At the Islington Centre for refugees and migrants we have been welcoming people to our community since 1997, wherever they have come from, whatever has happened to them. We talk to people. We listen. We find out what they need and we respond to that – whether it be advice on finding a safe place to live, English lessons, food, or simply to be heard and valued.
The people who come to us have been through the toughest of times. Leaving your home because of war, persecution, rape or torture takes courage and determination. When people come to us they find a unique international community and the chance to feel human again – dignity and strength to keep going.
As we have done throughout our 23-year history, during the pandemic we have worked to be a constant and trusted support meeting each individual where they are at and offering what can best help them. When the pandemic struck we did not hesitate to step up so our clients could rely on us. We have responded to the pandemic by:
- Sending support packages to 90 asylum seekers (70% of our client group) every fortnight since March 2020. The support packages allow people to buy food, phone credit and other essentials.
- Offering online English classes so that people can continue to learn English with familiar, trusted teachers and move towards integrating in the UK.
- Offering a sense of community and welcome online through classes and groups including art and writing, choir, gym, a baby group, yoga and more.
- Running our Support Service by phone and on zoom. The Support Service helps people resolve the many challenges of being a refugee such as finding safe accommodation, accessing healthcare, finding a solicitor or accessing food and benefits.
With Covid we are not able to offer a physical centre but we are proud that we are still able to offer a safe space to help people get through these unprecedented times. We have been teaching English to refugees for a long time and our staff have a wealth of experience but the pandemic meant learning about new ways of working.
Helping everyone in our community to join us digitally has been a huge challenge, both for staff and volunteers but also for refugees and migrants, many of whom did not have smartphones or laptops until we provided them. It hasn’t always been easy, but we are proud to say that we now have 122 people out of 132 joining us remotely for English classes, gym, choir, art and other activities and are doing everything we can to reach others by phone and post.
We know that great many challenges lie ahead. We have more than 60 on our waiting list. We need to expand to welcome everyone on the waiting list in, and meanwhile bring our existing community safely through the year ahead, whatever it may bring. Thanks to several high profile funders, who have put their confidence in us, we are able to plan.
Our vision is to run a hybrid centre, with our building in Islington reopening to offer comfort, food and companionship in the Autumn – we know how much people have missed meeting face to face. Meanwhile, we plan to take everything we have learned about teaching online and continue to build our community online offering all the warmth, friendship and practical tools that have helped hundreds of people over the years get through the challenges they face.