Akwaaba is a Hackney-based social centre for all migrants, regardless of immigration status, ‘race’, religion, country of origin, age, sexual orientation, gender identity and (dis)ability. We believe that no-one is illegal. We are committed to actively opposing racism and all other forms of oppression.
We aim to foster care, cooperation and community. We operate on the basis of mutual aid and solidarity, and are run non-hierarchically and entirely by volunteers. We try to make decisions collectively and give all members an equal say in how we do things.
Before the pandemic we offered a space for rest, play, learning and mutual support. Over 250 of us came together every Sunday afternoon at Princess May Primary School for a cuppa and a hot meal, the chance to chat with old friends and make new ones, to access computers and simple casework support, and to take part in collective activities like English classes, yoga, singing, and storytelling. We also ran a children’s space attended by upwards of 50 children.
We last saw each other for a normal Sunday session on 8 March 2020. After that we had to adapt hugely and quickly, and redirect our capacity towards meeting our community’s new needs as they arose in the pandemic. This is a list of everything we’ve achieved together over the past 12 months.
SUPPORT, SIGNPOSTING & ERRAND-RUNNING
- Matched 120 individual Akwaaba members with a volunteer who calls on an ad hoc basis, providing emotional and practical support where possible, linking the member up with Akwaaba support, as well as referring and signposting to other organisations for specialist services like counselling, legal aid, food banks etc.
- Matched 71 Akwaaba families with a volunteer who calls fortnightly, providing emotional and practical support where possible, linking the families up with support from Akwaaba and other sources, and helping out where they can with research, advocacy, signposting and referrals
- Offered up to six online/telephone counselling sessions to members with our English and Polish-speaking counselling volunteer
- At our Sunday food takeaway sessions we have an average of 10 Welcome Volunteers available to make tea/coffee for visitors, provide signposting advice or just to have a chat
- On Sundays we also have a small team of Safer Spaces volunteers present. The aim of the Safer Spaces team is to help make Akwaaba a space of safety, inclusion, empathy and mutual support. They respond to incidents as they occur during Sunday sessions, as well as to issues that are reported outside of sessions.
- Maintained a spreadsheet of relevant services (e.g. hot meals, food banks, housing advice, immigration advice, financial assistance, casework etc.) for signposting members to, including by printing and distributing flyers
- Signed up 120 errand runners who ran errands for members, e.g. doing grocery shopping for those shielding/self-isolating, delivering items from Akwaaba, helping out with moving flats etc.
EEA ADVICE PROJECT
Mostly for Eastern European rough sleeping members, in partnership with the Public Interest Law Centre:
- Helped 20 people with their housing situation: 19 rough sleeping members referred to emergency Covid-19 accommodation in hotels and hostels (16 of them successfully, 3 unsuccessfully), one vulnerable person referred to a housing solicitor and moved from inappropriate temporary housing to lifelong accommodation
- During the first phase of emergency accommodation, we repeatedly raised the issue of inadequate food provision and supported 10 members with this by putting them in touch with local mutual aid groups, challenging local authorities or both
- Provided advice and support around welfare benefits for 15 members
- Successfully applied for 9 VRF Emergency Fund grants for members for costs of rent, basic needs or to overcome barriers to support
- Supported around a dozen members in arranging appointments for passports with the embassy and helped cover the costs, or found organisations who could, for at least 6 members
- Helped with access to healthcare (e.g. help liaising with GPs, accompanying to GP visits and hospital visits) for at least 6 members (two of those members passed away in 2020)
- Provided immigration advice for EEA nationals around the EU Settlement Scheme for about 40 people
- Our Migrant Support Fund offers members visiting our Sunday takeaway sessions £5 cash every two weeks (this recently was reduced to every month). On average we helped around 100 members each Sunday session.
- Members also receive two bus tickets each Sunday.
- Every 4 weeks, sent a hardship fund payment of £40 initially and £20 from October to 68 families and 93 individual members
- Supported members in crisis who needed emergency help with food, utilities or rent and who have no other source of support (including no state support) by providing 121 emergency grants to members of up to £300 and totalling £25,135. We also provided 171 grants for non-members of between £10 and £40 and totaling £3765.
- Sent £20 utilities grants to 31 members to help with gas/electricity top-up meter costs
- Referred 34 members with no state support or other sources of income to the COVID-19 Red Cross hardship fund for a three-month grant of £360
- Distributed 8 grants of £60 each from the Against Borders for Children Solidarity Fund to families with NRPF, no income from employment and no state support
- From March to October 2020, sourced food from local businesses, food redistribution organisations (including the Felix Project), local mutual aid groups and fresh donations from Growing Communities for our hot takeaway meals and food parcels. Since October 2020, we continue to receive food donations for preparing Sunday meals from local businesses and Growing Communities for our takeaway sessions. The donations are topped up with food we purchase.
- Packaged donations and purchased supplies into an average of 65 food parcels per week, hand delivered by our team of errand runners each Sunday across the whole of London
- From November 2020 transitioned to providing supermarket vouchers of between £20 and £35 (depending on member situation and household size) to an average of 75 households each month
- Almost every Sunday from 15 March 2020, freshly prepared, cooked and served hot takeaway meals (including a Christmas dinner with dessert and non-alcoholic mulled wine in mid-December) to an average of 200 people, most of them street homeless
- Advised and advocated around free school meals eligibility and applications for Akwaaba families
DEVICES & INTERNET ACCESS
- Sent a £10 phone credit voucher to 175 members every month from April 2020
- Researched the best internet data deals from mobile networks and shared this information and extra funds with families so they could move onto deals with more data during the first lockdown; provided vouchers for internet data during the early 2021 lockdown when many were homeschooling
- Distributed 120 smartphones, 50 feature phones and 90 power banks to street homeless members
- Offered tech support, fixing lots of phones, tablets and laptops for members
- Sourced 44 secondhand devices and distributed them to ensure every family has a laptop or tablet
- Started up a laptop lending library with 10 laptops for families to borrow in case they needed access to more than one device
JUST FOR KIDS!
- Ran Zoom sessions for the kids every Saturday since the end of April, featuring loads of different activities: music, dancing, drawing, painting, origami, scavenger hunts, quizzes, games, cookery, meditation…
- Sent a basic craft pack to 65 families, and then after we got a grant from Dissenters Arts N16, sent fancy craft packs to each family with primary school children and ordered individual arts/crafts supplies, from knitting stuff, to paints, pottery and hair dolls, for 19 older children
- Started an Instagram account to show off the kids’ crafty creations
- Sent the children cards on their birthdays and made referrals to Free Cakes For Kids
- Hand printed “Akwaaba Baby” baby grows to welcome each newborn (12 in a year!)
- Wrapped and hand delivered over 125 Christmas presents and 50 gift tokens to the kids
- Sent a book to each child and a Bookstart pack to each of the under 5s
- Bought £50 of equipment/books/toys to support the wellbeing and educational development of each child with autism/SEN
- Put together a list of online resources for kids to share with parents in search of recommendations
- Printed homework for children during school closures
- Delivered footballs donated by Alive and Kicking to 30 families
- Distributed knitting packs donated by Knit for Peace to 20 families
- Members have stayed in touch through our Members and Parents WhatsApp groups, where people share articles, memes, their art, personal news, photos from their daily lives etc.
- Published the first ever issue of the Akwaaba magazine, digitally for our members at home and with a print run of 200 in English and 200 in Polish for distribution with our Sunday takeaway meals. Entirely made up of submissions from Akwaaba members, it included recipes, interviews, poetry, art, competitions, poems, and a kids’ corner. The next issue is out soon!
- Paired up 17 members through our buddy scheme, whereby buddies keep in touch via calls/texts to provide mutual moral support
- Organised a small number of Zoom socials, including a Christmas special
- Commissioned a facilitation trainer to support parents in setting up a Zoom peer support group
- Held Zoom meetings open to all Akwaaba members for participatory decision-making when capacity and resource restrictions meant we had to rethink or reduce food parcel and hardship fund provision and decide how best to do this
ACTIVITIES, TRAINING & ENGLISH LANGUAGE LEARNING
- Our yoga volunteer teaches simple yoga and meditation classes for all abilities every Saturday afternoon on Zoom
- The Storytelling Group meets every Sunday afternoon on Zoom to read from a book (which we have mailed to participants), discuss it and then sometimes do their own creative writing
- We invited Resist & Renew to run an online facilitation training for our members
- Organised a first aid training session to be delivered online by the Red Cross and open to any interested members
- Ran two member-led Safer Spaces skillshares
- Ran individual English language tuition by video or phone for 23 members and referred many more to local English language schools. We also began a lesson-twinning scheme to reduce isolation of students and teachers.
- Ran two English teacher training sessions, and developed a crowd-sourced bank of resources to support our teachers
We launched a series of monthly online events, Akwaaba Learn & Discuss. This is a space for learning and discussion, for everyone in Akwaaba, around the UK border regime and hostile environment, their relationship to racial capitalism, colonialism and white supremacy, and how we might fight back. So far we have had sessions on:
- The relationship between racism and immigration controls, with guest speaker Luke de Noronha
- The relationship between immigration law and colonialism, with guest speaker Nadine El-Enany
- The history of NHS charges for migrants and how these charges were resisted, with guest speaker Kathryn Medien
- Housing rights for migrants and the history of racism in housing, with guest speakers from Housing Action Southwark and Lambeth
FUNDRAISING, BUDGETING & FINANCE
- The Budget Group is open to all members, and met regularly at the beginning of the pandemic to determine the budget for the coming months. The budget for each three month phase of our Covid Hardship Programme is agreed at a meeting attended by any Akwaaba member who would like to join.
- In the past 12 months our income has tripled as we raised money to support our members during the pandemic. This meant a lot of extra work for our Finance Committee. New members were recruited from within Akwaaba and additional processes were put in place to manage our increased budget.
- Secured a total of £175,000 from 12 grants of between £400 and £52,000
- Raised almost £30k through a crowdfunder set up during the first lockdown and almost £2.5k from our Christmas dinner crowdfunder, and are now working towards a £40k target for our new crowdfunder
- Received over £15,000 from direct donations
- Recruited over 30 new volunteers, many of whom were existing migrant members of Akwaaba
- In addition to lots of smaller inter- and intra-team meetings, organised two volunteer days where volunteers from across all the Akwaaba teams met in a combined outdoor in-person and online Zoom meeting to reflect on and help improve our pandemic response, with over 30 attending in July and over 50 in November
- Provided child care reimbursements to enable Akwaaba parents to volunteer for Akwaaba’s takeaway food sessions on Sunday
- Supported migrant members to become volunteers in different ways. For example, provided help with filling in the volunteer application forms at our Sunday sessions and remotely; covered travel expenses for Sunday sessions for all volunteers who needed it; and contributed towards phone and internet costs and provided access to laptops and tech support for remote volunteering.