We could not be more proud to share that today, Michael Woolley was presented the Portsmouth City Council Civic Award:
"in recognition of all you have done for immigration detainees, refugees and asylum seekers over the last twenty years and in recognition of your selfless, steadfast and outstanding commitment and dedication to helping those in need of legal, social and financial assistance.
For bringing warmth, friendship and justice to those who find themselves in hardship and adversity, making a real and true difference to people's lives."
The award was presented to Michael by the Right Worshipful, the Lord Mayor of Portsmouth, Cllr Rob Wood and signed by the Lord Mayor and the Chief Executive of the Council in the form of a certificate and a medal.
We think it is justly deserved to recognise Michael’s contribution, over two decades of support for asylum seekers and refugees in Portsmouth. Friends Without Borders has been entirely volunteer run since 2015 and Michael has built a strong community of volunteers, all working together to support those seeking asylum in Portsmouth.
Well done Michael, you're truly amazing!
The full citation read: "Michael Woolley has been involved with Friends Without Borders and its predecessor organisation The Haslar Visitors' Group since 1998. He served as Co-ordinator 2001-09, then became a Trustee while serving as Mayor of Chichester. He became Chairman and Co-ordinator when the organisation became exclusively Volunteer in 2015 - he has spearheaded the recruitment and training of several dozen volunteers who run [in normal times] Drop Ins twice a week for Asylum Seekers in Portsmouth. Donation income has risen to £50,000 a year under his leadership and locally based Refugees are provided with legal and other needed advice, weekly payments for subsistence until they are granted state benefits, and many other means of support. Michael and the organisation that he has headed up continue to make a significant difference to refugees until their residency be settled - his contribution has been outstanding."
We have been able to buy computers for the children of asylum-seeking families with thanks to a generous grant of £6,000 from the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Community Foundation (HiWCF), who have been working with the National Emergencies Trust to distribute emergency funds to local charities and voluntary groups.
These children are less likely to have access to computers at home, and this risked impacting their educational development. Within two and half weeks of receiving the grant, we have been able to distribute laptops to 18 children, with 5 more on order.
This was quite an exercise, not least because there are order limits in place, due to the demand on laptops at the moment. We are delighted to have been able to made a difference to these children by ensuring they have the equipment needed to participate fully in their education.
Our twice-a-week Drop in closed on Monday 16th March. We pay just over thirty of our destitute clients during the morning sessions – some for fares and some as a living allowance. On Monday 16th we paid two weeks money to each client - £1,300 in all. This was a good move as it meant they had something to live on while we set up a new system.
The Drop in would normally have been open the following Thursday (19th) - but of course it was closed. Before the day came we contacted all our regular Thursday payees by text and phone call and managed to get out their payments.
We then had a relatively relaxed few days to contact our Monday payees before 30th when they were next due their money and are now distributing the payments largely by BACS.
So one thing we are doing is keeping up payments to the destitute. It is a bit of a struggle but the need is real, for example, a Syrian family of five who were sent from London, after the lockdown, by the Home Office. They had been allocated a furnished house but their Aspen (payment) card didn't work when they arrived or for a week after. And though the house was furnished they said they felt very cold and modestly requested a blanket each. The money problem was alleviated by us giving them £50 cash on two occasions - delivered by a volunteer. Thank you.
For the blankets I put out an appeal to our WhatsApp group and was almost instantly contacted by another volunteer who took round two large blankets, two small blankets and a sleeping bag. Heartwarming.
Another challenge is isolation, which bears down on clients and volunteers alike. So we have begun to ask our wonderful volunteers to take on a bit of telephone befriending. They have all taken on two clients (except for one eager lady who has got five!) The clients of course have got themselves out of war-zones, across the Mediterranean, across Europe and through the Calais Jungle. They are a robust lot - but we thought a friendly phone call might be welcome. It is nice to know someone is thinking of you.
Meanwhile we are concerned about how the crisis will affect our fund-raising. Some of our costs have gone down – we no longer have to pay for travel or refreshments, but our donations are likely to go down too – no church collections this month for example. It’s a balancing act and the figures are quite large – we expect to spend over £4,000 this month in grants to the needy.
We are hugely grateful to all the supporters who make this work possible - anyone else wanting to help, can donate here. Let us know who you are and we shall say “thank you” but in case you’d rather be anonymous, let me say a sincere thank you right now. The money will go to good use helping some destitute asylum seeker currently having a hard time.
We hope everyone, whether client or volunteer, stays well and keeps safe!
Very best wishes
Appeal for funds!
Despite the loyal and generous support of all our supporters our finances are really tight at the moment. Our money comes from three sources –
1) supporters who subscribe (usually monthly) and provide a regular income,
2) one-off events such as sales and special collections
3) super-boosts such as legacies.
Our problem at the moment is that though are regular supporters are loyal and wonderful, and other wonderful people continue to run one-off events, we have only received one “super-boost” this year – a donation of £,5000. That was specifically for accommodation for our rough sleepers and sadly has now all been spent. Our rough sleepers are out in the streets sleeping rough again – and just at the wrong time of year.
One ray of hope is that a grant-making trust has invited an application which we are certainly going to make and which may bring us funds by the end of the year. If we do succeed it will be a great relief as not only do we have a big need for housing but our client base is growing steadily.
How is the money spent?
A careful analysis of our spending shows that the number of clients we have seen in the first nine months of the year has grown steadily month on month and the amount we have spent on supporting them has risen in proportion. We had 34 clients in January and 59 in September.
Interestingly the amount spent per client remained remarkably similar – it’s not that we’re letting things slip it’s just that there is more demand.
We have found another house to rent and now wait to see if the grant-making trust will fund it. The caravan taught us a few things about running a hostel:
1) We need to make initial contracts with the residents (for, say, six months).
2) We need to appoint a mentor for each resident to make sure they are doing all they can to move their asylum cases forward and help them plan what they will do when the time comes to move on.
3) A house “manager” is advisable to liaise with the trustees and make sure things run smoothly.
We recently had a meeting with some Councillors and housing people from the City and they were enthusiastic about these ideas.
Family in need update
In the last Occasional News we mentioned a family with special needs which was waiting for Government support – and which we had been accommodating for over a week. In the end it took four weeks for the Home Office to take on the support of the four adults and this cost us £1,800 –we only managed to keep it so low because we managed to find them some unoccupied student accommodation and a sympathetic ex-client as a landlord. They were a special case in various ways but it was a lot of money for us to find.
Government breaks one promise
Mr Johnson’s Government has just broken a promise made by Mrs May not to rescind £2.6m of EU funding promised to support refugees in the UK. They have just sent a letter to the Refugee Council telling them that in the event of a no-deal Brexit this funding will be immediately stopped leaving 3,565 vulnerable people without support.
Sign the Refugee Council’s open letter to the Home Office today, demanding they keep their promise.
State run English tuition for asylum seekers has been steadily cut in recent years but Chancellor Sajid Javid said recently he would “put rockets under” a programme to increase spending on English language classes. Sadly though the Government did not allocate a penny to this in the September Spending Review. It’s a good job we have such a strong team of volunteers stepping up to fill the gap! Our English classes are thriving.
ONE WORLD WEEK /JOURNEY’S FESTIVAL
Lots of good things to raise the spirits in these two programmes – get out your diaries and have a look One World Week is church based and runs from 20th to 27th October - it is focused on climate change this year. Journey’s Festival is a professionally run Refugee Arts Festival that runs from 18th to 27th October. Click on the links to see
the programmes. I recommend “Pizza Shop Heroes”, New Theatre Royal, this Sunday, 20th.
All the best, I’m sorry to go on so about money,