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One year on

It is nearly a year since Tonbridge Welcomes Refugees held its first meeting. There was just a small group of us then – half a dozen or so people gathered in a sitting room, trying to work out what we could do locally to help refugees forced to flee their homes as a result of war.

None of us there that day imagined how quickly our group would grow, or how much we’d be able to achieve in a year.  The response has been wonderful: our group in Tonbridge is going from strength to strength, we have a sister-group set up in Tunbridge Wells, and we have built links with charities, government agencies and community groups right across the country.

We are working with the borough and county councils to try and bring Syrian families here to safety; we are teaching English to refugees and asylum seekers; we are working in local schools to help teach our children what being a refugee means; and we are working with local charities to collect clothing and other much-needed items to send to refugee camps in Calais and the Middle East. In Refugee Week in June, we held a fabulous event right in the centre of Tonbridge, with music and speakers helping to raise awareness and show solidarity with refugees; we also ran a successful poetry and poster competition for children, whose moving work has been on display in Tonbridge Library all summer. Further afield, we have been contributing to national dialogues about the vital role community groups are playing in welcoming and supporting refugees.

Twelve months after we set up, the scale of the global refugee crisis remains overwhelming.  The government has made a number of promises to bring Syrians here and help unaccompanied children, but implementation has lagged terribly. In a difficult political landscape, groups like ours are needed more than ever. Our first year has taught us that the needs of refugees and asylum seekers in West Kent are often not being met: there is so much more we can and want to do to help those taking sanctuary in our country feel safe, welcome and empowered to rebuild their lives. 

We are looking for volunteers with compassion and a little bit of time to support the families arriving in our community and make them feel welcome. We are also looking for volunteers to fill various roles: teachers, mentors, fundraisers, web designers, event planners. And we are urgently seeking landlords who could rent their properties to refugees. If you are interested in helping out in any way at all, please get in touch by emailing us at info@tonbridgewelcomesrefugees.co.uk. You can also follow us on FacebookTwitter or you can check out our website.

 We hope to hear from you! Most of all, TWR is a community of wonderful local people, and we have a lot of fun as we work.