The ASHA Blog

ASHA support

ASHA supporter, Maureen Wisken, vigorously promotes ASHA amongst the people of Staffordshire Moorlands. One way she does is by offering regular articles on ASHA’s activities in the SPARK Newspaper.  This is what she wrote in October last year.

Harvest Giving

ASHA staff, volunteers and service users were overwhelmed with the several car loads of harvest food gifts from Churches across the Staffs Moorlands Methodist Circuit and asked me to say a huge thank you. To say the store room was virtually bare isn’t an understatement so the huge top up was very welcome. But food is given out almost as fast as it comes in so please keep donations flowing. Trinity Church in Leek and Cheadle Methodist Church in Cheadle are happy to receive your donations and pass them on.

Most needed items are sunflower oil, basmati rice, tuna, pasta, long life milk, lentils, chick peas, coffee, and tea.

How badly needed are the services ASHA offers?

The bald facts below paint a graphic picture of the level of vital activity provided by this relatively small charity.

965  -the total number of asylum seekers currently registered in Stoke-on-Trent

(Not including an unknown number who are destitute because their claim has been refused)

346 -the  total number of service users accessing ASHA in the last 6 monthsmany of whom are destitute and do not receive any public support

Of these 207 are men ,138 are women plus 87  children

47 the number of different nationalities of people using ASHA services

1741 –the number receiving items of donated food

833- the number who have received items of donated clothing

762 –the number who have attended English classes

401- the number who have attended the Saturday Women’s Group (excluding children)

355-the number who have received advice and support from the Red Cross

443- the number who have accessed specialist advice from the solicitor who attends biweekly.

58- the number who were assisted to travel to Solihull for immigration advice



The British Red Cross-how do they help asylum seekers in Stoke?

The Red Cross have a contract with ASHA to provide advice and support to asylum seekers and especially those who are destitute, homeless and in receipt of no support whatever.

Each week Red Cross Case Workers from Birmingham come to ASHA to provide a ‘drop-in’ on Thursdays for initial /less complex cases and on other days in the week by appointment only for cases that need more in depth advice /support.

Where a different level of expertise is required the Red Cross workers refer service users to other agencies including a solicitor who travels to ASHA every other week to help with immigration issues.

Access to these types of support in a local, familiar, safe setting like ASHA provides a vital lifeline to people who are often alone, are way out of their comfort zone, in a strange culture and with little or no influence or control over their lives.

ASHA Developments

Football To the great delightof an increasing number of young menASHA recently set up a Saturday Football Club with 46 attending in the first 3 sessions. With little or no money for anything but the barest essentials and much time on their hands it is a real challenge for asylum seekers to find enjoyable things to do. Organising football not only taps into the shared love of the sport but also encourages healthy, outdoor exercise and helps develop social contact and friendships between those who may be widely dispersed across the city.

There are plans to join a local league .To do so ASHA staff are keen to attract a volunteer keen and able to help coach and support the emerging team. If you can help contact Godefroid Seminega on

Community link worker

So very many of the asylum seekers in Stoke have brought with them very significant qualifications, skills and experience, which they are not able to put to good use because they are not allowed to take paid employment while their application is being considered-this can take months or, in some cases, years.  They run the risk of being deskilled and disheartened if not demotivated.

A number of those attending ASHA already volunteer in local organisations. Those who do find this helps gives structure to their daily which are lives dominated by interminable waiting to hear the outcome of their application. In addition volunteering provides opportunities for them to improve their English as well as offering skills in short supply. Above all volunteering enables them to give something back to the local community, who thereby gain first- hand experience of real live asylum seekers.

To address this situation ASHA has applied for and been successful in gaining a 3 year grant to appoint a part time Community Worker to liaise with organisations and individuals in the wider community to expand the voluntary role of asylum seekers in various settings, for example,  industry, hospitals, care homes, community centres, sports centres ,schools etc.

Once the post is filled the work will not only benefit asylum seekers themselves but also the wider community and will go a long way in this city to overcoming negative attitudes prevalent in many parts of the UK to  migrants in general

To improve the charity peer support services, improve the quality of this service and reduce the waiting time for support.


The next big event is the Children’s Christmas Party. It is expected that over 100 children will attend and each will receive a present from Father Christmas courtesy of Sporting Communities, who are expert at laying on games and activities for large groups of children of varying ages.  This won’t be the end of Christmas for these children.  Traditionally the Salvation Army provides a present for every child and these will be given out at the final Women and Children’s groups before Christmas.

Many individuals, faith groups and others contribute to ASHA and collectively, we can make a difference.


Keele Medical School January 2018

ASHA was very pleased to welcome a group of final year medical students tasked to visit the centre weekly to familiarise themselves with the ‘world’ of asylum seekers as part of learning about local community services.


We are always curious to know how others see us and to learn from the experience of visitors.  This is how one medical student describes arriving at ASHA.


‘Hidden away on a business park in the heart of Stoke-on-Trent is ASHA. It’s difficult to describe in words the atmosphere created by staff, volunteers and service users in this small centre. When you approach the building, it looks unremarkable, in keeping with the surrounding units on the business park. As you walk in the front door and immediately up a cold staircase into the main room, a sea of warm faces greets you. The loud noise of chatter, children playing, laughter, the kettle boiling, a strong smell of fresh toast …. It feels like home.  ASHA is a place where asylum seekers of all origins, men, women and children are welcome.’


ASHA’s clients felt very much at ease with the students as they discussed the issues they have approaching the medical services in a new country.  The outcome of the student’s visits is a beautiful printed leaflet, A Guide to Using the NHS, which in simple language and symbols will help an asylum seeker know where to get help and how to tell a doctor or pharmacist about their symptoms..


ASHA is pleased welcome a second group of medical students and looks forward to their insights into how the centre works and their insight into what matters most for our asylum seekers.



On 22 December Union Learn delivered an inaugural Festival of Learning in conjunction with Unite which followed  two previous events sponsored by the BSU YouLearn Union Learning Fund

The event was delivered by project officers, Matt Pointon and Mark Rowe and was attended by 29 ASHA service users.

ASHA had requested an input on recycling and why it matters and this session was shared with Stoke Council’s Recycling team. It was an eye opener for participants most of whom hadn’t really got a grip on why recycling is important and the trouble residents can get into for not using their bins correctly. One participant commented “No-one has ever explained all this to me ever before and I have been in this country for six months.”

Another session discussed work and the role of trade unions and most of the information was completely new to the participants.   They had heard about trade unions but were amazed at their actual role and importance in the workplace. When the time arrives to apply for a job an asylum seeker will be better equipped about the world he is moving into.

There was a lively session on ESOL which was of particular benefit for participants who are not yet eligible to enrol for English classes.

ASHA is very grateful to Matt and Mark for their inspiring leadership and very pleased that another learning day is on the cards for February.

Finally, a bonus is that the cost of the day includes a budget for ASHA to supply lunch.  On this occasion, Manjula cooked a lovely curry plus accompaniments and this added a gloss to the whole occasion.

A resurgent SVP group rallies to support ASHA

Vincentian Concern Issue 55 inter 2017

When she responded to a call from Father Michael Miners of Our Lady of the Angels and St Peter in Chains (a large church on your right nearing the bottom of Hartshill Road in Stoke) to re-establish a local SVP Conference Carol Lovatt chose supporting ASHA as a priority.  Below is her report on progress so far::

‘One of the first connections we made was with ASHA, a local organisation in Stoke-on-Trent that works with refugees and asylum seekers coming into the city.  It support hundreds of individuals and families from a range of countries who are in need of acute and long-term help.  Most of the people who use their services arrive in the UK with nothing and need basic necessities such as food and clothing.  Our SVP work has involved organising monthly congregational collections of these and the generosity of our congregation has been overwhelming. It is always a pleasure to drop off the itens which are clearly appreciated.  Father Michael also kindly donated £700 raised from a classical concert he organised in church which helped to replenish ASHA’s food supply. Some of our group have helped teaching English  and attended a course in conjunction with Keele University to ensure they understood the criteria for engaging in this activity.

‘I also personally helped a young boy  who had arrived from a Balkan country to get involved in a local football team as he did not know how to develop his love of and his talent for football.

‘I  foresee the ASHA connection continuing to gain strength as we expand our help for those who are in real poverty and desperation and who need a caring hand to stretch out and wecome them.’


Carol (on the right, outside) ASHA with

Volunteer Sylvia Richards


ASHA says thank you Carol and Father Michael

POST SCRIPT Father Michael had another concert arranged for 9 December to raise money for ASHA but this was the weekend when much of the city ground to a halt due to snow and storms.  We understand that concert is to be rescheduled, possibly in  the spring.



Wanted urgently — BIKES

While the ASHA Centre is based in Hanley, asylum seekers who use the services throughout the week are scattered right across the city from Tunstall to Longton. Asylum seekers are no different to anyone else in their need to travel cheaply – if not always for the same reasons as us, which for them may include;-

  • Routine signing on at the centre on Festival Park-sometimes weekly
  • Attending medical /hospital appointments
  • Meetings with solicitors
  • Attending college for free English and other classes
  • Attending ASHA to access any of the services on offer
  • Accessing the cheapest foods and clothing
  • Meeting up with others to counteract social isolation
  • Allow families to go for cheap trips out if they all have a bike
  • Volunteering –you would be surprised how many freely give time to support local voluntary organisations like Age Concern
  • Just keeping fit at no cost

Many are obliged to walk long distances to their destinations often in inclement weather. Finding the money to travel by bus even once a week can make a huge dent in the £37 per week each receives while waiting for their claim to be processed.

ASHA has found that providing recycled bicycles has been a great solution for many and as fast as the bikes come in and are checked and repaired, then they are found new homes almost immediately. There is always a waiting list, which currently stands at around 20 +.

Checks and repairs are carried out in house by Kirill, an asylum seekers who had a successful career as a highly skilled engineer in his home land.

See him here in his temporary, makeshift ‘workshop’ in the corner of one of the large rooms at ASHA.

Nothing is more guaranteed to bring a smile to his face than the delivery of another bike to make roadworthy again.

Over the last year around 50 bikes have been donated from across North Staffordshire.

You may have had a new bike for Christmas and don’t know what to do with the old one or you just haven’t got round to sorting out the one in the garage.

If you have a spare bike in whatever condition (some past their best can be used for spare\parts) and want to do your bit to help asylum seekers  and free up space at the same time,  do get in touch with ASHA or, if you live in  Staffordshire Moorlands, with Maureen Wisken on 01538 -285799  (07763-871-092). It helps enormously if you can deliver a bike but if this is not possible we will find someone to do so.



These four young people were thrilled to receive two bikes between them. ASHA takes special care giving a bike to a young person because it is important to know that they will be supervised and have a good understanding about cycling safely and looking after their bike.



ASHA New Year 2018 Get-Together

About 40 local and asylum volunteers, supporters and guests gathered at the Mirchi in Snowhill for an early evening supper on 25 January.  Trustee Angela Glendenning summarised the year as follows:

ASHA moved into Unit 7 just under two years ago.  These two years have been something of a roller-coaster but the second half of 2017 was one of consolidation and we embark on 2018 with great expectations.

Highlights of 2017 include:

Our May conference brought together ASHA, the Jubilee Project and Sanctus to mark Refugee Week. Over 60 people attended and feedback confirmed that it was as successful as we thought it was and this was in no small measure due to our chair, Phil Mayland.

The summer trip to Llandudno could not have happened without Maureen Wisken’s energy. She rallied Trinity Church in Leek and various Methodist churches to raise money to hire two coaches and round up volunteers to share a day by the seaside with ASHA users.

Maureen’s dynamism was not exhausted.  She also involved asylum seekers in cooking for Trinity Church’s Christmas Market which raised £2379.25 for ASHA.

ASHA would not be what it is without the weekly presence of the British Red Cross offering support, advice and advocacy to asylum seekers and we are glad that Red Cross worker Charlotte Swan is with us this evening.

ASHA is indebted to Barbara James who introducedKeele University English students and medical students to ASHA and we are glad Russell Clark, AcademicEnglish Programme Director, has been able to join us.

We also have a core group of one-to-one English tutors who offer personal attention to those with little or no English. Margaret Yates is one of them and she is with us.

ASHA has enjoyed several Community Learning days tutored by Matt Pointon and funded by the trade union, Unite.

We owe David Wright and Peter Till, managers respectively of Newcastle and Lichfield Food Banks for their regular donations of surplus food.   Stoke Food Bank does not often have much surplus to disperse but does so when it can.  Manager Anna has recently moved to another job and Corinne Boden is here in her place.

Thank you Phil Mayland and Carol Lovatt for your commitment in keeping the needs of asylum seekers to the forefront amongst various Roman Catholic congregations.  Newcastle Unitarian Church regularly deposits food and clothing in my porch and various individuals and faith groups do the same.

We are also very grateful to the Salvation Army who come through every Christmas with presents for the children.  Theresa Raffan has taken on the hefty task of collecting the toys for distribution and Theresa attended the Christmas Party and is with us tonight.

This year’s Children’s Christmas Party was attended by 138 children and 68 parents.  Each year Sporting Communities organises the party and for over 10 years members of Keele World Affairs have contributed food and money. ASHA is fortunate that Ben Rigby, Director of Sporting Communities is a member of our Board of Trustees.


We are glad to welcome guests, Sarah Wilshaw and Elaine Goldstraw from the NHS Asylum Seeker & Refugee Mental Health Team and Jude Hawes, Citizens Advice with Zak, Assistant Manager in the Asylum Advice Team and Shug from the Into School project. We’re sorry Huda and Chris can’t be with us.

Show me a charity which can boast such a dedicated, hard-working staff as Godefroid and Lydia.  They both work beyond the call of duty and they keep us grounded in our aim to be of service to men, women and families seeking refuge from persecution. We are also delighted to have Jane Bailey as our new finance and admin officer.


Thank you to Kevin Sauntry and our Board of Trustees but above all, thank you  to our local volunteers John, Maureen, Eva, Sarah, Dawn, Diane and Sylvia and our asylum volunteers Roza, Osman, Dabashish,  Manjula, Monis, Jeanine, Sasangi, Kirill, Mansoora, Sirwan,  Mamadu  and Guillaume.


Without them we would not be able to keep the show on the road.


This occasion is especially for them, to show our appreciation of the way they rise above the stress and pressure of their situation to join us in offering services and care to those who have known such hardship, separation and loss.  You give us hope and a renewed faith in humanity. Thank you.




Add your voice to the Lift the Ban Campaign.


At present people seeking asylum are only allowed to work if they have been waiting on a claim for 12 months or more and can fill a role on the shortage of occupation list, which includes positions such as classical ballet dancers and geophysicists. This means people are essentially banned from working while they wait months, and often years, for a decision on a claim, living on the £5.39 a day the government allows.

The number of people waiting for a decision on an asylum claim had risen from 14,528 by mid-2018, the highest since records began.  A significant number of these people will live in Stoke-0n-Trent.

ASHA sees at first-hand how demoralizing it is to live a hand to mouth existence, not knowing what your future holds and very often losing skills you hold dear. These men and women already carry a heavy burden of separation and loss and not being able to work takes a huge toll on their emotional, psychological and physical well- being.

People seeking asylum in Spain can work after six months, in Canada there is no waiting period and in Denmark asylum seekers can work subject to certain conditions. No other European country enforces such a restrictive waiting period as Britain.

Please sign the petition and write to the Home Secretary and your MP declaring your support for the Lift the Ban Campaign.  THANK YOU.

ASHA North Staffordshire, Unit 7 Hanley Business Park, Cooper Street, Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent ST1 4DW


You Learn Festival

BSU’s Youlearn offered Asha two action-packed learning days. Project workers, Neil Seepujak and Matt Pointon, commented “Following on from our work with the U3A, we wanted to see if we could link up with other hard-to-reach learners. We know how difficult the transition to life in the UK is and how precarious the situations refugees are in, so we wanted to listen and to provide learning that would be of help.”

The day began with ESOL classes on points of grammar, delivered by Project Worker Matt Pointon, who is an experienced ESOL teacher. Neil then delivered sessions on IT including using government websites, rights at work and the reasons to join a trade union.

After a wonderful lunch cooked by service users, encompassing diverse world cuisines, there were lighter sessions on discovering the history of the Potteries, and days out you can enjoy from Stoke-on-Trent. Commenting Matt said, “It was really uplifting being able to work with the Asha service users, some of whom I have no doubt will make valuable contributions to the trade union movement in the future.”

Asha believes that it is important that our volunteers are remunerated for their work. This is why Asha pays towards the cost of their travelling to the Centre from outlying neighbourhoods as well as a small lunch allowance.

We believe that volunteering for Asha or attending the Women and Children’s clubs may for many be a crucial first step towards becoming integrated in their local community.