The world has changed as a result of Covid-19, and like many other organisations, we are facing a range of difficult decisions and new challenges. But we remain committed to supporting the local asylum seeker and refugee community and are finding new ways to do that.
We were really sad to close the weekly drop-in on 18th March, a few days before the government lockdown. All our other face-to-face activities had to close that week too.
On the day of the closure of the drop-in, we donated 4 crates of tinned food/other dry goods from our store cupboard to Chroma church for their foodbank. We also gave 36 cartons of UHT milk and 20 packs of biscuits to the Bridge for their homeless breakfast, which continued to run for a while after we closed. Since then we have donated almost all of our food supplies to Chroma foodbank, and have delivered a large box of toiletries from our store to Kennedy House for residents there who were finding it hard to access basic toiletries.
As we move into the second month of the Covid Crisis, we’re adapting our services to the new world we find ourselves in.
Fortunately, asylum seekers are not being asked to move out of their NASS accommodation regardless of the decision made on their case, and their financial support continues. The Red
Cross is supporting people to put in fresh claims and is helping them to access other forms of financial support, particularly those with no recourse to public funds. Many of our families are also receiving supermarket vouchers in lieu of free school meals – although in reality there have been many problems using these vouchers which has caused a great deal of frustration.
We continue to offer practical support to help our people: financially via our Emergency Fund; by making referrals to food banks; and by arranging food parcel deliveries for those shielding and unable to leave their homes. We have now given out £1,000 through our Emergency fund, with many payments delivered by hand, since asylum seekers generally do not have bank accounts. We will continue to offer this help throughout the crisis. Some of our people have no recourse to public funds, and are living with friends, which can be even more stressful during the current crisis. We are prioritising these people through our emergency fund so that they feel able to at least buy their own supplies at pay their way.
‘Thank you for thinking about me and checking on us. I was so down today. We were staying with a relative in Leicester but have been asked to move out and I had to ask a friend in another town to keep us and she accepted, but it’s the same situation, only now I’m in in a new place and I don’t know if I can get help here. I have to get my own food and other
basics. It is very hard. My friend is letting us sleep in the living room but the house is full. You won’t believe it I was literally crying a few mins ago not knowing what to do next when you contacted me. Thank you so much for arranging to send us money. I am so very grateful to you. I really appreciate this assistance. Thank you ’
Keeping in touch with our people is vital, as is signposting them to different forms of help. We keep people updated on important issues via our WhatsApp broadcast group and send out useful information, and making referrals where necessary. Some are newly arrived and don’t know where to access the help that is currently available, and information and a referral to a foodbank, for example, can make a huge difference:
‘Thank you so much I got today rice, potatoes, cornflakes, onions free of cost. I’m new here in this country, for me is difficult.’
But that’s not enough. Our volunteers are keen to continue offering their skills and as the weeks drag on, we are exploring new ways to provide more meaningful social contact with each other to help combat isolation, as mental health and loneliness are also key issues for all of us during this difficult time.
Nicky Brading, who normally offers massage at our drop-in, has made a short video for our service users, showing how you can massage key pressure points in each hand to help promote relaxation.
Maggie Edgington, our Families Lead, has been busy supporting individual families with various issues, including dealing with the frustrations of the supermarket vouchers. In
addition, she has been liaising with Leicester Libraries to arrange for families to receive a parcel of books, delivered to their door. The books have been tailored to the ages of the children and the library has also catered for any special requests. The feedback from the deliveries has been very positive, delighted kids and happy parents.
“Kids all happy, a very special thank you to the library from us”
Phil Hardy, who runs an English conversation table at our drop-in is now doing a weekly WhatsApp video call with a small group, playing word games and keeping people talking in English.
A high point in my week has now become the weekly quiz and catch up run via Zoom for all at LCoS, volunteers and service users alike. It’s very interactive, with games and quiz questions set by all of those participating. In true LCoS style, it’s rather noisy and somewhat chaotic, but all the more engaging for that, although of course it’s a poor substitute for the weekly drop-in that we are all missing so much. But the range of questions asked around the group is wide-ranging and intriguing, spanning English life, the Royal Family, local knowledge and deep philosophical questions such as the moral benefits of volunteering and what would help to unite humanity. It can’t replace the drop-in, but it really does lift our spirits to see each other and communicate in this way, having a bit of fun and pondering things together. Tackling mental health and isolation is key at the moment:
‘For several weeks I was very low in mood, stressful and anxious. When you invited me to join the zoom quiz meeting, I didn’t have any kind of strength to join it. You didn’t give up, you continuously inspired me to join that and got ready some questions also. I didn’t think I would enjoy this meeting so much or that seeing you all would lift me up. Thank you so much’
Our more formal English lessons offered in partnership with Leicester University are also back via Zoom. Numbers for the first few classes have exceeded expectations. The NEST team (New Evidence Search Team) continues to meet remotely to help clients with refused asylum cases.
And we continue to engage with our partners wherever possible and run services with them. We will be hosting the Multi-Agency Forum meeting remotely in June, which brings together the various organisations and agencies working with refugees and asylum seekers in the city, and this will be a good opportunity to share the latest news around the network.
Sarah from LCitC is working closely with us to continue the soccercise exercise class. During the first couple of weeks of lockdown she developed video clips that we send round to our group. But now we’ve taken that a step further and have been offering weekly Soccercise aerobics sessions via WhatsApp video – with a toilet roll for a ball where necessary! Superfit Sarah runs 3 sessions in a row each week to fit everyone in. It’s been quite hilarious but so nice to see each other on the tiny phone screen and do something interactive together, motivating each other to keep moving as some of us battle to burn off all those extra calories that have proved too much of a temptation in lockdown.
We have posted prizes to all 14 people from our drop-in who took part in the LCoS-LCitC art competition, which celebrated the role of football in the community. All participants have received an age-appropriate parcel, with fun activities for the kids or toiletries for the adults. The winners of the competition will be announced soon, and the prizes for the winners will be awarded when we can get back to a more normal way of working.
We are working with Lifelinks to raise awareness of their support group for members of our drop-in. They are offering weekly online meetings to improve mental wellbeing during the pandemic – we attend some of these sessions and alert our beneficiaries to this service.
We continue to liaise with the Red Cross, sharing information on local services, and are now making referrals to the Race Equality Centre (TREC) for their new food bank service aimed at asylum seekers and refugees.
We’re extremely happy to report that we’ve received recognition from the National Lottery for the work we do – in fact rather than funding us for the three year project we requested,
they decided to support us over the next four years through their Reaching Communities fund. This would normally run at our drop-in, but we are adapting it to the present situation. We’re extremely grateful to the Lottery for their flexible approach with the funding, and are delighted to have such a vote of confidence in our organisation and what we do.
So despite the problems and the challenges, we are very much here and engaged, finding new ways to do what we do best, helping each other to feel part of the LCoS family and the wider community.
I just wanted to give a quick shout out to Edwin Hooper, who provides fantastic free photos, including the “The World is Temporarily Closed” picture for the top of the article!