SURVIVING LOCKDOWN The centre may be closed but Asha’s staff remain hard at work! – 5th May 2020

Organising home delivery of food for families and single parents is a priority.  Deliveries take place on Monday and Thursday and on Thursdays food is given to whoever calls at the centre between 10.30 and 12.30.

Asha continues to receive food from regular donors and from Tesco and Aldi.  Maureen obtained a good supply from Leek Food Bank and Godfrey collected from Keele University. Lichfield Food Bank was unable to provide food but generously sent a financial donation and Stoke Food Bank has also contributed some food.

Sporting Communities successfully applied to the Community Foundation to support ongoing work with ASHA and have been granted £1000 to go towards supplying food and resources for children during lockdown.

Meanwhile Asha has bought stock when it is needed and is able to so because of the generosity of donors and from savings which supported discontinued services.

TABLETS

Asha’s appeal for tablets produced an immediate response for which we are grateful. However, it quickly became obvious that it was not enough to merely give a family a tablet.  Kevin explains why:  

‘This is an exciting service which will be highly effective long after the present crises. It is vitally important to ensure that the service to children is free from exploitation, threats, scams and inappropriate programmes. We therefore decided on a bespoke service with the phone company who are proving helpful. The financial aspect of use and payment of that each tablet will be monitored to ensure the service stays financially sustainable and there is no automatic cut off. A monthly record of use will enable the company to notify any concerns. This level of security and protection is vital when providing children with IT equipment. Additional protection is also required when equipment like this may be seen as high currency by people on a low income in poor housing.  A family can so easily become at risk of threats and theft so the tablets will be visually marked as the property of Asha to reduce their resale value.

‘Asha is following government guidelines and setting out a code of ethics to make sure the content on the tablets meets the specific needs of children and young people. The aim is to stimulate, inspire and motivate, to build confidence and self-worth. To this end Asha will strive to ensure the activities and programs are free of the following:  gender bias, violence and stories that have value judgements threaded through them.

‘It has taken time to reach this point but there are no short cuts and Asha is committed in the long term to high standards which are as safe as is humanly possible.’  

Asha is particularly appreciative of several significant donations towards the cost £8300 for tablets.  A 10-inch Android tablet, a Sim card with an unlimited internet bundle, tablet cases and internet for an additional three month’s costs £116 each.

Fifty of Asha’s most needy families will receive a tablet and internet connection.

REMOTE SUPPORT

Families and Children

As soon as lockdown began ways to support families and single parents was a priority.

At first time was spent talking with women about what they could and could not do.  Communicating was difficult and Asha’s families do not have television, radio or internet and quite often no credit on their phones.

Some women were wary of going shopping or for a walk, especially with children, and some still are.   They were fearful of doing something wrong, meeting a policeman or catching the virus. Initially, not all responded to phone calls, but others phoned to ask how we were and to have a chat when ‘things got a bit much’.

Asha’s users are resilient, they have been through worse, and at present they don’t have the pressure from the Home Office concerning their application for asylum which makes their present situation easier to accept

Women who live in a hostel and spend most of their time isolated in their own rooms, now get together on Thursdays to applaud the NHS; the first week no-one else joined in, the second week they did!

Well-being resources have been posted online and on Asha’s Facebook and under the Activities tab on the Asha website.  Simple breathing exercises, lavender bag making packs and knitting supplies offer some respite for women who are accessible, and one received a bicycle to ride in the park.

Books were delivered to a breast-feeding mum who cannot get out, support was offered to another who needed an emergency operation, and consolation to one who was grief stricken because their friend in London had died of the virus.

WhatsApp, text, and Google translate proved especially useful.  Regular, almost daily, contact now takes place with 43 families and less regularly with an additional 20. These are families with refugee status or who have a support network. Initially the focus was on the welfare of the children, finding out what, if any IT support was available. Generally, it was only one mobile phone and very often there might be two or three siblings were trying to use one phone for their homework.

Weekly WhatsApp messages are used to share songs and stories as well as key information and advice on lockdown and related matters.

The government’s announcement on 22 April of IT support for students is limited to children in care or identified as vulnerable or Year 10 students so few of Asha’s children quality.

Some schools have been more sensitive than others to the constraints on children of asylum seekers learning at home with no access to online educational resources.      Prior to the Easter Holidays and with no specific funding or legal obligation some schools offered support using reserves or drawing from a pot of funding intended for something else.

Free food vouchers

The free food voucher scheme presented an immediate problem insofar that applicants were invited to apply online and on receipt of an email to print it off for the bar code to be checked at a supermarket till.  Without a printer, families showed the bar code on their phone, only to have this rejected, and be sent away empty handed. Several families sent messages saying, “We have given up, we will manage with donations from Asha.” It is reported that 96% of surveyed head teachers and school business leaders say the lockdown free-school meal scheme is ‘not working properly.’ (4 May). Asha worked tirelessly to make sure our families received vouchers and by then most and 60 parents were asked as part of the weekly WhatsApp to get in touch if they still had problems. Those without WhatsApp were contacted individually. Three newly arrived families have not yet received vouchers, and this being pursued. A positive outcome has been the development of mutual understanding and cooperation between Asha and schools attended by our children.  Thanks, too, to the asylum seekers and refugees who have helped interpreting.

British Red Cross and Refugee Action

Lydiaremains engaged with British Red Cross current and new cases and she spends a better part of her hours on the phone, providing advice on refused appeals, claiming Section 4 or universal credit as well as providing letters of support. There are regular online BRC staff meetings and she is also a conduit for any issues referred by Refugee Action. Lydia is also a primary link with families needing food.

Unaccompanied children

Keitahas been working with two groups of unaccompanied minors which involves phone contact and messaging, just to ensure they are coping. Bicycles are always in high demand and he has been able to repair and distribute several.

MANAGEMENT

Working from home has been a challenge for Godfrey and Jane. Jane comments: ‘The influx of emails due to us all working remotely has been phenomenal!’ Zoom meetings are now making it easier for Godfrey and Jane supported by Kevin, to coordinate the ongoing work and ensure that a united approach is maintained to avoid fragmentation.

Besides keeping Asha operational and liaising with Refugee Action, Godfrey has completed the 2018-2019 annual report and Jane the annual statement of accounts which have been submitted to the Charity Commission and to VAST.

SERVICES  30 March to 30 April 2020

The table below details emergency servicesfor adultsonly

Services  Numbers
Telephone wellbeing support  71
Food distribution  167
Hours of telephone counselling  19
Home food delivery  58
Immigration advice  11
Total  326

Godfrey is pleased to report that between September 2019 and April 2020, Asha had contact with and/or supported 1000 asylum seekers, including children, easily exceeding the target set for the year.

Asha took part in national research organized by Refugee Action to assess the impact of COVID-19 and lockdown on services to asylum seekers and refugees and on their wellbeing. It is self-evident that a review of services and their delivery will be necessary when anything like normal services can resume. In the meantime, Asha is benefitting from regular network meetings with over 64 organizations who now share the experience of lockdown and what can be learned from it.

A copy of the research, Covid-19 Information and Data Hub Bulletin 1 May 2020, can be found on the Asha website: www.asha-uk.org

BANK Asha has moved from HSBC to the

 Cooperative Bank Account No. 65893469 Sort Code 08-92-99

SURVIVING LOCKDOWN

John writes: I am one of those who are designated a vulnerable over 70 or so the medical people tell me.  I suppose having just 5% of my major bowel qualifies!  They say that I must stay at home for 12 weeks.  It sounds like a prison sentence.  But it really makes me think about all those asylum seekers who are in detention and are sick with worry about their future.  Anyway, I miss ASHA and the whole side of social life.  Luckily enough, I have Anne here.  She is working from home and keeping an eye on me so that I do not escape!  Obviously, I am longing for the day when we can get back to some kind of normality.  My thoughts and prayers are with the whole ASHA Community.

Angela is experiencing lockdown as a useful rehearsal for full retirement!  She owns to a growing acceptance that she needs to step back but for the moment she is keeping a foot in the door, collecting food from Lidl and Tesco once a week. Otherwise, like everyone else, she is fulfilling tasks which have lurked out of sight for a long time.

A BIG THANK-YOU TO VOLUNTEERS AND DONORS

 A special ‘thank you’ to volunteers who have bagged rice, bottled oil, sorted food parcels and made deliveries. Asha could not have done without you. They are a small group and some wishing to help have been turned away. This is not because there is nothing to do but because more people operating in a relatively small space would make it impossible to maintain responsible social distancing.

An equally special ‘thank you’ to all who have ‘kept the faith’ and continue to donate food and money.

Members of Trinity Church Leek responding to an article Maureen wrote, have donated over £800 and counting!  Members are also delivering food to Maureen’s porch which Kevin can then collect. Asha. Boundary Road Methodist Church has contributed soap in addition to milk, as a cursory check just before lockdown revealed that a significant number did not have any.

In addition to individual donations, we are grateful to the East Midlands Railway Community Fund for £500 to purchase four tablets. Asha expects some asylum seekers to become railway volunteers when circumstances allow.    

Thank you, Period Powerfor your regular support and for the toothpaste, shower gel and nappies which you included in the second delivery of sanitary products.

A season of loneliness and isolation is when a caterpillar gets its wings.  Remember that the next time you are lonely.’ Mandy Hall

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