"A person who thinks only about building walls…and not building bridges is not Christian."
Pope Francis, February 2016
John Dowling, Project Manager at the Hexham & Newcastle Justice and Peace Refugee Project at the Newcastle Deaf Centre in Summerhill Square, writes about the Project:
"We have now been operating for nineteen years. From the outset our aim has been to welcome and care for people from all over the world who arrive on our doorstep seeking asylum. We have always tried to respond to the evolving needs of our clients."
Back in 2001 the project started with just one drop–in at St. Joseph’s in Benwell, opening for two hours each week. Before long this had grown to five similar drop–ins, at various venues, across the Catholic Diocese of Hexham and Newcastle.
Eighteen years on, the project has changed. It is now based at the Newcastle Deaf Centre, in Summerhill Square, just off Westgate Road. It is open for clients between 11.00am and 1.45pm every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. It helps asylum seekers by giving them a bag of eight essential food items every week. A limited range of clothes, shoes, household items and bedding are also made available. Asylum seekers who have been refused leave to stay are also given £25 per month. This is necessary because, once leave to stay has been refused, they lose their homes and also all Government funding. They are effectively made destitute.
Demand is increasing every year. When the project began, it assisted about 100 people. The number of active clients has recently been calculated as being just almost six times that number. This is not the result of increased numbers of refugees coming to the UK. In fact, the numbers arriving in this country have fallen considerably in recent years. Rather it reflects a change of Government policy in 2012, which saw the contracts for housing asylum seekers (a legal requirement when their claim to asylum is being assessed) privatised. These contracts, and the reduced money provided to execute them, inevitably meant that companies sought to procure cheap housing in relatively poor parts of the country. Newcastle is not alone in this. An analysis published in the Guardian newspaper in April 2017 found that more than five times as many destitute asylum seekers live in the poorest third of the country as in the richest third.
The food for the project comes mainly from the generosity of over 60 parishes and schools in the diocese. Money is also donated by priests, parishes, Justice & Peace groups, charities, schools and individuals and this goes into a Destitute Asylum Seekers Fund. However, the resources of the project are now being stretched. We no longer receive enough money or food to meet our commitments.
The project is staffed almost entirely by volunteers. There are currently about 50 such people working with the project. It is estimated that they handed out over 18,000 food bags in 2019. This means that over 140,000 individual food items were packed.
In addition, we also now provide English language classes three days a week.
For more information, how to send in donations and details of how you can volunteer to help at the project, please tel: 07427 837813.