to be done. Many of the refugees and asylum seekers we support will be spending the festive season away from family and friends, worrying about the success of their asylum claims, often in overcrowded or unsuitable accommodation, with no financial support. With your help, we are able to provide them with everything they need: the chance to progress, access to food, clothing, and income, and crucial emotional support. However, we are reliant on the kindness of the community to do this.

This Christmas, if you can, please consider how you can help the Centre; a regular donation, for example, ensures that we are able to provide the stability that our vulnerable and marginalised clients so desperately need. You can easily donate online here. Click here for more information for ways to support our work.

Newsletter contents:

  1. Seasonal celebrations!
  2. Our clients’ achievements – against all odds
  3. A year of working with our community
  4. Moving on – Chris

Seasonal celebrations!
On 17th December, Koffi will be switching on the lights at St Paul’s Cathedral crib service. Details on how to attend can be found here: As part of the lead up to Christmas at the Cathedral, the BBC will be making a film about the Cathedral and its community – and the Centre’s work will be part of this. Koffi will be sharing his story with the BBC – we will let you know when the programme goes on air!

Our clients’ achievements
As we move towards the festive season, we wanted to take time to share the achievements of our clients. Having fled countries where war and human rights abuses are widespread, they must deal with the impact of their experiences without support from the family members and friends they left behind. The majority of our clients live in destitution or severe poverty, often in precarious accommodation. Despite their complex and severe problems, our clients continue to achieve in many areas of their lives, and we wanted to share with you some of their successes as they progress towards integration, excel in new interests, and work to build a new life for themselves in the UK against huge odds.

Several of our clients have now successfully enrolled in further education. Some are studying courses to prepare them for employment, while others are pursuing more advanced English language qualifications. The acute lack of access to education for asylum seekers and refugees remains a huge barrier to integration, and so we are extremely proud of those clients now enrolled in formal education and training – and of course, we are proud of the staff members who provided the crucial support that enabled them to take this huge step forward.

Other clients are pursuing education in different ways. One client ‘Maryam’, who came to the Centre with very little English, has now successfully completed the local library’s ‘Six Book Challenge’, and is an active member of the library. Another client, who worked in software design in his country of origin, is now developing an app based around facilitating responsible international trade. Through our partnership with the Wallace Collection, several clients will be trained to become volunteer tour guides; one client’s beautifully written application was of such excellent quality that he is joining the panel to oversee the application process. Koffi has continued to develop his artwork, and designed this year’s Christmas card. ‘Marie’ is continuing to pursue her interest in crafts – despite living in extremely overcrowded hostel accommodation, sharing a room with 17 others, she has used a kind donation of festive wool to create a beautiful Christmas wreath.

We are so proud of our clients and all they achieve. As the external context gets worse, and the number of clients suffering in destitution increases, the support and space we offer clients to enable them to achieve in all fields is more important than ever. However, we are not able to do this without the generosity and support of our community – we are so grateful for your kindness. We are now supporting over 170 clients a year, and are reliant on donations and grants in order to do so. If you are able to support us this festive season, you will be making a real difference to some of the most vulnerable people in our community.

Our work with the community
In this newsletter we want to reflect on how we work together with the community to support our clients. The kindness and openness of our community is crucial to the success of our work. As our clients experience ever more hardship – with 90% of our asylum seeking clients experiencing destitution this year – the efforts of the organisations and individuals who make up our community to support our clients becomes ever more important to our clients’ emotional and physical wellbeing.

We have worked with our community partners more than ever this year, to enable our clients to access opportunities that ensure that, even when destitute, they are able to live decent, full lives, and are able to experience the best that London has to offer, developing new interests or continuing older interests that they had to give up when they left their homes. We are delighted with our progress this year, and are keen to continue to develop this area of work to enable clients to benefit from the richness of ideas and generosity that we are so lucky to have here in Islington.

Our partnerships meet a range of clients’ needs: from ensuring that they are able to live in dignity through meeting their needs for clothing, food, and healthcare, to opportunities to explore the arts, and develop new skills.

Together with Mary’s Community Centre, we now have a weekly gym programme for clients who want to exercise. It can be hard for those in precarious accommodation to access safe spaces to exercise, and yet exercise is crucial to both physical and emotional wellbeing. We are also now offering yoga classes, which are very popular with our clients.

We work with a wide range of arts organisations and museums to ensure that our clients are able to engage with the arts; this is often very important to helping clients stay healthy and happy, both as a means to enable them to feel part of the community, and as a way of experiencing London away from the poverty and prejudice they experience on a daily basis. Many clients find solace in the arts – for some, it awakens a new interest, while for others, it helps them to remember the art they loved in their old lives. This year, clients have attended exhibitions and events at the British Museum, V and A, the Migration Museum and the Wallace Collection, as well as a performance by Protein Dance. Some of our clients are now applying for positions as volunteer tour guides at the Wallace Collection, and we are in the process of developing an exciting new project with the Institute of Contemporary Arts, based on successful work earlier in the year.

We have continued to receive incredibly generous donations of vital supplies for clients from so many of our supporters. Particular thanks go to Habs Girls for their generous harvest donation, and Songworks choir for their toiletries collections, as well as the many individuals who donate clothes, toiletries, and food – particularly Sue Odell, for her winter coat collection. The NHS has supported us to bring health checks to our clients, who often have issues accessing healthcare. HostNation are working with us to link clients with befrienders, and so far eight of our clients are accessing this service.

Our long-term partner, SpeakStreet, continues to offer fresh and interesting opportunities to clients in the context of improving English language skills. This year, clients have had an opportunity to work in a garden at the Skip Project, as well as English classes at the Wellcome Collection.

We are also working to develop our clients’ interests and talents in other areas. After a very successful pilot, we are hoping to develop and deliver an ICT skills programme in 2018 – this is crucial to help clients navigate the complex asylum system in the UK, and will increase employability, as well as helping them to keep in touch with family and friends in other countries. We worked with Lloyds TSB to present a financial capability training session.

We continue to speak to our clients to find out what they want to learn, understand, and enjoy; supporting them to make the most of their lives in London, and develop the skills they need to rebuild their lives, is at the heart of what we do. We are proud that the Centre, and our staff, are able to work with such a wide range of organisations to provide the activities and services that our clients needs and want, despite our small size and limited capacity.

Moving On – Chris Taylor
Chris has been involved with the Centre from its very early days – since January 2003 in fact –  and has been committed to the work of the Centre throughout its varied and exciting history. He has brought to his role a huge breadth of experience, skill and knowledge that has benefited all involved in the Centre and contributed directly to its development. He has effortlessly carried out his duties and responsibilities with grace, kindness and dedication and will remain part of the Centre while we wish him all the best in his next steps, on his travels and in all his endeavours. I’m sure you would all like to join me in thanking Chris for all the great work throughout his time at the Centre – so THANK YOU CHRIS!

After an extensive interview process and impressive group of applicants, we would like to congratulate Martha Maclachlan on her new appointment at the Centre and would like to welcome her to the staff team. Martha will be working as ESOL Tutor and Volunteer Manager from January 2018.

As ever, a huge thank you to all of our supporters!
With best wishes for the festive season  –
All of us at the Islington Centre

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All art featured in this newsletter was created by clients of the Islington Centre