It is always amazing to discover the hidden pockets of goodness that exist in society.
They run counter to the individualistic powerbroker money narratives, and were probably what the Tories were envisioning would become the big society … to replace the public services they knew they were going to destroy in order to plate their self serving ideologies.
And so here we are in national situation where increasingly more and more vulnerable people are finding themselves in challenging circumstances where they have no recourse to public funds for help with food, clothes, shelter or legal advice. (How did it come to this folks!)
For people fleeing from once beautiful lands that have become war zones and sites of violence and genocide this vulnerability is compounded by embodied trauma, cultural disjuncts and language difficulties, plus the rising tide of zenophobia, racism, colonial empire thinking and island mentality in this country and mainland Europe.
Many grass root activists are working on a voluntary level to try and re-address the balance... I can name a couple off the top of my head with connections to the area of North London that I live, ( though I know there are hundreds more) - the amazing Refugee Calais Kitchen, Herbalists Without Borders and the Haringey Migrant Support Group.
Having volunteered at the Refugee Calais Kitchen but being shamefully relatively unaware of the work Haringey Migrant Support Group do, I decided last Monday to check them out. Being even more local than I realised, it took me only ten minutes to hot foot it up the road to the Roman Catholic Church Hall where they are based. I had heard food was cooked, so I thought it would be like a 5/6pm soup kitchen. I had idly entertained the idea of rolling up my sleeves and chopping veg/cooking yet when I arrived at 3.30pm the food was long over, and the kitchen was being scrubbed clean as befits a church hall.
HMSC have been based in John Vianni church hall for 3 years, use the hall and have offices upstairs. Mainly run by volunteers it is a registered charity and community interest ltd company that rents the space.
There was still a mix of people there in the hall, sitting around long tressle tables or opposite advice workers with computers, as many women as men, children and teenagers. It felt like the place had been full and the energy was welcoming and quite vibrant.
I nosed my way to the now super clean kitchen where a handful of volunteers were still finishing up. “Yes we often serve up to 100 meals” one of the kitchen crew informs me, though we can only give advice for up to 30 people, and those people queue up from early in the morning" "The food is always vegetarian " contributes another.
Who Uses The Centre?
Are most people you see asylum seekers or do they already have refugee status I ask?
A volunteer woman snorted I think at the narrowness of my question, “it is all sorts, and people have many different stories. Often for example it is women who have lived here for years, came over on their husbands visa, have children who are British, and only find out when the husband leaves that they are now here illegally."
"Here in Haringey we tend to see mainly Eritrean, Ethiopian and North African Arabic speakers," I was informed by the co-ordinator " yet this year we have seen more and more people travelling great lengths across London to access the support here." Which includes all kinds of legal advice.
"What about health? "I ask.
"I originally volunteered in my capacity as a doctor", the retired gp who works in the kitchen tells me, "but unbelievably most of the people we get here are in good health, which is amazing" "We have an NHS truck every few weeks" he adds " that test for TB and are also giving flu jabs"
"See you next week" the co-ordinator on the door says to the departing people, as I sit with her talking further about the work they do.
“Inshalla inshalla”, a woman beams, her eyes wary, “if God wills, inshalla” just to make sure we understood who was really in charge.
The Haringey Migrant Support group has been running for 3 years, made possible by a varied group of volunteers. Many grass roots organisations function like this ... random teams of people bought together by circumstance or daily chance, working for no money or for little money. I myself am intimately acquainted with this as some-one who can only do part time work at best due to ongoing health limitations.
If you have any time at all, live in North London and want to help provide this amazing support for people in need by volunteering kitchen help or other help with Haringey Migrant Support then contact them HERE. They always welcome kitchen staff, and will be running free legal and support training again in February 2018.