St Augustine’s Church is based in Park ward, a densely built-up area to the west of the centre of Halifax. In 2001, 55% of the population were from non-white ethnic groups, far above the district average, and the percentage has grown considerably since then. Over 70% of Calderdale's Asian population lived in the ward, two thirds of whom are UK born and 30% Asian born. As well as being an area of great religious and ethnic diversity, where English is the second language for a high proportion of the population, much of the area is in the most deprived 10% nationally on the Index of Multiple Deprivation. The church has a congregation of approximately twenty five, about half of whom are new entrants to Britain. The Victorian church building was demolished in 1972 and services are now held in the St Augustine’s school hall. With effect from 1st April 2009, St. Augustine's became part of a united benefice with Christ Church Mount Pellon. The St Augustine's Centre is a multi-activity, church-based voluntary organisation based in two former vicarages.
ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) classes. Not having a church building had prompted the question of how the church could reach out to the local community. Then, through parental involvement in the playgroup, we heard about their problems, such as debt, housing and relationships. This led to us starting up advice sessions.
We have had to take account of, and respond to, the changes in the area. For example, it used to be a predominantly Pakistani neighbourhood, but first asylum seekers and then migrant workers gradually came in.
Through the help of the Wakefield Diocese and various funders, St Augustine's Community Support has been set up to provide help for asylum seekers, refugees, European Union migrants and to all those resident in the local community who require assistance without prejudice. There are no other refugee organisations in the area and the local authority team focus primarily on housing.
We aim to encourage integration between the various groups. We value and respect all members of the community as individuals and we are open to all. We find that we can have people from countries at war with one another nevertheless sitting round the table and working together. The building offers a warm and welcoming environment for people to access support and advice from friendly workers and volunteers. We aim to help with basic needs and hope to build confidence to encourage participation within the community and to prevent isolation. This is achieved through:
· Weekly Support Groups offering befriending, food, information and direction towards other agencies.
· Adult Education, both on an informal and formal basis, to share skills and to learn new ones.
· Social Activities within the local community which aim to develop better relationships between the host community and those who have moved here from other countries.
· Advice Sessions, covering such areas as education, employment, adapting to the UK culture, citizenship and immigration. Basic legal advice is offered by OISC (Office of the Immigration Services Commissioner) registered workers.
The Support Centre also offers an 'immediate needs and funds' project for people who have become destitute, often as a result of government policies. We join other organisations in campaigning for fairer systems and in standing up for those who feel that they have no voice. For example, there was a sleep-out in the town centre to draw attention to the plight of destitute asylum seekers.
Refugee Forum Calderdale has been set up to represent and empower asylum seekers and refugees. Members say: “It will give us power to make our voices heard and to understand our rights and enable us to deal with those in authority. It will help us to take an active part in the local community, to make new friends and link with other refugee groups. We shall campaign for the right to work for asylum seekers, for an end to child detention and for an end to destitution for the stateless and for those unable to return safely. We shall seek funding for community activities such as story telling, drama, dressmaking, hairdressing, conversation classes and we shall use our collective experience to help others.”
There is a Gardening Group run by volunteers who do the garden at the Centre but also, through the Refugee Forum now have an allotment and grow fruit and vegetables.
The St Augustine’s Development Worker has organised many creative activities for asylum seekers who are not allowed to work, such as Indian Dance, a singing group, a samba band and banner making.
Food and Support Drop-In: The Development Worker set up the drop-in point for food and support and has engaged a number of churches and organisations to work in partnership to provide a weekly drop-in at the nearby Ebenezer Chapel each Saturday. The aim of the project is to enable vulnerable people who have a 'chaotic lifestyle' to access a drop-in to obtain a free food parcel and gain support and guidance to enable them to move on from their current situation. The client groups include people who are experiencing homelessness; destitute asylum seekers; people who suffer from substance misuse; others suffering extreme hardship. About one hundred people use it each week. The project supplies food that can be easily stored and necessities such as personal hygiene items necessary for a standard of living.
Advice sessions are run once a week in the Support Centre by the Citizens’ Advice Bureau. In addition, Calderdale and Kirklees Careers Service hold a drop-in session to help migrant workers and refugees find work, although there are fears about the future funding for this service.
Adult education: St Augustine’s puts on a lot of short courses that are largely demand-led; that is, focusing on subjects that people say they want or need, such as First Aid, food hygiene, cooking, gardening, IT, dressmaking, art, parenting skills and introduction to citizenship. Other courses are ongoing. Maths and English GCSE courses have also been requested and provided through Calderdale College. The ESOL classes provided here by Calderdale College are busier than ever so we are moving from 3 session per week to nine.
Childcare: The playgroup continued until 1990. Now we have a validated, Ofsted inspected, nursery for twenty five 3-4 year old children morning and afternoon. We also provide a crèche for people who are taking courses and have a parent and toddler group.
In July 2009, the Mothers' Union established a project to befriend and provide practical support for the women who attend the St. Augustine's Centre. MU members put on a light lunch and pass on basic skills such as baking, sewing and knitting and bring all the necessary equipment. “Whatever is needed, there is someone who can supply it!” They now have a small patch of land beside the Centre to be able to grow fruit and vegetables. The Mothers’ Union has also supplied sewing and knitting machines for the Refugee Forum’s dressmaking group.
Café Wednesday started as a cookery and English class in 2005 teaching people catering skills, developing their spoken and written English and looking at serving healthy meals to the community. Now there is a paid worker and lots of volunteers from different cultural backgrounds producing the food. Over the last four years, the café has catered for many community and private events. Over the next three years, Café Wednesday plans to develop itself as a social enterprise (see Box).
Other groups use the main Centre. For example, the Congolese Church meets here twice weekly. There is a Bible and English group every Monday morning. There is a Saturday session for children to do homework. Two Muslim groups from the Islamic Society of Britain have used the Centre.
A Samba Band, which was set up by the Refugee Forum Worker, meets weekly.
registered charity in 2009. Several PCC members are trustees together with others who can bring specific expertise, such as the treasurer and a representative from the Health Authority.
There is a Friends of St Augustine’s organisation seeking people to help in different ways:
· volunteering – on the front line of helping those who come or working behind the scenes in practical ways.
· giving regularly to sponsor the work – we have set ourselves the specific challenge of finding 100 local people, groups or organisations each year who will become sponsors of the work of the Centre.
· befriending – getting to know individuals or families who use the Centre, perhaps having them for meals.
· praying for those who work at the Centre and all those who come for help.
There are currently five core staff: a Co-ordinator (who has been at the Centre for 40 years) and an Early Years Co-ordinator in the main centre and two part-time Development Workers who job-share (ex-volunteers) and a Refugee Forum Worker in the Support Centre.
There have been various sources of funding. Some activities are paid for by the agency in question. The nursery receives government funding. The Henry Smith Foundation has given a grant for the Development Worker, (but this runs out shortly). The Joseph Rowntree Trust gave funding for the Refugee Forum. BBC Children in Need funds have been secured over three years for children’s holidays. A few Friends of St Augustine’s donate each month and sometimes we receive money from Mothers’ Union collections. However, probably the major contribution comes through the work of the volunteers.
We have links with various community organisations such as Sure Start, St Augustine's Junior and Infant School, Calderdale College and Park Initiative.
A couple of ventures are on the horizon. We anticipate getting £2,000 from the Rotary Club to set up a ‘hosting’ project to enable asylum seekers to stay with a family for a couple of nights. Turning Café Wednesday into a social enterprise is also going to be both a challenge and an opportunity.
Café Wednesday plans for a social enterprise
We want to provide healthy, affordable catering for local individuals, groups and organisations, including projects at the St. Augustine's Centre like the social lunch and children's activities.
We also want to develop a new initiative based on a 'garden to plate' project. We shall encourage family growers to sell/exchange their excess in as small quantities as necessary (by the single apple if appropriate!). We will then sell in a market-like situation to the local community or use it in our social enterprise café and catering project. We believe that the Café Wednesday Food Project is a good example of sustainable innovative practice at a grass roots level that could make a real change in people's attitudes and enjoyment of food.
We intend to start small and grow with our experience and market, always listening to the participants and the local community to improve and adapt. We are all passionate about food – both eating it and the need to grow it and we believe that this is an example of a project that could prove to have a lasting impact on the lives of those involved.