Birch Network is 10!
Join us in celebrating Birch Network’s tenth birthday this month. We will be spending this week celebrating our successes, hearing from our staff, volunteers and beneficiaries and reflecting on our work over the last decade. The past year has brought many disruptions to our services and things have been especially hard for migrants who are living in limbo awaiting decisions or stuck in hotel accommodation, so we enter this next period with the knowledge that the need for our service is greater than ever and we ask you to help support us to do this.
We are asking our supporters to consider donating £10 for 10 years, whether this be a one-off payment or recurring gift. Anything you can donate will ensure that going forward, we continue to extend friendship, support and hospitality to refugees and migrants in the West Midlands.
In ten years we have made a big difference to the lives of hundreds of refugees and migrants in the West Midlands. The UK asylum and immigration system is a brutal instrument through which often traumatised refugees have to endure and Birch Network was developed to try to mitigate some of the impacts and effects of this system and offer sanctuary to those fleeing difficult circumstances.
Over the last decade, Birch Network is proud to have offered refugees and migrants in the West Midlands over 15,000 nights accommodation, providing them with a safe and welcoming space following periods of destitution and insecurity, advocacy to help them move onto other accommodation, partnerships with referral agencies to help them progress their immigration claims support, and friendship at a time when most are facing a scary time of hardship and insecurity.
“Birch to me has been like an extended family. I was in my late teens when I was hosted by a family through Birch, and it was a long road to getting my status. I’m so thankful to Birch for all the support it has provided me.” (Esther – Hosting project)
Young refugees arriving to the UK as unaccompanied minors have benefited from our befriending service, finding warmth and friendship from local people in Birmingham and the West Midlands. Most of our young people have harrowing tales of how they had to travel to come and claim asylum and the feeling of loss at what they had to leave behind. Often with no family, no understanding of the language and a poorly funded social services system, these people start their life in the UK in indescribably bleak circumstances. Our befrienders aim to offer a bit of respite and comfort and hopefully a sense of belonging to these brave young people.
“I never forget Birch’s help and support in my life it will always stay with me I thank them all. They have compassion, love and responsibility……Birch charity means to me giving something to those in needs without expectation or wanting something back in return. They are making Birmingham, West Midlands a better place for everyone to live in” (Nas – befriending project and meet and greet volunteer)
Our meet and greet has welcomed hundreds of refugee families who are placed in Initial Accommodation in Birmingham. They are often placed in dismal hotel rooms with little or no money and very little access to support and our vibrant sessions have provided a space for children and their parents to come and play and feel acceptance. Our amazing team of volunteers, many of whom have had to endure the asylum process themselves, are on hand to offer empathy, guidance, and welcome.
“It is only once a week. My little brother looks forward to it all week.” (Young person – Meet and Greet project)
Sadly our services are needed more than ever, with a Home Secretary intent on further demonising asylum seekers and refugees and creating more misery and uncertainty. The last decade of the ‘hostile environment’ has seen the erosion of many rights and entitlements for refugees and migrants, alongside cuts to legal aid and access to legal services, resulting in more destitution, suffering and hardship for many migrants. It has also been difficult for many services as pressure on them has increased and charities are being required to fill in the gaps that should be provided by statutory services.
Despite these challenges and despite Birch Network being a small grassroots charity, we are proud that we have managed to weather the storm and provide a range of support to refugees and migrants at all stages of their migration journey.
We are extremely grateful to all of the many volunteers who have so generously given us their time to make all this support possible and who are the true backbone of the organisation. We also want to thank all of the individuals who have supported us financially or in other ways and to all the funders who have awarded us grants and enabled us to develop and grow.
If you would like to support our work going forward into 2021, please consider making a donation below.
We first want to reflect on how Birch Network came about and here’s Lizzy Bell, a founding member, explaining why she felt the need to set up a new organisation:
“I started BIRCH with a former colleague as we saw, in our work with a large UK charity, the serious impact that the government’s ineffective and cruel immigration procedures were having on very vulnerable people who come to the UK seeking sanctuary. We met people who had fled brutal regimes, conflict or who had survived torture and were now street homeless in the country they had come to in the hope of safety. We wanted to open up our homes to people experiencing destitution due to immigration barriers and looked for organisations in Birmingham who could support us to do so in a safe, managed way. We found, to our surprise, that Birmingham was the only large city in the UK not to have a community group or charity running a hosting scheme for people seeking asylum, so we decided to start one. We were soon joined by a group of amazingly kind-hearted, like-minded and talented people who helped us to develop BIRCH’s vision and work towards establishing an organisation that could support Birmingham residents to do what we do best- offer hospitality and friendship to those who need it the most.”
Andy Jolly – Trustee and founding member, explains why we volunteers to help manage Birch Network:
“One of the things that I love about Birch is that we don’t have a head office in central London, or a slick marketing team, it’s just a group of Brummies working together as a grassroots expression of solidarity. This means that all our resources go into our direct work, and that we are free to respond to local needs as they develop. I love the spirit of independence, of problem solving and of not accepting things as they are, and find the volunteers who share their time, their skills and their homes really inspiring. In our current political climate of politicians seeking to stoke divisions, Birch is needed more than ever – here’s to the next ten years.”
Jan and Stuart Freed – hosts and supporters explain why they continue to be involved with Birch Network:
“At the height of the refugee crisis, when people were drowning in the Mediterranean, we wanted to do more for people desperately trying to make a new life for themselves in safety and security than just send a cheque and forget about them! We were (and are) in a position to be able to offer short term accommodation and Birch seemed a perfect fit. We are keen to resume hosting as soon as we can be sure that the the risks associated with Covid are controlled.”
Steph Neville – Meet and Greet Coordinator talks about her experience of working with Birch Network:
“I started working for Birch in January 2020… I think it is fair to say the first year has not entirely gone as I expected! For the first few weeks I had the privilege of meeting an incredible team of volunteers, many of whom brought their own experience as sanctuary seekers, and who also brought a huge amount of energy, generosity and above all joy. This wonderful team of people were able to restart the Meet and Greet for families in Initial Accommodation. Short-lived though it turned out to be, I have snippets of beautiful memories from those few sessions: such as spending time with an initially very shy six year old who reappeared the following week with his much older brother who asked if we were sure we were only there one day a week because it had been such a highlight for him; or welcoming a young woman who had been in the hotel for several weeks before she finally dared to venture out of the building for the very first time to come to our session. I have very much appreciated being part of the Birch team: a team who are passionate about the issues and difficulties faced by asylum seekers and committed to doing what is possible to make them welcome; a team open and responsive to adapting to whatever is thrown at it … I am looking forward to what the next year, or ten, might bring…”
We will continue to release stories and quotes about the impact and motivation for doing our work over the course of the week, please follow our social media accounts.