We are approaching the end of a year that has been tough for many people and brought so many new challenges. The Covid-19 pandemic hit migrant communities very hard, particularly those who are unable to access welfare services, rely on precarious work or have irregular status. But this year has also demonstrated the power and importance of collective responses – support and solidarity – whether from mutual aid groups, community networks or restaurants offering free meals for children during the school holidays.
At Hackney Migrant Centre we are proud to have been able to provide direct and collective support to some of the people finding themselves at the sharpest end of the Covid-19 crisis. For visitors to our service, the hardship created by an unjust and discriminatory immigration system was exacerbated when the pandemic hit, leaving many without basic necessities like hygiene products and food. Many lost access to support from the community networks or charitable services they would usually rely on.
How do we protect and care for each other under these circumstances?
The situation seemed nearly impossible. But we learnt quickly that with a small group of volunteers and support from the community, we can make a difference. Even when what we can change is just one small part of a much bigger problem, it can have a huge impact on people’s lives.
Hackney Migrant Centre volunteers formed a Collective Care Team (CCT) in March. The aim was to ensure that none of our visitors would be abandoned in the pandemic and that they would have their immediate needs met, including practical essentials such as food, baby items and cleaning products. At the beginning of “lockdown” in March, most people required home deliveries of food and other items. When restrictions lifted, the CCT shifted to primarily providing supermarket vouchers. Many visitors have felt a loss autonomy during the crisis, being given the choice of what to get for themselves and their own families is one small way for people to regain a sense of autonomy – something far too many migrants are denied by the immigration system.
“The amount of time, energy and care that volunteers have been able to give to this project, and the noticeable impact of that care, has been a heartening aspect to an otherwise very difficult year.“Sarah, Collective Care Team Coordinator
We have also been able to provide mobile credit, so people can stay in touch with services, friends and family, and regular phone conversations with CCT volunteers to ease the impact of isolation and loss of community that many have struggled with during Covid-19. Visitors are paired up with a volunteer, who contacts them regularly at weekly, fortnightly or monthly intervals, depending on individual circumstances. A dedicated part-time staff member, the CCT Coordinator, now works closely with other HMC staff and a team of 15-20 volunteers.
Solidarity and community
Visitors supported under the CCT project include migrants who are undocumented or have No Recourse to Public Funds, those living in unsuitable temporary accommodation or who are homeless, and people with complex histories of trauma and resulting mental and physical health issues. These are people who had no safety net when the world was hit by a public health crisis none of us were prepared for.
But we can care for each other as a community. Before the Covid-19 crisis fully took hold, one of our previous visitors told us that coming to Hackney Migrant Centre gave a sense of community:
“It was like my problem was not just my problem alone, it felt like we were in it together and it gave me a sense of belonging and I had hope, that word, I had hope.”
During normal times, our service includes a communal meal at the Centre for those accessing advice. When speaking face-to-face we can provide each other with care, show empathy and build trust. The CCT has enabled us to continue to care remotely, checking in for a chat, a space to talk and the knowledge that someone is there.
This has been made possible through people coming together. That includes individuals and organisations in our community in Hackney and beyond, who donated to our crowdfunding appeal ensuring those left with nothing in the pandemic could feed and care for themselves and their families. All the volunteers dedicating time. And the visitors supported, many of whom give so much back to their communities.
“Considering the effects of the hostile environment on the individuals and families who seek support from Hackney Migrant Centre, there is clearly a need for projects like the Collective Care Team, even without the devastating impact of a public health crisis. Hopefully we will be able to continue running the project into 2021.”Sarah, Collective Care Team Coordinator
Collective care remains a necessity while the Covid-19 crisis is ongoing and continues to have repercussions for our visitors. If you can, please consider donating to provide food, phone credit, baby items and other immediate necessities for those facing the crisis without other sources of support.
Support our Christmas appeal
We are raising funds to continue providing essentials and support through our Collective Care Team