“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, serendipity.”
“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.”