Borderlands (South West) Ltd Annual General Meeting
Held at St Nicholas of Tolentino Church on 24th November 2015
Chair’s speech by Reverend Richard McKay
Firstly, to welcome you all here. ‘Welcome’ is an important word because that is the very purpose and the message of our ‘Borderlands’ charity – to create a place of welcome that values each person, whether member, volunteer, staff or visitor; to offer a different message to the general rhetoric – that our asylum-seeking sisters and brothers are indeed welcome among us, their pain and trauma to be held gently and compassionately, the skills and gifts to be developed and valued. So, everyone – you really are welcome, and always will be!
Secondly, I want to thank you. You are ‘Borderlands’, a family of brothers and sisters journeying together to greater freedom and recognition of each one’s right to a future of safety. You support each other, care for each other, listen to each other, and grow in friendship together. You do not simply come to ‘Borderlands’ or work at ‘Borderlands’ – you create and shape ‘Borderlands’. None of us take you for granted – thank you for all you bring, all you do, and all you are!
Developments over the past 12 months
It has been a period of great growth and expansion. Hilary, our CEO, who was appointed in 2014. Bernard left us to take a new direction in his career and we owe him a great debt of gratitude for pioneering the Drop-in in the early days. Hilary has been joined by Nese as our Volunteer, Drop-in & Fundraising Manager. Together they are a great team and have developed funding streams (creating a secure future for the charity’s work), increasing the number of volunteers and providing training, support and co-ordination. Our pool of volunteers has been enlarged significantly – thank you, Hilary and Nese. Not only has the provision of English classes increased, but computer skills and Maths classes are now offered as well as arts & crafts. Monday is now a full day as well as the Tuesday. We look forward to providing more opportunities in the coming years.
Legal support is offered at the Drop-in by Albany Solicitors, and local MPs have held occasional surgeries here. The medical staff of the Haven are regular visitors caring about health issues, and the Red Cross and Refugee Action are valued partners. Crisis Centre Ministries are hugely supportive with helping us with food for cooking our Tuesday delicious meals! We have monthly food distribution from our own ‘food bank’ – thanks to the communities and organisations who donate. We must also mention in particular the support by ‘Pret a Manger’ who supply not only Monday’s sandwich lunch, but assisted greatly in refurbishing our new kitchen.
And of course the quiet work of advocacy, personal support through UK’s abusive asylum system, campaigning, letter writing etc. continues behind the scenes but is a vital aspect of our charity.
We so value our collaborative relationships with Bristol City of Sanctuary, Bristol Refugee Rights, Refugee Action, Bristol Hospitality Network, Unseen UK, Churches Housing Aid Society, and Crisis Centre Ministries. And of course with St Nick’s parish community whose premises we use and upon whose pioneering work and on-going support has built this charity.
We long for the day when there will be no need for ‘Borderlands’: the day when the rights and character of each person will be recognised, the day when there will be no strangers, just friends getting to know each other. Sadly that day is a very long way off! Meanwhile there 60 million refugees world-wide! 500,000 seeking acceptance in Europe. An estimated 40,000 have drowned in the Mediterranean, 3,500 this year alone. There are perhaps 4,000 migrants trapped in the Calais region, denied any kind of decent human existence. And while legal means of entry are denied and borders closed, then the tragedy and evil of human trafficking will go on increasing.
With the atrocities in Paris and Mali, the fears in Brussels and the brutality of Isis (Daish), the cruel madness of a tiny few people is further prejudicing the right to sanctuary of so many – as the asylum-seeking and refugee community come under further suspicion. How quickly the sympathy generated by the tragic death of the small boy on a Turkish beach has dissipated! Our challenge is to continue to speak out, continue to enable the voices of the pain of asylum seekers to be heard and their rights to safe sanctuary to be recognised. And as government policy admits just a few Syrian refugees into this country the plight and poverty of those already here who are destitute, homeless and despairing is ignored, and legislation is becoming even harsher towards them!
Campaigning and Awareness Raising
And so the work of campaigning becomes all the more important. Thankfully we have eloquent members to speak out to groups, schools, colleges, faith communities and Parliament. This is not simply about fundraising, it is about social change, conversion of minds and hearts. Trustees, staff, volunteers and members have all participated in crucial and essential campaigning and awareness-raising activities. We must continue shattering the myths about asylum and immigration and educating the younger generations about the plight of asylum seekers who are condemned to live for years with fear, uncertainty and poverty on the margins of our society.
The work of Borderlands consolidation has been secured – we need to continue to expand our vision and our work. We seek to provide more opportunities for our members to improve their skills and be ready for employment; we intend to make more effective and extensive use of the premises provided by St Nick’s Church and the Assisi Centre. We will play our part in helping the incoming Syrian Refugees to find healing, hope and settle well among us without for a moment lessening our commitment to all those already here whose rights are being denied. We seek to address the issue of homelessness among our refugee and asylum community in this city, co-operating with BHN (Bristol Hospitality Network), and increase staffing levels to enable an increase of work and opportunity. We are an ambitious charity – ambitious to relieve the plight, lessen the pain and increase hope.
I have ended my Chair ’s Report for the last two years by saying that this is God’s work and it will succeed … This past year has only deepened my conviction and faith that this is so. Borderlands charity is now acknowledged as a key player in the Bristol area with a unique reputation and ethos. Again I thank all of you for being part of Borderlands, all of you for helping to transform exclusion into belonging for so many. And above all I thank God, who is great and merciful, for the privilege of being part of the work of Borderlands Charity reaching out to the poor and marginalised and challenging the injustice of poverty and our asylum system.