Last autumn, for the first time, people seeking asylum started to be housed in Cheltenham by the Home Office.
They all went through very difficult circumstances before their arrival.
“H” has spent 4 years travelling across Europe to England and had his iPad stolen, with all his memories on it.
“A” spent 10 months on the south coast before being moved suddenly to Cheltenham. He misses the friends he made in his old home. He's been an asylum seeker for six years, and he's really starting to struggle from the uncertainty of being unable to imagine a future clearly.
“D” was an unaccompanied minor being looked after in a hostel in Essex, until he turned 18 and was moved to live independently in Cheltenham. He wants to be a dentist.
“R” really wants to train to be a policeman, but has also shown us pictures of the beautiful jewellery he's made. He turned up at the Christmas community cafe dressed as Father Christmas, and gave chocolate to all the young people.
And “M” is here with her two young sons, who are just getting used to everything, and full of curiosity about their new surroundings!
Each of them have a unique story, and unique needs that we want to help meet as effectively as possible. They're very vulnerable, and at risk of being extremely isolated. Asylum seekers are often being placed in new locations very suddenly, and without any prior notice or preparation.
They have small allowances, being given just £37.50 each week to include all food, clothing, and living costs. They're not allowed to work or formally study, and have limited language classes.
This is a slightly different situation to the thirty Syrian refugee families that CWR have been helping before, and we've established a weekly hub and support network to help out.
Now that Covid 19's brought our society to a standstill, we're very worried that our new friends are going to struggle to take care of themselves.
As such, we're asking if you might be able to contribute towards an emergency fund to make sure that Cheltenham's newest citizens aren't left alone, hungry, and isolated.
We first got together as a group of volunteers four years ago to welcome the refugee families who fled the civil war in Syria. We've helped them settle into their new homes, arranged a monthly community café to allow them to come together, and organise fun and inclusive events for the families and the wider community.
Our education group delivers assemblies and workshops to local primary and secondary schools, which give students in Cheltenham a great overview of the refugee crisis, and the issues involved.
Now, we have newcomers to Cheltenham and our aim is to make them feel just as welcome in our hometown. They need our support very urgently -
- They can become homeless at short notice.
- They have a weekly allowance of £37.50, which has to cover food, clothes, transportation, toiletries, mobile phone bills... everything they need.
- They're not funded for attendance at their immigration appointments, but it's essential that they come or they can be deported. These are often arranged at short notice and can take place in Liverpool, Cardiff or London. They are expected to fund these costs from their weekly allocation of £37.50.
How We're Helping
CWR’s approach so far has been twofold:
- To find safe spaces for them to gather and socialise, meet local people, practice English, and have a hot drink and a snack. We’re providing a drop-in centre one day a week, and are helping facilitate churches and other community groups to do the same.
- To identify their immediate needs, and tap into the generosity of our supporters to help provide them. So far, these have been winter jackets for the oncoming cold weather, as well as shoes and bikes and gym membership to keep them active and mobile.
We initially wanted to establish a pool of funds to help support them with more complex and long-term costs. But now we're very worried that they might be disproportionately affected by coronavirus, and we want to make sure their immediate needs are met. Any money you can spare will make a huge difference. Thank you.
Do you receive financial support from the government?
- No, we operate on a shoestring budget that we fundraise for through events and open meetings.
Are you a registered charity?
- No, we're a constituted voluntary organisation, which runs completely through volunteer activity.
Do you work with partners in and around Cheltenham?
- We work closely with GARAS (Gloucestershire Action for Refugees and Asylum Seekers) who do fantastic work for all those who arrive in our area. We also work with Cheltenham Volunteer Teachers, who support refugees in learning and practicing English - they're presently resourcing language teachers for asylum seekers, so please do message them if you'd like to help.
We also have links to some of the brilliant organisations and businesses around town, including the Wilson Gallery, Sober Parrot, Everyman Theatre, Boston Tea Party, Friends Meeting House, St Gregory the Great Church Cheltenham, among other wonderfully supportive people, whose help we greatly appreciate.