A new drop-in centre for migrants has begun weekly sessions providing support and advice.
Walthamstow Migrants’ Support Centre is a project organised by the Walthamstow Migrants’ Action Group, a team dedicated to supporting migrants, fostering community integration, and challenging the negative political discourse around migration.
Every Tuesday morning from 10am to 1pm, anyone who needs support or advice on issues of migration will be welcomed by the group in Saint Saviour’s Church in Walthamstow.
It is a friendly and comfortable setting, an opportunity to relax and chat with tea and coffee, as well as the chance to get one-on-one support from experts on issues around migration.
Canon Steven Saxby, the secretary of the group, explained the objectives behind the foundation of the group, and how these led to the new project. He said: “When we launched the group we had three aims.
“Firstly, to provide support and advice for migrants in Walthamstow, and we hope that the support centre will be part of achieving that.
“We also wanted to provide opportunities for migrants and non-migrants in Walthamstow to be engaged in positive integration – we often talk about how Walthamstow is a multicultural community, but we were wondering if sometimes, although we talk the talk, do we really have the relationships? So we wanted to be intentional about bringing people together.
“Finally, we wanted to challenge negative narratives in the political scene and in the media around migration. Whatever the complications and difficult issues around migration, we want to engage the community in the long term and help people to see that migration is not a negative issue but a positive one which enriches our community.
“We’ve been working with different groups to get them on board too, so that people don’t see a fringe group, but a community working together.”
The chairman of the group, Dr Shaukat Khan, agrees. He said: “The political culture around migration is so much more hostile now than it has been at any point in the post-war period. “Immigration has been used as a tool by most of the political parties, and this has created fear. Now people are uncertain and afraid they will be a target. This creates an environment where people feel unwelcome. This is not the kind of community we want.
“There’s the problem of rogue solicitors, who take a lot of money from migrants regardless of whether they’re actually going to help them with their immigration status. People are concerned about the legality of practices such as stop and search.
“These are all issues we have dealt with in previous workshops, and which the support centre will continue to provide advice on.”
Father Salvador Telen, the vicar of St Saviour’s and member of the group, is delighted that his church is the venue for the support centre. He said: “A lot of people are scared because they feel they do not know where to turn to ask for help.
“When people come here they feel that it’s a confidential and welcoming place where they can talk about the issues they face, get one-to-one support, and share their experiences with others.”
Mariko Hayashi – a founding member of the group – found taking part in its activities helped her to feel more connected to her local community.
She said: “As a migrant myself from Japan, I know how overwhelming it can be for migrants, even something like dealing with paperwork, which always seems to be written in the most complicated language. That’s why projects like this can make a big difference to the way migrants feel.”
While the political discourse around migration is overwhelmingly negative and migrants continue to face huge challenges, the work of the Walthamstow Migrants’ Action Group shows that, by bringing people together, a lot can be done to reduce the stress, anxiety and isolation faced by migrants, and at the same time, strengthen community relationships for migrants and non-migrants alike.
By Ed Swan
Walthamstow Migrants’ Support Centre is open 10am-1pm every Tuesday at Saint Saviour’s Church, 210 Markhouse Road, E17 8EP