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2017 has seen CARAS hold 10 different regular groups and activities for more than 500 refugees and asylum seekers. We spent an incredible 28,000 hours together, at ESOL, Visiting Project, Study Group, Women’s Drop-in, Thursday and Saturday Youth clubs, Youth Council, ‘Problem? No Problem!’ clinic, individual support, Family Activity Days and trips all over London and to Norfolk.

Beyond these regular activities, we had some particular high points. Here they are, as selected by our Managing Director Eleanor Brown.

What a year it’s been! As well as all our day to day work we’ve been out and about, talking to people, sharing experiences, listening, learning and doing a lot of laughing along the way. We’ve been trying to come up with our favourite moments and have struggled to get it down to a few key things. Here they are. We wish you all a very happy Christmas and New Year. Stay well, rest, enjoy the people around you. We’ll see you in 2018.

 

Museum of London

We featured in The City is Ours exhibition. It covers modern pressures on our cities, and thoughtfully presents ways to live sustainably. CARAS is on the interactive map of London, one of five initiatives chosen for showcasing ways to share our city. We ran a high-energy, incredibly fun lunchtime workshop attended by 50 primary school children, plus some passers-by all writing ‘Welcoming Signs’. We’ll be taking these on a tour of Wandsworth in 2018- watch this space.

 

Gardens of Refuge

Our partnership with our wonderful friends at Transition Town Tooting. This has run for the whole year, beginning with the triumph of securing Aviva funds at the tail end of last year. It’s been a fantastic success- continuing to green our site with wonderful vertical planters adorning our previously bleak and unwelcoming railings; planting herbs and taking them home; exploring Tooting Community Garden and using it for a treasure hunt, mural painting, bench building, cooking on a fire… all sorts of activities about being outdoors, connecting with each other and with the world around us, unlocking and sharing memories, skills and new experiences.

 

Stay with Love.

Our first ever exhibition was hosted for one heady month at The Sound Lounge. The opening night was perhaps the absolute highlight of our 15 years in action. One comment was ‘This is inclusion!’ and it really was. It wasn’t a refugee event with the usual dedicated local activists and organisations, and it wasn’t a migrant voice event with people advocating for understanding and change. This was music, art and celebration, bringing in a whole crowd of people who like that sort of stuff. There were musicians, singers, poets, children, adults, all faiths and none. It felt like a break-through moment of real community connection. Thanks go to The Sound Lounge, along with luck and love for their new life out of Tooting; and to the ever inspiring TTT.

 

The White Helmets, Queens of Syria, Sea Sorrow and Sticks and Stones

There’s been a lot of film and art events this year, either directly telling stories of war and displacement, or responding to it. We were invited to speak at various events and loved meeting people in a different way- it’s always a pleasure to speak to audiences who we might not otherwise cross paths with. Through these, we’ve had a referral of a young man whose host remembered hearing us speak at Sea Sorrow, BAC; new volunteers who got stuck in after seeing The White Helmets; new solidarity with a local audience who came to watch Queens of Syria on one of the hottest days of the year; and a gift of a rose from Damascus whose dangerous journey mirrors many of the experiences our group members have had on their route to safety. We’ll be finding it a suitable spot to begin finding its new roots in south London.

 

City Hall and events at The Houses of Parliament

Gosh, we’ve been busy! Our women’s group joined an ESOL action day advocating for more provision so that they can be active, productive, healthy members of society more quickly; young people gave their perspectives on being in foster care; we took part in consultation for the Mayor’s strategic plan; and we’ve been sharing our volunteering experiences. It can be intimidating to go to places that hold such power, especially when you are expressing difficult experiences and interacting with complex systems in a language you are not yet fluent in. It’s been incredibly satisfying to not only hear people speak at these events, but to also be able to gather feedback that we hope will help make future events more accessible and inclusive- more voices, more information, better connection and a more equal society is our goal.

 

The Big Give

We can’t say it often enough: THANK YOU. This was our first online, match funded foray and we were nervous. Do enough people know us, like us, feel motivated to share the appeal? Will we detract from our friends and neighbours in Battersea who are also in? Will we have the energy to keep things moving? And, as you all know, we exceeded what we had already thought was an optimistic target. Nearly £12000 came in during that week and we are astounded. There was a great deal of local generosity –we’re happy to say that other local refugee groups also brought in more than their targets. But we were also thrilled at the nationwide response- people found us and donated from all corners of the UK. We hope you’re reading this and feel a sense of pride in what you have done for us.

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