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Supporting refugees

Published: 23rd November 2022

Refugees talking togetherThe Halesowen Welcome Group was opened in 2008 with the aim of helping combat social isolation and financial exclusion of refugees locally. Started by Churches Together in Halesowen, they initially wondered whether anyone would turn up, but now support over  200 refugees and asylum seekers a year with around 50 – 70 people attending their Monday sessions each week.

Andrew Harwood is the project manager for the group, having been seconded from Christian Mission organisation OM. He said: “Refugees are often not made to feel welcome, so our group provides a place where they can come and find friendship as well as refreshments and practical and emotional support. We pay for their bus fare to come each week and work closely with other local organisations, such as foodbanks, as well as helping refugees and asylum seekers to navigate the system in the UK.”Other refugees at the centre

Throughout the pandemic, the Welcome Group kept in touch with all those on its list, phoning them at least once a month and delivering nappies/ children’s clothes and top up vouchers for mobile phones so individuals could keep connected. “We ended up supporting more people at the end than we were at the start! Since reopening we are now offering two different sessions so everyone is able to come along and it doesn’t feel too crowded,” said Andrew.

The Welcome Group recently won a Dudley CVS award for their work in the community. Those attending the group come from across Dudley and Sandwell boroughs as well as West and North Birmingham. “People find out about us through word of mouth as many refugees live in shared housing. We also get referrals from social prescribers, GP surgeries and other charities,” said Andrew. “However, we know there are more asylum seekers in Dudley that we’re not currently reaching, and the Trustees are thinking about how we might be able to change that. We have found that those refugees from Ukraine are quite well supported, so we usually have a range of people from other parts of the world. We’ve recently had a number of refugees from El Salvador.”

refreshment team at the Welcome GroupThe Welcome group runs on a budget of around £17-20k each year. Mike Gower is the Vice Chair of the Charity and their Funding Officer. He said: “We have a few different trusts who are long-term funders and have recently received money from the National Lottery Communities Fund. We’re also grateful for support from local churches – The churches in Halas benefice are particularly good friends to us! Over the last two years the Catholic St Vincent de Paul Society have given us grants to buy small electrical items and supermarket vouchers to give out, which was very helpful. We hold a Christmas party each year so appreciate any gifts of new toys that we can give out to the children. We are always happy to come out to local churches to talk about the group and how they can support us.”

The Welcome Group often receives donations of clothes and household items such as pots, pans and crockery and the refugees and asylum seekers are able to come and take what they need. “When people first come to this country, they are often housed in furnished accommodation,” said Mike. “But when refugee status is granted, they need to move out. They have access to a little more money, but no longer have any furniture, so whatever we can help with them is much appreciated.”

Volunteers sorting clothesThe group also provides nappies, wipes and other baby supplies to those who need them, helping to contribute towards what they might need to use in a month. They can also take requests if there is something specific that an individual or family needs.

“We are fortunate to have a small storage area downstairs where we can keep donations or items that we might have picked up from local charity shops,” said volunteer Moira. “We try to match items with individual requests. Children’s clothes are always very popular, as well as pushchairs, bedding and small kitchen items. We have a link with a local school from where we collect coats and shoes. On the last day of the summer term, the children wear their trainers into school and bring in their school shoes to leave for us – uniforms and school shoes are often a difficult expense for people.”

 Salaam is from Eritrea and has been in the UK for the past 8 years. She was told about the group by a friend and comes along with her two small children. She said: “It makes me very happy to come here. We can have some food and they help with clothes and nappies. My son is also happy and enjoys the toys and activities here.”

The Welcome Group is always looking for more support – either through donations or through volunteering your time. To find out more, contact welcomegrouphalesowen@gmail.com.

Page last updated: Wednesday 23rd November 2022 2:14 PM

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