The Background and history
I met up with Pauline Nandoo who kindly took time out of her busy schedule to show me round the Copleston Centre and to introduce me to some of the people who use the Centre. The project began in 1997 and Pauline has been the Director for many years. It was a time of hardship for many asylum seekers and the impetus to assist and support some of society’s most vulnerable members came from a coalition of church leaders,community activists and English language tutors.
The Day Centre at the Copleston Centre was the first to open. It is open on a Tuesday. The other centres are at Peckham Park Road Baptist Church (running on a Wednesday) and St. Mary Newington (on Kennington Park Road) which opens on a Thursday.
The Day Centre at Copleston began as a drop in offering people a place to socialise but quickly broadened it’s scope to offer advice and advocacy.
Refugees and asylum seekers are often very isolated and struggle with little or no cash. Some people are without recourse to public funds and can become destitute. They are people fleeing persecution which could be for religious, social or political reasons. Some are the victims of trafficking. A quarter of those who use the centre are from Iran, followed by Nigeria, Afghanistan and Iraq.
A cooked meal is available for those who attend. There are also English language classes. Staff and volunteers can assist those needing to find solicitors to make claims etc. The Centre is registered with OISC to give asylum and immigration advice but the team can assist with a wide range of matters such as welfare benefits, housing, family and schooling. One off advice and signposting is also available to ensure clients and their families have access to food banks and night shelters. Health checks are also available and help with registering with GP’s.
In addition to the very practical resources available to those who attend I got a strong sense of how important emotional and social support was too. The environment was welcoming and it felt a place where community was being experienced and built. Despite the past traumas many had experienced and their current overwhelming and insidious circumstances there was a sense of hope and optimism too.
Funding and support * During lockdown the bookstall is not happening. The collection and distribution of food and toiletries IS STILL HAPPENING. Check website for current arrangements.
Less than a quarter of funding comes from Southwark Council and so SDCAS (which is registered as a charity) relies on fundraising for two thirds of its income. There are four ways those reading this article can assist. Donations of toiletries and food(not currently clothing) can be taken to the Centre. The Copleston Centre on the second Saturday of each month (between 10.30 and 12,30) runs a bookstall to raise money for SDCAS. Second hand books as well as CD’s and DVD’s are on sale as are delicious cakes and hot drinks. It is a warm and vibrant environment assisting a worthwhile cause. A third option is become a friend of SCDAS meaning you can make regular ‘gift aided’ financial donations. The application form to do this is available online on the SDCAS website. Volunteers are always needed - information about this can be found on the website.
For more information about SDCAS please contact 0207 732 0505 or visit http://www.sdcas.org.uk/