Cheltenham provides a temporary home to dozens of people who have come to the UK seeking asylum from war or persecution. The Government has housed them here while they wait for their application to be processed.
As the pandemic continues, they are more and more isolated and lonely. We’ve decided that we’ll cover a Wi-Fi connection for them, sharing the cost for the next year with GARAS. This will allow them to continue to take English lessons at Gloucestershire College and the Conversation Classes our volunteers provide, access free language learning material online and stay in touch with their families and friends across the world. When we can’t meet in person, they also access our “hub” virtually, where CWR volunteers keep in touch with them and check in on their well-being. Sometimes, online quizzes are played as well!
This will also enable them to attend online appointments with the Home Office and meet their solicitors virtually to exchange documents and evidence as part of the stressful application process.
The Wi-Fi will allow them to access information about health guidance and participate in society now that life has largely moved online.
A donation of £32 will cover the connection for a house for one month. We are raising money for four houses and six months of Wi-Fi each - £768 in total.
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 asylum-seeking newcomers to Cheltenham and our aim is to make them feel just as welcome in our hometown.
How We Are 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. Volunteers run English language conversation classes for them. We’re providing a drop-in hub one day a week that is now run virtually and were helping facilitate churches and other community groups to do the same. We continued to run this hub whenever it was legally and safely possible during the pandemic.
● To identify their immediate needs, and tap into the generosity of our supporters to help provide them. So far, examples have been winter jackets, shoes and cycles to keep them mobile. We have also provided emergency food parcels.
What will you do if you raise more than the funds needed for the Wi-Fi connections?
Digital poverty is also an issue in the refugee families who rely on benefits. Our stretch goal is a further £3,200 to buy Chromebooks for the children in the families, prioritising those in secondary school with major exams ahead. (If you have a spare, working laptop with camera, please let us know.)
We’re grateful to the generous supporters who have already provided us with laptops for a number of the people seeking asylum and teenage children. However, we are still in need of more devices as more asylum seekers arrive and to ensure students can participate in lessons from home if they need to quarantine or schools close again.
What allowance do people seeking asylum receive?
They have a weekly allowance of £38 (https://www.gov.uk/asylum-support/what-youll-get) in addition to housing, which has to cover food, clothes, transportation, toiletries, mobile phone bills... everything they need.
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 are a constituted voluntary organisation, which runs completely through volunteer activity. We are exploring the possibility of registering as a charity.
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. They are paying for the other half of Wi-Fi costs for the coming year. 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 and Giles Mountford of dair* and other local businesses among other wonderfully supportive people, whose help we greatly appreciate.