This charity exists to serve vulnerable and needy people – both adults and children – who have for one reason or another found themselves in the Watford and Three Rivers area of West Hertfordshire, without leave to remain in this country, and often without recourse to public funds. Our objective is to help them to get to a sustainable position as full members of our society.
A key word that you’ll see in all our literature is ‘befriend.’ This, perhaps first and foremost, means providing some comfort and friendship to a person or family who have found themselves at a loss in a country where they may not speak the language. ‘Language’ of course includes the peculiar dialect called English Legalese, which defeats even native speakers, and is sadly prevalent in the world of application forms, court hearings and official letters.
Friendship and moral support are very important, but some of our clients are completely without financial means. This is where your kind donations help feed and clothe people who otherwise would starve, or help them to travel to one of the UK’s far-flung administrative centres – Liverpool, Birmingham, Croydon among others – in order to progress their applications for the permission or the means to stay here.
This bureaucracy is a tough world for a refugee, with the social and other services always under pressure to make financial savings. Our volunteers have stood by their clients and simply helped to negotiate confidently with the authorities – remember that confidence is a scarce commodity among people who are fleeing, or have been ejected, from their home countries.
Our aim in this charity is to make sure that the human rights of those who come to us are assured. We don’t replace the social services or the legal aid system with the funds that we receive – but we do help provide access to them, and sometimes help with application fees and similar exceptional items. We work closely with like-minded organisations like the Red Cross, Homestart, New Hope Trust, and we acknowledge with gratitude their help and support.
We have grown steadily over the years, from 26 cases in 2011 to 55 in 2014. We always need volunteers, not only to befriend, but also to help us with publicity, with our food store and with our social events – we offer training to volunteers. Because a lot of our clients are mothers and children, we aim to get them together with good food and entertainment several times a year – this has included garden parties and a visit to the pantomime at the Watford Palace Theatre – English culture at its best!
Finally, we run a drop-in centre at St John’s Church, Sutton Road in the middle of Watford, right by the Intu (Harlequin) Centre and close to Watford Junction rail and bus station. We rely on our volunteer team to cover sessions twice a week for 2 hours on a Tuesday and Friday. We are always looking for more volunteers to help out.
The Watford and Three Rivers Refugee Partnership is run by a small committee comprising Dorothy Knightley, secretary; Mahesh Chauhan, treasurer; Joy Hobbs, casework co-ordinator; Marie-Jo Churchill, volunteer coordinator; Andrea Hudson, ESOL specialist; John Shaw, case reviewer and Tim Whittaker, chairman.