Our AGM was held on 7th November at Firstsite – guests were treated to tea and delicious Syrian baklava and basboosa before the presentations began.
Rosalind Scott, outgoing chair, reviewed how Refugee Action – Colchester CIC has undergone some major organisational changes during the year thanks to a Lottery Development Grant provided to facilitate our growth from our grassroots origins into a more formalised structure incorporating systems and governance – while retaining our central values of compassion, openness and tenacity on behalf of the people we support.
We produced the video below as part of reporting back to the National Lottery on how our Development Grant was spent developing RA-C for the future…
The Global Crisis
Dr Carlos Gigoux, Deputy Director Centre for Migration Studies in the Department of Sociology at University of Essex explained how RA-C’s important work within the context of the migrant crisis in Europe and the UK is mirrored all over world by similar organisations as different populations are forced to seek sanctuary in new regions, countries and continents for a wide range of reasons, including war, persecution, hunger and climate change.
Maria Wilby provided an ever insightful presentation explaining how RA-C’s initial work to provide support to refugees in Calais and the small number of Syrian’s arriving in Colchester as part of the UK’s SVPR scheme has grown massively in the four years od RA-Cs existence.
The following slides from Maria’s presentation tell much of that growth, including the ever increasing number of nationalities that our clients are from and the diverse range of issues that they come to us seeking help with.
The slides also present a little of the very positive story of the ever increasing number of groups and organisations that RA-C has the benefit of working with to help sanctuary seekers to heal and build better lives in our community.
Philip Horner delivered a report on RA-C’s finances – summed up in the following slides from his presentation.
Appropriately hot on the heels of Philip’s financial report came Kate Khan with her Fundraising presentation detailing plans for 2020 that include…
Increasing the number of events attended with the RA-C Information Stall.
Preparations being made for two fundraising meals early in the new year.
The organisation of an Art Auction to be held at the end of March.
Kate also spoke about the immediate and ongoing need for donations to help support RA-C’s work, especially in the area of providing subsistence payments to clients who have no recourse to public funding (NRPF), and therefore are not allowed to work or rent property, have no access to benefits and are forced to rely on charitable support.
Elizabeth Curry explained how the Community Evenings have, like many other aspects of RA-C’s endeavours, developed beyond recognition into quite different forms befitting of developing needs. Whereas the Community Evenings were originally seen as a way of introducing and connecting sanctuary seekers new to the area with the many and varied service providers that they may need.
The evenings have now taken on a life of their own, often being led by those seeking sanctuary, true community events where adults meet and friends while while their children enjoy playing in a safe and friendly environment.
Thanks were expressed to Rosalind for her work as chair of RA-C, and memories were shared of how that roll – and RA-C itself – was born out of a clamour when individuals and fledgling groups met to discuss how best to help with the growing crisis in Calais and further afield in Europe. Sensing chaos and a lack of direction, Rosalind’s organisational and leadership skills came to the fore when she asked ‘Shall I chair this?’ – the rest, as they say, is history!
Rosalind was presented with an engraved glass award thanking her for time as chair.
Taking over from Rosalind as chair, Philip introduced himself and went on to further explain the rationale behind some of the structural changes that RA-C has gone through, the nature of some of the intolerable challenges faced by our clients, and the need for systemic change to address those challenges in humanitarian way…
People ask why RA-C is not a charity. There are two primary reasons, one is that charities tend to have a relatively narrow focus. When we first got together we thought we would be working with Syrian refugees and Calais. Whilst these are both still important, we are finding more and more people in need who have no status, or no recourse to public funds. We have also increased our external involvement – working the NHS, the University and schools. Much of this wasn’t originally thought of and therefore may have fallen outside our charitable scope if we had defined our original intentions too tightly, leading to complications and restrictions on who we could help. Whilst our Community Interest Company does still need to follow its basic guiding principles we have much more freedom to act in deserving cases that don’t fit our original aim.
The second reason a CIC was a better option was that charities are not supposed to be political.
I will start by saying this is not an attack on our local MP’s who without exception whenever asked have always responded positively to our requests for help for individual clients. I am not going to be party political, but I am going to call for political change. Much of our client base are severely impacted by the policies of government – the hostile environment, benefit cap, austerity and Universal Credit are particular relevant here. If you flee your country and obtain asylum here with more than two children your benefits are likely to be limited. Somewhat different circumstances to the tabloid idea that people shouldn’t have more children than they can afford which resulted in the two child restriction. Should we tell refugees to pick their favourite two children and bring them here?
The hostile environment led to some of our clients losing jobs and access to benefits despite working and paying taxes here for decades. I can think of two particular cases -neither has yet to receive compensation for having their lives turned upside down, impacting their families.
Universal credit is another serious issue. We appealed on behalf of a client who was wrongly denied payment in April. The tribunal was due to sit in August, but the DWP failed to send appropriate paperwork. Our client now has a date later in November. He has done nothing wrong, we helped prepare his appeal, and lent him over £1000 to feed and support his family during the period he was denied benefits. We have spent considerable time on this case, and the money we lent him has not been available to help other clients in need.
Local Authority funding – we have all seen the savage cuts that have taken place every year for almost a decade. This has left our local services unable to do more than the absolute legal minimum in so many areas – housing,social care, education. Our clients are particularly vulnerable to these key services as in most cases they don’t have family support structures to help them.
I can give other examples, but the bottom line is this. Allowing our politicians to treat refugees and others in our community in this way cannot be allowed to continue. With the near shutdown of other advice organisations such as CAB, Shelter, Gingerbread there are fewer places left to seek help. We see mistakes by those in authority in the treatment of our clients, in relation to housing, benefits, access to healthcare and education. We fear these same errors are happening to others in our community – but who is to help them?
So this is a plea – our systems must change – our clients are suffering, so are many others in our community. Whatever we as an organisation can do is dwarfed by what our politicians can do. Ensure your vote helps enable change.