We recently found that some asylum seeking families had arrived in the area in great need. We responded immediately and over the last three months have turned things around for them.
When we first met the families, we found that they had a number of serious needs, including medical problems requiring urgent medical attention. The trauma and distress they expressed was shocking to witness. They were also unable to navigate their new environment and local systems due to their lack of English. The Home Office provision was woefully inadequate, and these highly vulnerable people were struggling with every aspect of life.
In response to the families’ situations and in collaboration with West Sussex County Council, Chichester District Council, the Rural Refugee Network, Little Bundles, local schools, the Rotary Clothes Bank and the Chichester Food Bank, we firstly:
- Ensured all the individuals were registered with their GPs and had medical problems addressed.
- Ensured they had food and toiletries.
- Got everyone warm clothes, coats and shoes.
- Provided toys for the young children.
- Supported individuals through times of deep distress.
- Got the children into school, with school uniform, school shoes, PE kits and free school lunches.
- Funded bus travel – tickets from their accommodation to the nearest supermarket cost a huge proportion of their weekly allowance.
- Took individuals to hospital appointments.
Now that the most urgent needs are taken care of, we are:
- Transporting the families to our drop-in for support and solidarity.
- Providing formal language lessons.
- Arranging regular visits from our DBS-checked volunteers, and outings with them.
- Trying to get dental treatment – some of the children’s and adults’ teeth are in an appalling state. This is proving to be very difficult due to the lack of availability of NHS dentists.
- Giving general day-to-day support with reading letters, reporting accommodation problems, listening, collecting children from school trips, being the families’ point of contact for any issues.
- Investigating possibilities for talking and trauma therapies with interpreters.
- Advocating to the Home Office and housing provider to improve their support for asylum seeking families. This work has had some success and changes have already been made.
If we had not given this support to the families they would be in very serious situations and in chronic distress, so we feel extremely lucky to have been able to help them. This is why Sanctuary in Chichester exists, and wow is it worthwhile when you see people’s lives and outlooks transform!
We have learned a lot over the last few months. We have had to recruit a lot of new volunteers to meet the needs of the asylum seeking families. Recruiting volunteers and all the support we have given the families has taken up a huge amount of our resources in terms of time and finances. This was not planned or fundraised for so our finances have taken an unexpected and significant hit, and we are having to urgently seek additional funding. We are also working on a strategy for making our organisation more resilient.
One very encouraging thing we’ve learned is how fantastically well local organisations can work together, and how responsive we all are. Thank you to West Sussex County Council, Chichester District Council, the Rural Refugee Network, Little Bundles, Stagecoach Buses, local schools, local GP surgeries, parish councils, social prescribers, the Rotary Clothes Bank, Chichester Food Bank and The Red Cross in Portsmouth for all the recent support and collaboration.
And a big thank you to all our donors, volunteers and supporters, without whom our work with these families would not have been possible. We think this story illustrates why your contributions are so important and valuable.