Established in 1991, Refugee and Migrant Network Sutton has recently been named as a strategic partner by Sutton Council. They began working with the Basis Project in 2009.
Anne Towner, Chair:
Refugee Network Sutton (as it was then called) started in 1991 and at that time there were quite a lot of people newly arrived who needed basic support - they were moving into accommodation but didn’t have furniture and didn’t have food.
The organisation was set up by few people who gave welcome parcels and got things to give people. And it gradually became more organised and more professional.
It’s different now. We don’t get so many newly-arrived refugees and asylum-seekers. We get a lot of people coming to join relatives who are already here and we do get some people who are economic migrants.
What we currently do is advise about immigration, local authority benefits and how to make the most of living in this society – how to get good health care, how to get education, and what the possibilities are. It’s more about helping people to make the best of their lives here rather than rescuing them from dire emergencies.
Although, having said that, there are a few people who are still destitute and we need to help. But most of our clients want advice, English lessons – they’re very passionate about their English lessons, which are free and we provide a crèche for; which the local authority no longer does. So we feel we have a real service to offer to, for instance, mothers who are newly arrived and have no English and want to support their children in school.
Bihnam Agzeer, volunteer:
I am from Iraq. My home city is Mosul – that is a new name, the old name is Ninaweh which is a very ancient name. It was the capital of the Assyrian empire and I lived there all my life.
I used to be a headmaster in a Catholic primary school in my home country. I am a calligrapher. That’s my hobby – I studied it at Mosul university.
I started working here in this group as a volunteer about four years ago. I do it because I need to help people,
Today is our Annual General Meeting. Before the meeting we’re running our English classes, but in a somewhat different format, doing fun activities – some people are making Christmas cards, some are playing games and the ones with young children are going to do an activity with them.
At 11.15 we’ll gather everybody together and we’ll have our Annual General Meeting. We try to make this short and sweet and understandable by our clients because we like them to be there. It’s also very important for our funders to be there and for us to showcase what we’re doing.
Councillor Ruth Dombey:
I’m the Deputy Leader of the Council and I’m also the lead member for equality and diversity in the voluntary sector. I do think it’s a recognition of how important we think the voluntary sector is that it’s the Deputy Leader who is leading on this.
I first met the Refugee Network, as it was then, three years ago when they invited me to their AGM and I realised that we had a real jewel amongst us. It's a very small group with a small, dedicated team with just one part-time paid worker who are providing a fantastic service to the community and helping the council do things that we weren’t able to do on our own.
So I got more involved in what they do and when we started to think about how we would be commissioning the voluntary sector differently – in order to give more security and a base and also to have a recognition that we were all working for a common aim and defining what those common goals are – I suggested that this group was included. Which was unusual because our other strategic partners are organisations like Age Concern and the Citizens’ Advice Bureau – quite large organisations with lots of paid staff and much larger funding streams. And to include a small group like this was quite unusual.
But when we looked in more detail at what they were doing and the service they were providing, we understood that actually it was in our best interest to support them. Because they have an outreach into the community that we wouldn’t be able to have on our own, they’re providing a service that we wouldn’t be able to provide nearly as well and they’re also providing us with information about the people living in this borough. They know far quicker than us and far better than us who is coming into the borough, where they’re living, what they’re doing and what their aspirations are.
So they can provide us with information that we need in order to do our job properly.
We got involved with the Basis Project because we saw some publicity about the possibility of getting a trustee from (the company) KPMG – and we are very short of trustees, we need more people. From that we found out about the Basis Project and applied to be involved.
We are due for a revamp of certain things. Our last business plan was drawn up in 2007 and it’s amazing how quickly these things date. So we had Elaheh (one of the Basis Project Organisational Development Officers) along to one of our meetings and we sketched out a few areas we are interested in developing and she has helped us to develop an action plan for those.
That will include, hopefully, getting a new trustee but that’s not the only thing. We need to tidy up our membership, we need to broaden our funding base and we need to consider becoming a company limited by guarantee – that would protect trustees against any exposure to financial loss.
The best thing is when things work. When things go well. When you get your strategic partnership or you have an event and it goes well. The other good thing is when people come back and report a success – we had some people come back the other day to report that their grown-up son and just been allowed to join them (in this country) and there was great rejoicing. Those things are good. That’s when you think it really is all worthwhile. We won’t talk about the other times!