Spotlight is a series of articles focusing on organisations in Wolverhampton working to tackle COVID-19.
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This issue, we spoke to Amanda, a volunteer at Wolverhampton City of Sanctuary, an organisation which supports refugees and asylum seekers.
In 2016, thanks to a committed group of local people, City of Wolverhampton Council plus a number of businesses, voluntary, community and faith organisations made a public commitment to Wolverhampton becoming a place of welcome and safety for asylum seekers and refugees. The City Council passed a resolution in November 2016 confirming Wolverhampton as a ‘City of Sanctuary’.
The original group of volunteers formed an organisation, Wolverhampton City of Sanctuary (WCoS) - now a registered charity - which continues to provide help and support to asylum seekers and refugees in and around Wolverhampton.
WCoS volunteers hold a weekly Drop In to provide a safe space for relaxation, conversation and refreshments. Practical support is also provided including financial help to those in hardship, signposting to legal and support services, and the distribution of donations of essential clothes and household items.
Volunteers also run informal ESOL sessions, day trips and summer holidays for asylum seekers and refugees.
WCoS works with agencies across Wolverhampton to publicise and celebrate the contribution of asylum-seekers and refugees to their local communities and to UK society and culture, and to challenge hostility and discrimination against them. Good examples are the cultural activities during Refugee Week and the “Meet and Mingle” social events which enable local residents to get together to eat, dance and celebrate with asylum seekers and refugees from across the globe.
How is COVID affecting the people you help?
Isolation is having a huge impact on asylum seekers and refugees who may already experience mental ill health due to the trauma they have experienced leaving their home and loved ones and on their journey to the UK. Asylum seekers may be isolated in a shared house with people from other cultures and who speak different languages. Tensions can increase when there is no opportunity to get out and about.
When English is not your first language, making sure you understand all the guidelines and health information about Coronavirus is very difficult and people are experiencing high levels of anxiety about the situation.
Asylum seekers and refugees are amongst the poorest in our community. Many are experiencing additional financial hardship and are going short of food and other essentials. No money to top up a phone means people can’t keep in touch with family & friends or legal advisers, and they can’t easily get help and advice. Children cannot keep up with school work without access to the internet.
What services are you offering?
- Phone Buddies: volunteers have been linked to specific families or individuals, to provide regular text, phone and video chat contact. The volunteers can help with food aid by referring asylum seekers and refugees to organisations such as the Elias Mattu Foundation, The Well and Gatis Junk Food Project. WCoS is providing phone top ups as and when required to make sure people can keep connected.
- What’s App groups: 4 administrators support a general WhatsApp Group set up by one of our asylum seeker volunteers. The group shares good information and positive messages, dispels C19 myths, offers a safe space for people to share what they are doing and to ask for advice. A separate cooking group is gathering together favourite recipes and the stories that go with them.
- Craft Bags and activities: two talented volunteers Christine and Sue have developed activities for children and post these on the What’s App Group. Christine has put together bags of craft materials which have been distributed to isolated families.
- Virtual Drop In: thanks to volunteers, Maggie and Alan WCoS is hosting a weekly on line Drop In where people can see friends and to enjoy a chat. Break out rooms provide space for speakers of other languages to get together. ESOL support volunteers are getting ready to launch virtual ESOL sessions.
How can readers help?
Be an advocate for Wolverhampton as a City of Sanctuary. If you don’t know find out about the UK process for asylum seekers and the granting of refugee status. Challenge misinformation about asylum seekers and refugees. Find out and celebrate the contribution of asylum-seekers and refugees to Wolverhampton and to UK society and culture.
Please visit our website to find out more about us and what we do.
If you are able to, please donate to help us to keep delivering the activities outlined in this article.