June 2020 update

A MESSAGE FROM KEVIN SAUNTRY, Chair of the Board of Trustees

Throughout this bulletin you can see the great work being carried out during this crisis, a crisis that has affected the way of life of us all. I felt it worth sharing with you the personal cost that comes with care and dedication for others’
Being faced with the dilemma that the commitment you want to give may also increase the risk  to the  life of your loved ones, hurts. That hurt brings a daily pressure which at times can be over-whelming, with our workers at times needing support and help to get through.


It is with no little pride and admiration that I tell you they have all continued to serve. Usually in this bulletin we would first be expressing our gratitude for the support and compassion you give as our supporters, support which is invaluable. Yet it felt appropriate at this time to let you know the issues and dilemmas created for the staff by this crisis. When you ask the workers what keeps them so committed, it is the scribbled notes of thanks, tears of gratitude plus the support they feel with the arrival of food and encouragement from our supporters.

Tablets

At last, on the last day in May 50 tablets to provide remote digital support to families with children,

arrived. Not before time! You may recollect that Asha was seeking a bespoke service from a company which could offer security and protection and a financially viable service in the longer-term.  A suitable company was found, a contract prepared only for it to fall apart because the identified tablets could not be obtained from China! It proved easier said than done to find a company able to meet the number and specification of tablets Asha required.  Happily, the installation of programmes which are gender neutral, free of religious, cultural, violence or political bias are now being installed and by the time you read this distribution will have begun.

Through the good offices of Dr Ruth Chambers and Wavemaker, there will be training for staff and volunteers to deliver remote support and ensure the safe use of the tablets.

The trustees hope that in due course  Asha will be able to provide a tablet to all newly arrived families or at least to those who are most vulnerable, without any English, or with children with a disability or who have experienced especially severe hardship of one kind or another.

At present, without access to the internet or TV asylum seekers cannot keep up with the news about the changes in lockdown and are understandably nervous about what they can and cannot do. Jackie, Ryn and Gill spend a lot of time relaying government instructions as simply as possible. Tablets will bring our families into the mainstream and, we hope, alleviate many fears and misapprehensions.

Services

If anyone thought staff would be putting their feet up with Asha closed, they are mistaken.  The Thursday Car Park Drop-in is seeing more people as more hear about the availability of food and the sunny weather made walking in from the far reaches of the City more agreeable. There have been new arrivals with complex and conflicting needs as well.

The number of families receiving home deliveries of food decreased slightly as Ryn made sure that all who qualified for a food voucher received one and was confident to use it. Referrals were received from schools, the City Council and from individual families. 

A gazebo now shelters the food table on the car park and provided much needed shade during May and will very probably offer an equally needed shelter from the rain very sooner.

Services during MayTotal%
 Telephone well-being support3913
Food delivered to families with children5920
Food distribution from Asha Car Park12242
Bicycles donated to the users114
Immigration issues135
Self-referred and telephone support4716
Total291100

The number of services provided to children are not included.

Asylum Guide Project

Asylum Guides is a national programme funded by Comic Relief through Refugee Action who have selected Asha as one of their partners.  It  will introduce trained volunteers, asylum guides, to asylum seekers to help them to navigate the asylum journey,  understand how it works, their rights and options and  increase their resilience and develop local connections and a sense of belonging.

Asha is pleased to announce that Tamba Musa, a former reporter journalist refugee from Sierra Leone, who has completed immigration level 1 and 2 training with Refugee Action has been appointed project coordinator. Many already know Tamba as Asha’s social inclusion coordinator, a role which had got well underway until lockdown.

Asha’s Thursday Car Park  volunteers Kevin, Alison, Eva, Ruth , Ava, Barbara and Tamba , managed by Jane,  have settled into an efficient team and Lichfield Food Bank and contributions from Leek and when they have surplus, from Stoke and Newcastle food banks, Stafford’s House of Bread and donations from several faith groups as well as Tesco and Aldi have kept Asha well stocked and Period Poverty continues to supply sanitary and hygiene products.

The arrival of asylum seekers in Sandbach

Towards the end of May, Asha was alerted by East Cheshire Council to the arrival of 50 asylum seekers, including minors, in Sandbach.  Very soon local people known to Asha were in touch wanting to offer support, pointing out that the Chimney Pots Hotel where they had been accommodated, was on the outskirts of Sandbach and relatively isolated. Godfrey contacted Refugee Action and Asylum Matters and the latter contacted the Home Office pointing out that asylum seekers should onlt be dispersed to locations within reach of local facilities. Meanwhile Serco, the accommodation provider, agreed that the local people who had raised concern, were welcome to offer support within the constraints of the present situation. So far, the group have provided 50 hygiene bags with toiletries and some footballs, gifts of love made tangible!

The British Red Cross

 Asylum seekers can ring or text the BRC and Lydia remains a conduit for them to and from the BRC.  Ana from the BRC commented to Jane that most organisations had discontinued their services and that she knew how grateful Asha’s users were for the food distribution and for Asha still being there for them.

Godfrey has been talking with users on the car park and  Ana has also provided advice to service users in this way which gives rise to wondering if an open-air advice service is viable. So much remains uncertain but it is clear that face-to-face interviews are unlikely to be resumed any time soon.

Bicycles

Demand for bicycles has not lessoned because of lockdown and while Phil can provide them, Keita makes sure they are road-worthy and during the last week in May six were given out.

With the consent from their social workers, Keita is also providing weekly contact to two small groups of unaccompanied minors. This mainly consists of general chat, asking how they are feeling, delivering information about Covid-9 and liaising with their social worker if a need arises. 

Remote Working

Working remotely has its own challenges, not least coordinating staff. Counselling users whose English is poor quickly proved unproductive but emotional support was welcomed. Paula has stepped aside, and Jackie and Gill are coordinating their work providing help with practical matters and emotional support for women living on their own or with children in a home with few distractions for either.

Jackie comments: ‘Asha’s users are very resilient and accepting of quarantine but like us, they miss Asha and the community gatherings. While we have all missed family and friends over these past 12 weeks, it is sobering to remember that many Asha members have not seen their loved ones and friends for months or years. By necessity we had to move away from community group work and now work one-to-one via phone or WhatsApp. It is ironic that this is termed ‘remote working because we have actually got to know Asha members better through these personal conversations. As the weeks have progressed users now ring us for help or just to ask how we are and to chat, so it has really become a two-way interaction. It is salutary is to remember that Asha despite Asha’s efforts services at present are only touching minority of asylum seekers living in the City.’

It is rewarding to be able to deliver a fan to a woman recovering from an operation who did not feel secure with her ground floor room window open or to give a deckchair to a mother who had worked mightily to clear a small patch of backdoor garden and wanted to be able to sit in the sunshine. Another woman was pleased to receive some gardening books and to dream one day of having a garden. A young Mum was pleased to receive baby clothes, another newly arrived family to be linked to a community group who helped them to settle in.  Socially distanced conversations are becoming less awkward and in themselves build confidence.

Doorstep conversations sometimes reveal issues concerning mental health, safeguarding, housing and other matters which has led to productive liaison with other services like the Salvation Army, City Council, Citizen Advice, the Nappy Project, and mental health services.

Ryn is continues to keep an eye on families who are eligible for food vouchers to make sure they are successfully using them and she helped to sort out confusion which arose at half term when government funding for vouchers ceased only to be reinstated when there was an outcry.   Networks lead to informal referrals and Ryn has picked up newly arrived families and facilitated their children’s entry into school.

A teacher from Golden Hill School in Tunstall got in touch about a new, socially isolated family about whom she had concerns.  She was reassured to learn that the family was receiving regular food from Asha and that the father had called down to Asha on a Thursday morning.

Like Jackie and Gill, Ryn keeps in touch with Whatsapp, text and telephone. She commented that in some ways families themselves are leading the work.  A Whatsapp competition had families getting back in touch with questions and answers.

Administration

Staff are completing weekly logs to record their working week and how they prioritize their time and to demonstrate they are using it effectively.  A weekly Zoom meeting enables arising issues, concerns or ideas to be aired and recorded. This is invaluable.  It promotes shared learning, problem solving and teamwork which can so easily fragment when working alone and from home.

Black Lives Matter

https://www.facebook.com/100000893304818/posts/3252707591435652/?sfnsn=scwspmo&extid=SnV08aL8JnfE9Lm0&d=n&vh=i  Godfrey and Angela thought you might like to see this video clip.

Donations

During the last two months Asha has received £5380 in donations. The final cost of the tablets is £4284, less than the first estimate which offers the budget a little leeway for other unanticipated expenses resulting from Covid-19 and lockdown.

I hope it goes without saying how grateful Asha is for donations or food and money, both of which are tremendously supportive during this difficult time.

        PLEASE DO NOT DONATE CLOTHING, BED LINEN OR BRIC-A-BRAC AT PRESENT.   

        Asha   has no means of storing or distributing these donations. We will let you know when normal business resumes.

Refugee Week 15-21 June

Unable to organize any special events to celebrate Refugee Week this year, Asha invites you to affirm your support for asylum seekers and refugees by:

  • Taking part in a variety of virtual activities on the Refugee Week website  

https://refugeeweek.org.uk/

  • Signing Freedom from Torture’s petition to increase asylum support which

        currently stands at £5.39 per day to rates in line with Universal Credit.

Freedomfromtorture.org/news/joint-letter-on-increasing-asylum-support-rates-in-response-to-the-covid-19-crisis

The West Midlands Strategic Migration Partnership

Has been collating information concerning coronavirus of relevance to asylum seekers, refugees, migrants and EU citizens in the West Midlands. You can find it on this website: https://www.wmsmp.org.uk/covid-19-resources-and-guidance/

Godfrey and Jane send our volunteers, friends and supporters their warmest greetings and hope that the next Bulletin will begin to give some shape to Asha’s future service delivery.

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