Sankofa therapist Miriam Hollis recently wrote this message asking for help, which can also be read on the Sankofa blog - sankofafoundation.blogspot.com
The Sankofa Foundation is a psychotherapeutic service for seekers of asylum and their families, refugees and those granted humanitarian protection. We are based in Nottingham and take referrals from Nottingham, Derby, Leicester and South Yorkshire. In fact, if we have the capacity, we won’t turn anyone away. We are a not for profit service and we do not receive any state or charitable funding. We offer appointments to anyone who is suffering from trauma arising from experiences of torture, imprisonment, violence, witnessing of violence or sexual assault in their country of origin. We also offer support to people suffering from trauma arising from the process of asylum and destitution. Our services are free at the point of delivery and we rely on donations from supporters of The Sankofa Foundation.
Sankofa arose out of another project which was accessed by young people seeking asylum and who were without their families ( Unaccompanied Minors). Due to unexpected funding cuts to the provision of a service to these young people, the decision was made to continue to offer psychotherapy to those young people who were in critical need. Without funding or a base, social services in Nottingham offered a room for meeting with their own referrals. The service continued and was based in the offices of social services over three days a week for over a year. Efforts were made to move towards charitable status. However, when Sankofa became aware that the Local Authority in Nottingham were not complying with the decision in the Hillingdon case 2003, Sankofa needed to relocate in order to support young people to access appropriate guidance and legal advice in pursuit of their rights under the law. Pursuit of charitable status was set aside in order to meet the needs of this very busy time.
Social activists had taken the occupancy of a disused local authority building. Previously, the building, which had been three large Victorian three storey terraces with shared courtyard, had been divided into flats and occupied by tenants of the local authority. However, the buildings had been unused for over eight years, apart from casual use on a regular basis by people with serious drugs habits, and women sex workers. Local residents were upset by what was happening in their neighbourhood and supported the occupation of the buildings by social activists who repaired windows and floors, painted and furnished and set up projects very quickly which benefitted the local area. Within a short amount of time the building, which had been deteriorating fast ( as documented by freelance photographic journalist, Tash) was looking occupied, the gardens were tidied, and the uninspiring back yard was greening up with bath tubs and containers full of herbs and tomatoes, which nasturtiums tumbling out of them in full colour in the summer. A Community Centre was established ( and entered in the Directory of Community Centres), and within the Community Centre, a free shop was opened, inviting donations of useable goods and clothing which were available free to anyone who needed them. A Community lending Library was opened, an internet cafe, a bicycle maintenance workshop, a community arts room with regular activities for children, and a free Community meal once a week for anyone who needed a hot meal ( vegetables donated from local greengrocers).
Into this busy and engaged space, Sankofa was offered a base. Encouraged to approach the Community by Bill Walton of NNRF Destitution Group, our original room was in a disused ground floor flat, and shared with the Community Printworks who had equipment in the kitchen. We had no glass in the windows and only one room was useable due to problems with flooring in an adjacent room. A team worked long into the nights to glaze the windows, fix the flooring and decorate. With furniture obtained through the freecycle network and a computer donated from friends in other counselling services, within a week, Sankofas new therapy room was hosting a meeting which was to have an impact on the provision for unaccompanied asylum seeking children in Nottingham. The Refugee Council (GB) Childrens Panel, the Co-Ordinator of the asylum Project at the Childrens Legal Centre (University of Essex), National Youth Advocacy Service (NYAS) and 23 young people seeking asylum and in the care of the local authority ( with more popping in and out throughout the day) met to discuss the provision made for them in the area. As a result, The Refugee Council, the Childrens Legal Centre, and a local Family Law Solicitor took instructions from many children to demand the right to clothing allowances, better provision in accommodation, and the instigation of care plans. The co-ordinator of the Childrens Legal Centre (asylum project), now the Policy Advisor to the Childrens ‘ Commissioner on children seeking asylum, who was due to spend only one day in Nottingham, worked late into the night and throughout the next day taking statements from children. A year later the Refugee Council Childrens’ Panel had set up a partnership arrangement with the Sankofa Foundation to provide a monthly surgery in Nottingham for minors seeking asylum who had been unable to access care. Although appointments were by arrangement the surgeries were always oversubscribed. NYAS set up and gained funding for a temporary (nine months) post for a worker to write with young people, a survival guide to Nottingham. This guide was to assist young people gain access to support in Nottingham uip to the age of eighteen years, and for the immediate period after this. The appointee undertook the NYAS training for working with young people and has been able to go on to offer a service at NNRF once a week for young people. The Local Authority has made changed to some of their provision and young people became eligible for ongoing care. Although not all the problems were solved by any means, young people seeking asylum in Nottingham benefitted from being heard constructively, and a message has gone out to young people in Nottingham that they have rights and they can have their rights asserted by agencies in Nottingham.
Sankofa continued with the work of meeting individuals for therapy. However, as a member of both the Person Centred Counsellors and Psychotherapists for Social Change, and Psychotherapists and Counsellors for Social Change, we acknowledge that therapists regularly hear stories from disadvantaged, alienated and disempowered people within the Community. Sankofa Foundation is committed to, and active in, ongoing debates within therapy about the ground between confidentiality and using our voice to denounce the inequalities within society that contribute to injustice and therefore stress and mental health problems. We take more and more referrals from GPs who are seeing destitute seekers of asylum in their surgeries, whose mental health problems are exacerbated by the lack of care available to people in this situation.
Sankofa became committed to recycling bedding useful to seekers of asylum made destitute. Often bedding would be made available to seekers of asylum who had arrived in the City at the weekend when other offices were closed. Local students in the area annually seemed to be in a hurry to bin all the household goods accumulated during their studies in the City. Annually the area around the Sankofa office became a rich source of items useful to our client group. We obtained a washing machine which allowed destitute clients to wash their clothing and take newer clothing from our store cupboards. Bedding became available in vast amounts, as did cooking equipment and sundry furniture. We were able to support people in makeshift accommodation who had no furniture or bedding.
Many of our clients have been supported to return to solicitors with reports from Sankofa, enhanced by the hours of research that post graduate students have put into assisting people to find evidence in support of their fresh applications for asylum. Sankofa has reached out to organisation in Iraq and Germany for assistance in gathering primary evidence in support of clients, with German NGOs using their contacts within countries to make enquiries on our behalf. We don’t give legal advice but we do walk beside clients in their quest for support in obtaining information and evidence, helping them to learn the skills necessary, encouraging confidence and ultimately doing the research on behalf of those too debilitated by the process of asylum to try. Of clients who have returned to their country of origin, whether voluntarily or assisted(!) we have endeavoured to stay in touch. We speak with clients returned to Afghanistan, Iraq, Sudan, Ethiopian. (We have concerns about the quality of commitment from agencies supporting returns and are gathering evidence in support of our concerns.)
A regular weekly film night was held for young people seeking asylum. Films were selected by the audience from a range of films representative of, or made in, or by film directors from, the countries of origin of the audience. In the afternoon of the show, a group of young people would go shopping for ingredients to create a meal which was shared with the rest of the audience on arrival. As the film was shown, fruit and nuts were shared around the room. At the end of the showing young people would share their memories and their feelings about their country of origin and the life that they have left behind, the people that they miss, and the heartache of their lives in their country. These thoughts and feelings were sensitively listened to and shared with audience members from the host community. With these film nights came new and deeper understandings and bridges between people were built. One of the audience on one occasion was the neice of a Kurdish film director, Karzan Sherabayani. (Within a year we assisted Karzan to show his new documentary about Kirkuk at the Broadway cinema, and to host an event at Robinhood Chase with guests Shano dance Company - a Kurdish dance company in the UK who had previously performed at the Edinburgh festival).
It wasn’t long before the Community Print works relocated to the Sumac Centre and Sankofa was fully using the whole space of the original flat. On occasions when our clients were detained, groups of people would collect to run campaigns to prevent the removal of our clients and to help them to get legal advice. There have been many tense and heart warming moments in the anti deportation activities emanating from the office.
After two years at the Community Centre we must leave. Many of the original social activists have moved on to other projects and Sankofa has remained, actively responding to the therapeutic needs of the asylum seeking community in Nottingham.
It is with heavy hearts that we are now looking urgently for a place to be. Sankofa has been the target of harassment and violent attacks for a year. With the first attack in the summer of last year, , and this year on five separate occasions within a month. The attacks are so vicious and without restraint that it is not possible to attempt to repair. On each occasion doors have been forced and research papers and folders strewn around, computers damaged and made unusable. Refugees and supporters of Sankofa have worked into the night on each occasion to secure the premises for the next day to ensure that client work was not affected. However, the attacks have gained momentum and we have arrived to see the kitchen door so damaged that only the border of the door remained. We have secured inner doors as well as external doors but finally this week, we have arrived to see the back door destroyed again as well as the internal doors, and, more shockingly, the hot water tank ripped out and water gushing all throughout the office and filling up the cellar with nowhere else for the water to go. All the windows have been smashed, and then smashed again. However, the windows and doors on the old Community Centre (unused) and the art room (unused) have remained untouched.
There has been a growing unease about some of the people who have come to occupy the disused premises at the back. On each occasion the police have been called and they are increasingly shocked. Most recently, this week, the police who attended have expressed their own frustration, acknowledging the positive contribution of Sankofa to the area and to the needs of a client group who are increasingly finding it difficult to have therapeutic and health needs met elsewhere. More recently we have observed a small group of men, regulars who frequent the back of the building at night, kicking at the door, running at the door, but the police have not been able to respond quickly enough to make arrests.
At Sankofa we have never had large funding. Our funding base has been relatively small because many donors respond more readily to the immediate material needs of seekers of asylum, particularly when they become destitute. We are such a shoestring operation that where there have been shortfalls in our income and expenditure (on service bills) we have paid the bills ourselves. Our therapeutic skills are provided without fee or salary. Our psychotherapeutic reports to Tribunal and Immigration hearings are commended for their objectivity and thoroughness. Our vision has always been bigger than our budget and we have attempted to deliver a holistic and responsive service regardless of the lack of funding.
Sankofa has been approached on many occasions to write – chapters on therapy with young people seeking asylum, mental health care of asylum seeking women, and more recently for the Journal of Critical Psychology. There simply isn’t the time, because we are running a service across six days in the week, whilst earning a living elsewhere for part of the day. We have been invited to give opinion and to contribute to committee meetings of the House of Commons, and the House of Lords.
At this moment in time we have nowhere to offer sessions next week. The Sankofa Office is damaged beyond repair. We have a waiting list and we are out of funds. Although conversations are taking place next week with a couple of other organisations in the field for very temporary access to space, we urgently need premises and funds to help us to continue the work that we do. We have destitute clients who are struggling to keep going and the devastation of the Sankofa space has been deeply upsetting and disruptive to them. We are trying to continue with house visits – but these necessarily take and mean that we see less people – and by meeting people at NNRF at the destitution group. We have been in discussion with members of Sudanese and Kurdish organisations for a long time about shared spaces and the future vision will be somewhere that we can work together to create family spaces as well as therapeutic spaces within a social action context.
This is an appeal for funds and/or urgent accommodation. Even temporary accommodation will help us to continue in the short term. We also appeal for people with experience of fundraising to help us to continue the work that we do, and to help us to extend our service to those in need. If you would like to talk to us about any aspect of our work please contact us by email Miriam@sankofafoundation.org.uk or by mobile at 07866 733223 as our lanline is not accessible ion the immediate short term.
Thank you ..