Most weeks of the year, Hackney Migrant Centre open our doors on Wednesday mornings for a drop-in advice and support service for refugees, asylum seekers and other migrants. Our drop-in has been running since 2008 and since then, thousands of people have visited to access free advice and support on a range of issues, including immigration; housing; welfare and health. In this short blog post, we have summarised some of the activities at the drop-in last week. Volunteers, visiting advisers and supporters all play really important roles in the running of the drop-in.
We hope you enjoy reading about all the activities made possible when our community comes together to support each other.
However, it is important to acknowledge that despite the incredibly hard work everyone puts in every week, we cannot support everyone who approaches us. On Wednesday morning we had to signpost 20 people to other services or ask them to come back next week. This demonstrates how difficult it can be to access help for those living with the consequences of the hostile environment when most services are underfunded and oversubscribed.
Wednesday 26 February
Last week, we welcomed 20 visitors, and six children, to the drop-in. An additional five people attended for prearranged appointments to follow up on their case or to drop off vital documents. The waiting area at the drop-in has a space dedicated to the children, with two committed volunteers, to ensure it is a safe and enjoyable experience for our youngest visitors. Some weeks are busier than others; for half term there were 18 children!
In the morning, each visitor sits down with a volunteer advocate to find out what they need and how we can support them at the Centre. As the drop-in is open to all migrants – regardless of current immigration status; nationality or current residence – each week is different. This week, the majority of visitors were there for immigration advice. In total, we were able to offer free legal advice to 10 people through our visiting partners, including Coram Children’s Legal Centre and Islington Law Centre. Two people needed support with housing, so met with our Caseworker and a visiting solicitor from Hackney Community Law Centre to receive advice on this.
Because we work holistically, we are often able to support visitors in many different ways. For example, a young undocumented woman with small children first saw one of the immigration advisers, who identified that she could apply for leave to remain as the sole carer of a British child. After that, she met with a housing adviser to discuss housing options. Meanwhile, volunteers issued foodbank vouchers and a small hardship payment of £20 to help her pay for immediate necessities for herself and her family. We wrote a referral for her to Little Village – a great organisation which works “like a foodbank, but for clothes, toys and equipment for babies and children up to the age of 5”, as well as a referral for English classes and NELMA’s accompanying scheme.
In total, we gave out seven foodbank vouchers last Wednesday. Additionally, seven people were given hardship payments of between £10 and £20, for most this was to cover travel, food and personal items (such as toiletries). One mum needed money to pay for baby food specifically. The Hardship Fund, which we collect money for every year, is used to support individuals facing destitution as a short term measure. Sometimes we use it to pay for emergency accommodation. This week, a mother and her child came to the drop-in after being evicted. With money from the Hardship Fund, they could spend two nights in a hotel while a meeting with a housing solicitor was set up to find a longer term solution.
The kitchen team cooked up an incredible lunch; yam and beetroot curries, rice, chicken (kindly donated by Nando’s) and vegetables. We served 69 meals (including some that were given for visitors to bring home); with visitors, volunteers, staff and advisers eating a nutritious lunch together.
Doctors of the World also attended the session to provide support to register with a GP, advice on NHS healthcare charges and to support visitors to complete HC1 forms to get help with health costs such as prescriptions.
One former visitor came by the drop-in to let us know that he has had some great news – he has been granted leave to remain! He also brought a friend with him who he was supporting to regularise his own status. We see this commitment to helping others often at the drop-in. Many volunteers at Hackney Migrant Centre are former visitors who give back to their communities through volunteering. This is solidarity in action and the resilience, strength and care we see every week is truly inspirational.
Another busy day at the drop-in!
Thanks everyone making it possible to provide a safe and supportive space for people to access vital advice every week.