St Peter,  Lee

St Peter, Lee has been working with refugees and asylum seekers for a long time, in partnership with Action for Refugees in Lewisham (AFRIL).

Churchwarden Angela Stebbings says the original model was a drop-in centre at the church on a Saturday morning where people could collect a food parcel but also stay for coffee, toast and a chat. Unfortunately, the pandemic has stopped this but the need for food and support hasn’t stopped, and refugee and asylum-seeking families have been very much in need of support during the pandemic, struggling to access information and advice during a time that has been confusing and challenging for all.

The food parcel work turned into a delivery service and, with the help of AFRIL’s volunteer drivers and cyclists, the church now delivers food parcels to 35 families, including about 70 children, in Lewisham and Greenwich. One of the children supported by this project says: “I’m happy when I hear the doorbell on a Saturday morning because then I know we have food for the week.”

Battersea Welcomes Refugees

Battersea Welcomes Refugees (BWR) was formed in 2017 with a vision to proactively help families who have been displaced as a result of the Syrian crisis. Made up of like-minded volunteers from Anglican churches across the Battersea Deanery, the group was keen to act positively in response to a desperate humanitarian situation.

Working in line with the Home Office-initiated Vulnerable Persons’ Relocation Scheme, BWR has focused on two main areas: finding and equipping suitable accommodation from private landlords and welcoming families.

BWR has worked closely in partnership with Wandsworth Council’s Family Recovery Project, offering the “soft care” around the edges of the statutory care they provide. The group currently supports four wonderful Syrian families and has provided properties to three of them.

BWR has helped the families to adjust and settle into life in a new country. Each has been allocated a dedicated lead volunteer who is in regular contact with them. Help varies from giving advice on housing, employment and schools to organising holiday activities, facilitating food deliveries and being a regular, reliable friendly face, which has been particularly invaluable during the past year. In addition, volunteers have helped with English conversation classes, which has proved key both to social integration and to the possibility of employment.

During lockdown, one of our families, with three small children, were asked to temporarily leave their flat due to major emergency works. Immediately BWR rallied round, contacting networks and friends. Within two hours, a local landlord had been found who was willing to offer their flat, rent free, for three weeks.  An amazing act of kindness in a time of need.

The family’s lead volunteer said “It was great to see the local community come together. The family were amazed at the generosity and kindness of strangers”.

Last year, BWR facilitated a Kids Matter course and a benefits workshop. Some of our Syrian ladies also joined us for a lunch with the Bishop of Kingston, which they catered for with a delicious homemade Syrian feast. We have enjoyed hosting parties for the families, including a welcome tea and a summer garden party to celebrate Eid, which have provided a good opportunity for all the families to get together with each other and to meet those involved with BWR, as well as being great fun!

There will be more in Saturday’s Hearts on Fire blog when the Croydon Refugee Day Centre shares its story.