Islington Centre Autumn Newsletter!

Welcome to the Islington Centre for Refugees and Migrants Autumn Newsletter
We are delighted to begin another year of working with asylum seekers, refugees, and migrants to help them to overcome the barriers they face to living healthy, happy lives in the heart of the community.

This year, we are developing exciting new programmes to support our clients to move forwards with their lives, even though for very many, this can be extremely difficult; experiencing destitution, homelessness, and the threat of detention and removal from the UK to the situations they fled. This, together with experiences in their country of origin and their difficult journeys to the UK can have a terrible impact on their ability to rebuild their lives. We are here to support them every step of the way.

In this newsletter, we will:
– reflect on the progress our clients have made this year, and how our work has helped them  – share the story of one of our clients, Mary
– tell you about how one of our Art & Writing Group’s poetic compositions has been set to music, and let you know how to hear it
– let you know about an exciting event coming up.

The impact of our work in 2017/18
Looking back over the 2017/18 year, we are delighted to report that we supported 186 clients to make improvements in their lives. Our client group was extremely diverse; here we break down some of the key details.

Our clients came from 40 countries this year, many of which are characterised by widespread human rights abuses, poverty, and war. The majority of clients came from the Democratic Republic of Congo, and other significant groups included refugees and asylum seekers from Turkey, Eritrea, Ethiopia and Cameroon.

The majority of our clients were asylum seekers, and most of them were destitute – that is, unable to access any financial support from the government, and also barred from working. Over the course of the year, we were able to see positive change, helping 8 clients to secure refugee status, and 29 to make progress in their claim for protection in the UK. We supported 8 clients to move out of destitution permanently.

English language learning
“Before I started coming here, I could not speak English. Before I could not speak on the bus and people laughed at me because of my broken English. It was difficult to explain my pain to the doctor. Now I’m so happy and confident because I can communicate with people.”

We provided 312 English language classes over the year, with 166 clients taking part in total. The content of the classes varied in order to meet the diverse needs of our client group, and included: conversation-focussed classes, small group working, and 1:1 reading groups within a wider general English language curriculum. We have had specific lessons or groups of lessons on key areas for client integration and independence within the community, including shopping, listening to and following directions, making appointments, and talking to doctors and hospitals, as well as lesson focussing more widely on aspects of UK culture for more advanced learners.

In addition to our regular programme of classes, we have undertaken 49 community English learning sessions, including sessions outside core Centre opening hours, in partnership with Speak Street, and arts organisations and museums such as the Wallace Collection, V&A, and British Museum.

44% of clients who completed assessments at the beginning and end of the year moved up a whole level. 42% of clients moved up within there level, and only 15% did not make any progress overall. 90% of clients surveyed felt that their English had improved.

Solving practical problems
“I am suffering from depression from the past experiences in my country. [In London] I used to sleep on the street, bus, more than two years on the streets of London. The only place for support I have is the Islington Centre. Without the help of the Centre it would have been very difficult to improve myself in all terms of my life.”

We supported 119 clients overall to tackle practical problems relating to their asylum or immigration status, accessing financial support, securing a place to live, accessing healthcare and taking part in education and training.

Through this work, 10 asylum seekers secured refugee status, and a further 29 to made substantive progress through our work supporting them in making an appeal or Fresh Claim. 13 destitute asylum seekers are now able to access sustainable income. We supported 20 homeless individuals to access long-term shelter. We supported 33 individuals to overcome barriers to accessing education and training. We supported 12 clients to access healthcare for free, and provided pastoral support to 41 clients. We gave 702 grants to help destitute asylum seekers to meet their basic needs. We are continuing to support other clients to resolve problems over the short and long term.

As a result of this work, 83% of clients felt that they were making progress in their lives (70% in 2016/17), and 67% of clients felt that they had solved some of their problems (60% in 2016/17)

“To me, this centre is like a family home, because when I come here every day I feel relax”

We delivered a range of activities to support clients to feel better, emotionally and physically.                                                                                                                                                                                                  This included exercise classes, healthchecks, and access to sanitary products and toiletries. We provided a safe, welcoming space and supported clients to explore their hopes and dreams through art and writing, as well as ensuring those in need had access to therapy.

As a result of this work, 81% of clients (2016/17: 65%) said they felt happier; 77% felt emotionally stronger (2016/17: 73%) 77% felt more confident (2016/17: 74%) and 77% felt more connected to the community (2016/17: 70%).

Skills development
“I’m just writing this email to say thank you for all you guys are really doing a lot for people like us…we now feel like we can have a future and something good is coming out of our life. I can’t find the words to thank  enough I finished the first part of my level 2 of football coaching”

We have also been focussing on supporting our clients to develop new skills and experiences, helping them to explore their interests and work towards gaining the tools they need to take up employment, education, and training when they have gained secure immigration status. We supported 52 clients to access additional education and training, including vocational courses such as Painting and Decorating; work experience including at a beauty salon; further education in Maths and English; and support to develop arts and music skills. This work has also included our Ambassadorship Programme, which has provided public speaking training to help 7 clients tell their own stories with confidence. Our partnership with the Wallace Collection meant that 5 of our clients gained roles as Community Ambassadors. We supported 10 clients to become volunteers at the Centre, building skills and enabling them to begin a CV.

74% of clients felt that they had achieved some of their goals (against 60% in 16/17) and and 83% felt that they were making progress in life (against 70% in 16/17).

Art & Writing Group poetry performance by BBC Singers
The BBC Singers, together with BASCA will be presenting a concert of Choral music inspired by refugees on 21st September 2018. As part of this, one of the Art & Writing Group’s poems will be set to music by Michael Graubert, a renowned composer.

Michael said, “Thank you very much for the poems. Both of them are beautiful and moving, but it is the second one, ‘Cardamom Snow’, that particularly appeals to me as far as composing a setting is concerned. It appeals to me that the poems come from a class at the Islington Centre for Refugees and Migrants. On the one hand I lived in Islington for nearly 30 years and my children were born and grew up there. On the other, my wife, who is a psychotherapist, spends part of each week in Sussex, working in two Brighton hospitals, and does some work as a volunteer in just such a centre for refugees (mainly Syrian ones) in Brighton, where there is a writing class similar to the Islington one.”

Tickets are available here:

Cardamom Snow

Here is first snow in this country
White, cold, soft
I place my shoe in
It holds my step and yours
In our snow prints we are the same
Only different sizes, different underside of shoes
It is slow and long to reach the warm of our community
On the table there are blue bottles
In this near room I know this smell from far
I close my eyes and search in me for what this essence oil brings close
Woody heat of cardamom tree by my river
How does snow smell for you?
It brings Cardamom in me

Mary’s story

“I will not forget the kindness the first time I came to the Centre. The people let me know that the world is not all against me.”

Mary calls the Centre her Embassy. “It is the place I go to for lessons and activities, to talk about problems and there is always someone who will help me with practical advice.”

Mary sits neatly on a sofa, hands folded in her lap, and tells the terrifying tale of how she worked for the government in her war-torn African home country, while supporting anti-government protests.

“I had a government job but I lived in fear that I would be found out. Then when I came to the UK two and a half years ago, for a conference, my family contacted me to say do not come home, the security forces know about you and want to kill you. I have not seen them since.”

Suddenly she had no home, no friends to trust, no idea how to live her life. When she  applied for asylum her story was not believed and she was told to go home. “I would be killed immediately if I did that.”

The day that Mary was directed to the Islington Centre she found “a community willing to embrace me, make me feel I belonged and would be cared for.

“I just wanted to cry and cry. Before this I had been homeless and scraping around for food because I had no benefits or support. But they help me with basic needs.   I spend three days a week at the Centre. I have made good friends and we go out together in the evenings sometimes, or to church”.

The Centre found Mary a host family and has helped her get evidence that she was with the opposition in her country of origin. She  now has hope she will be able to make her home in the UK. She is not allowed to work until her status is formalised, but the Centre has helped her to access training as an art gallery tour guide. When she qualifies she will work as a volunteer in the gallery;  “I hope one day to make it a career here.”

“The Centre is the heart of my world. Without it I would have no life.”

Save the Date!
The Islington Centre for Refugees and Migrants will be celebrating Christmas with our clients on 30th November at the Amnesty Human Rights Centre. There will seasonal songs with our Choir, and our clients will be telling their stories and sharing their hopes and dreams through work from our Art & Writing Group. Tickets to be released soon!

Supporting our work
The Islington Centre for Refugees and Migrants relies entirely on donations to undertake our vital work. The support of the community helps us to keep the doors open for everybody that needs our help; it also means that some of the most vulnerable and marginalised people in the community know that the people around them care for them, and want to help them rebuild their lives. We would like to thank all of our donors. If you would like to make a donation, you can do so through our website here – or find out more on the website here about what you can do to help asylum seekers, refugees and migrants to continue to succeed against the odds.