Nottingham Arimathea Trust (NAT) provides temporary housing for refused, destitute asylum seekers; a safe place in which they can work on further submissions of their asylum claims; and a housing project for single refugees.
· An asylum seeker is a person who flees their homeland, arrives in another country and exercises their legal right to apply for sanctuary (or asylum). Asylum seekers are not allowed to work and have to rely on 'Asylum Support', which is set at either 70% of income support, or £35 a week in supermarket vouchers.
NAT was formed within the Diocese of Southwell and Nottingham as a response to the problem of the enforced homelessness and destitution of refused asylum seekers within Nottingham, which became an acute problem around 2004. The Trust was eventually incorporated and became a charity in 2007 and opened its first house in the same year.
We started by housing 3 women and a baby who were refused asylum seekers. We now house 3 women and 9 men in 3 houses. Two of the houses are provided rent free by the diocese – one of those was purchased for us – and one rented on the open market, all used for refused asylum seekers. Residents are selected strictly on the basis of need and their chance of success, irrespective of their religious affiliation. Most are referred by Refugee Action or NNRF. We ensure that everyone we house has adequate legal representation so they can work toward submitting fresh claims for asylum and, from there, access temporary Asylum Support housing. We help people find medical support, volunteering opportunities and English classes so they can improve their day-to-day lives and develop skills whilst they are working on asylum claims. Everyone moving into Nottingham Arimathea Trust accommodation has the opportunity to work with a volunteer befriender or mentor, someone they can meet with regularly to get to know Nottingham, practise shared interests and English language with or who can help make phone calls to solicitors, support groups, doctors etc.
NAT is a company limited by guarantee and a registered charity. It is managed by a Management Committee made up of trustees plus others with appropriate experience or from partner organisations. We started with a volunteer housing manager; we now employ 1.5 people.
Initially, leadership came from clergy and lay ministers of the diocese. At first, all the trustees were from within the diocese. Until recently, all the most active trustees have been retired, but our current chair is a (nominally) part-time lay incumbent of a city centre church. The trustees now represent a much wider segment of the community. Both our workers are non-British Muslims.
We needed premises, funding and volunteers to get started to cover tasks including housing management, DIY, befriending and administration.
We have a well developed volunteer programme. Volunteers are involved in mentoring and befriending, gardening and DIY, office work, moving furniture and, in the last twelve months, refurbishing a block of flats. We would estimate that over the past year, trustees have given 2,200 hours amounting to approximately £13,200 and other volunteers have given 2,400 hours amounting to £14,400.
A Volunteer has said:
“The training provided by NAT was first rate – I never knew there were so many administrative as well as cultural barriers put in the way of asylum seekers and refugees. On the practical side, working with asylum seekers has been extremely rewarding. Tasks range from helping with English language practice, to going for runs, from assisting with documentation and finding a GP to socialising.”
We have developed partnerships with mosques and other denominations in Nottingham. As indicated we work closely with Refugee Action and NNRF. We partnered with Green Pastures Housing who purchased the block of flats and lease them back to us. We hope to continue to develop that link. We are also part of NACCOM, the ‘No Accommodation Network’ of agencies providing accommodation for destitute asylum seekers and other migrants. (Currently there are 26 projects in 21 towns and cities across the UK.)
We have housed upwards of 45 refused asylum seekers, of whom at least 25 have been granted Leave to Remain to our knowledge. We are told that lives have changed as a result of our support.
· Brilliant staff, especially during the initial phases (but the personal costs for our first worker were not insignificant).
· Though a relatively minor problem, there can be negative societal attitudes to refugees and asylum seekers. For example, whilst many police are extremely helpful, we have known instances of them being almost brutally unhelpful. One instance was when there was a break-in at one of our AS houses. When the police arrived, they actually tried to arrest the resident who called them, and spent more time investigating his case than they did in catching the offender. There is also the recent example of a Christian-based funder who deemed asylum seekers to be illegal and who would therefore not engage with us.
· Constant changes to the asylum system make it harder and harder for people to pursue claims and significantly increase the length of stay of our residents, reducing the number we can help.
M left her country to find work after her sons and husband died. She became a servant for a wealthy family and moved with them to the UK. Whilst in the UK she met a friend who talked to her about the Bible. She became a Pentecostal Christian, a group persecuted in her home country. She is a valued part of her church community. When her services were no longer required her employers asked her to leave their house. M had no accommodation, no status in the UK and spoke no English. Her first claim for asylum was turned down. She travelled around the country, moving between sympathetic people's houses and spent the days outdoors. She lived in NAT accommodation for 6 months whilst we helped her apply for Asylum Support. She now lives in Derby whilst she waits for a decision on her case. M is 68 years old and suffers from high blood pressure and depression.
N was sponsored by his government to come to the UK for medical treatment that was not available in his country. He was born with disabilities, and his health was deteriorating. N returned home before his treatment was completed as the money from his government ran out. As his health got worse N was forced to leave his job as a computer programmer. He had no family or friends to support him. N came to the UK and claimed asylum because he had no way of supporting himself or gaining the treatment he needed back home. When N's asylum claim was turned down he squatted in a bed-sit previously rented by a friend. It was not furnished and he slept on the floor. Drugs were being dealt downstairs and he was afraid as he had no lock on his door. N stayed with NAT whilst he made a fresh asylum claim. His mental health and self esteem have considerably deteriorated since being in the UK.
T was trafficked to the UK. She was thrown out of the accommodation her trafficker had allocated her when they found out she was pregnant. T had fled a violent relationship in her home country and had no family that she could return to. T's asylum claim was turned down as the Home Office stated she could relocate to an area in her home country away from the people who knew her and wished her harm. T was 21 had little education and no means of supporting herself and her toddler back home. T stayed in NAT accommodation for 7 months whilst her solicitor sought to prove that the support T and her daughter had good grounds to stay in the UK. T now lives in Asylum Support accommodation in Glasgow whilst she waits for a decision on her case.
*Some details have been omitted or changed slightly to protect their identity.