By Kimberly Lopez
Hundreds of balloons filled the Norfolk skies to reflect on how ‘Room to Heal’; a London based healing community for refugees and asylum seekers, has helped them to voice their thoughts and hopes for the future.
The aim of Room to Heal’s services are to enable clients to heal from their traumatic experiences, regain confidence, build new relationships, find renewed meaning in life and to give them support to get their papers to enable them to start a fresh new life in the UK.
Room to Heal was founded in 2007 by director, Mark Fish. It was working with torture victims that helped Mark to realise that asylum seekers didn’t get as much support as they required and this motivated him to set up Room to Heal. He wanted the service to not just support asylum seekers through their most difficult times, but to build a community where they could rebuild their lives in a safe environment.
Chloe Davies, Room to Heals community manager, who also works as one of their counsellors and group facilitators shared her insight into what her work involves and plans for the future.
She explains that: “Quite often people arrive in the UK and they don’t know how to get a lawyer. So many people are homeless or imprisoned by immigration and are often treated really badly.”
Chloe meets up with her clients, to try and build a relationship, get them to regain trust and feel safe. Most of her clients speak English but on the occasion where they can’t she refers them onto different organisations who can help them communicate.
She said: “We normally have English lessons in groups to train people to improve their English enough to communicate well with others. We try to help on every level for things like housing and getting people a lawyer. This is how we mainly build trust with our clients.
Room to Heal has a beautiful garden, Culpeper in Angel where they grow vegetables together, play music and take turns cooking. It’s a place where clients can go to ‘relax and rebuild their confidence.’
“We also have therapy groups which are more structured, where we go into personal conversations in more depth and people really share their pain and what they’re really going through in life. The gardening and activities we do is to help them to know that life is worth living,” Chloe reveals.
When asked how the organisation helps clients with financial issues, Chloe said: “We’re a charity so we don’t charge our clients for anything. We pay for our clients’ travel to arrive and depart because most of the people we get live on £33 pounds a week as a voucher. We arrange meetings inside and outside of the office. It is amazing because the people who we help to get their papers, are usually so grateful for the work we have done with them, that they come back to us to donate money .”
Living in today’s society in the UK as an immigrant is very challenging. Chloe said: “It’s mentally frustrating and it makes me very upset the way we treat asylum seekers in this country. Especially when you’re talking to someone and they tell you that they have been gang raped because of their sexuality, their family have disowned them and they have nowhere to go when they arrive in the UK.”
“Immigration treat them as if they’re lying. It’s a real fight to prove that you’re telling the truth, so that side of it makes me feel sick. We treat people like animals and all we ever talk about is human rights.”
Chloe described one experience with a client. She said: “One of our clients did not trust men, because of how she was treated in her country. We basically had to rebuild that trust. We recently went on a trip where she fell over. One of our male clients helped her up, so slowly she was able see that not all men are bad.
“She was recently given right to remain in the UK and is now rebuilding her life, this makes me really happy knowing we make a difference in people’s lives.”
Room to Heal is now looking forward to working with theatre company, Ice and Fire, to dramatise stories of how they’ve helped clients to get their immigration papers to stay in the UK, improve their communication skills and rebuild their lives.
Visit the Room to Heal website to sponsor their campaign against the government legal aid and benefits cuts and to find out more about the important work they do.