Before the pandemic, around 100 refugee friends would gather each week at the JRS Day Centre. They could share a nutritious hot lunch together, socialise, collect a pack of essential toiletries and even receive face-to-face casework and support from the JRS team. In March last year, we were forced to close the centre and many friends were left isolated, without these basic needs being met.
Now we can once again welcome refugee friends back to our centre, in a different way. The JRS shop is a safe, socially distanced space where refugee friends can meet with caseworkers, and collect non-perishable food items, clothing, and toiletries. The large hall that was once the Day Centre, is now partitioned in to a welcoming lobby with comfy armchairs and a rug, and a separate ‘shop’ with stalls and shelves. Refugee friends are greeted when they enter by a friendly JRS volunteer who offers them a cup of tea or coffee. They visit in small groups, of up to 3 or 4 at a time, but it’s clear they are comfortable and relaxed here.
Throughout the week around 30-40 friends visit the JRS shop, during pre-booked timed slots. Thanks to our partnership with the Felix Project, the long tables in the shop are filled with stocks of food from tins to, cereals, jams, pasta, rice and sauces. There are even some egg boxes from a generous JRS volunteer who has donated fresh produce from their own chickens! One friend pulls her shopping trolley between the tables, carefully choosing which items she needs for the week. She browses the rail of clothing and asks if there is anything for children. She seems pleased that among the crates of hygiene products, generously donated by The Hygiene Bank, there are some brand new towels for her to take home with her.
One friend who has already picked out his items, relaxes in the armchair in the lobby as he waits for his appointment with the Legal Project. He is surrounded by several filled plastic bags and shares with me how this is his second time at the JRS shop. We chat about the recent heatwave in London, and how it makes it harder to get around, and we agree we are looking forward to the coming rain and cooler weather. He tells me about his son, back in his home country who would like to be a photographer. We share a cup of tea as others arrive.
Many refugee friends who visit the shop have little control over their lives as they battle the UK Asylum System, let alone the ability to make any meaningful choices.
The shop is small and quiet, but it’s heartening. It’s thanks to the generous donations to our Refugee Friends’ Hardship Fund that we have been able to set up this shop safely, and can continue to stock it, and run it.
Now refugee friends have a chance to feel comfortable, get face-to-face support and advice, and above all else, choose what they need.
Today, please give generously to our Refugee Friends’ Hardship Fund so that we can continue to accompany refugee friends through the JRS shop.