NJPN Open Networking Day ‘Journeys on the Margins’

The Open Networking Day took place on Saturday 14 September 2019 at All Saints School, York

Margo Uprichard from ‘The Space Project’ in Glasgow:  spoke of working with European Roma Migrants

Margot gave us a brief history of the Roma people and also discussed the Ministry of presence – for us to be present in respect of the struggles they face as minority people largely excluded from the main institutions and see what you can do. 

As a group, after 18 months they put together a strategy, based on the needs of the people they support.

Govanhill is one of the most multicultural districts in Scotland, with a population of up to 14,000 people, however, suicide rates are above the Scottish average.  Govanhill is also one of the poorest areas in Scotland. 

Margot explained that the Roma have their origins in India and that they are not a homogeneous group of people.  Indeed, there is a lot of tension between diverse Roma groups.  There can be factions and tensions amongst the different tribes with different groups speaking different Romani dialects.  There are about 4500 Roma in Glasgow. Romani is largely passed down by means of oral tradition and was first written during the 16th century, when word lists were produced by non-Romani scholars such as Andrew Borde.

 In Romania the legal age of marriage is 14 years old, with reports of a girl as young as 12 being married by arrangement.  Margot herself was raised in Parkhead which reminds her of what it was like when she grew up with regards to the size, of families, levels of illiteracy and other social challenges faced by the Roma people.  The Roma have a high degree of illiteracy, generational illiteracy is the norm.  As recent as 150 years ago, they were still being traded as slaves; whoever owned the land owned the Roma and in the present day, the exploitation of Roma by landlords continues, with some also under their patronage and working up to 100 hours per week, thereby causing problems with their tax declarations and consequently their immigration status.   

Their ‘Louise Project’ is about meeting a person where they are; from there you can empower them. “ If a man is hungry, you teach him to fish” There is a need to look at the systems and structures in society and look into changing them

They would like Christ to be seen in everyone who walks through their door, which can be a challenge.  Their main contact is usually with women and by this the family life is transformed. They carry out home visits – allowing them, among other things, to assess levels of poverty and family dynamics.  Everything is about relationships based on trust.    Margot gave a specific account about one woman who had 10 children who attended the foodbank after the tickets had all gone – she said she had nothing; said she will go to farm-foods to steal henceforth but Margot had arranged to tide them over so that there was no need for her to steal.

The hope is to provide a space for someone to be vulnerable and authentic and   connecting them more closely to society and institutions. 

Building better futures – personal growth and personal skills.

It took them 8 months to get some of their clients to believe that they could read and write.    20 weeks later no one could sign their name; after this the basics were accomplished. After getting the children to go to school the challenge has been to keep them at school to encourage personal growth – getting people to aspire.  There is an understandable degree of ignorance in relation to general knowledge. 

There is an information and a knowledge vacuum among the Roma people- all they know is what they have been told and communicated anecdotally by those around them which may be erroneous; they become polarised from society; however, they know how to survive. 

They provide coping skills for greater integration.   The children have provided positive feedback about being liberated. 

They are also providing supported employment opportunities and are looking at local restaurants, aromatherapy and small business ideas.   Organisation, numeracy and motor-skills are needed to prepare some to be employable in cottage industries. 

Strangers to neighbours & Community Voices help to build social cohesion.  Looking to identify potential leaders (building for social justice – another potential programme).

Barbara Hungin from Justice First spoke about her work with refugees/asylum seekers

Fear of the other is often stoked in the media– hatred is manufactured.  Headlines mislead and misinform.  The government itself lives in fear of the consequences of their collective decisions.  Those who seek asylum also live in fear.  There exists a whole cycle of fear. 

Justice first started in 2006 in Middlesbrough, they have  4 Office based members of staff – paid part time including 1 caseworker and1 fundraiser getting involved in the legal process to facilitate fresh claims and appeals.  They encourage / help people to re-engage with the legal system. 

In Teesside there are a number of organisations which work together on similar themes.  Barbara explained the UK Asylum process – Arrival in the UK, Screening interview, Full asylum interview, initial decision, then granted or refused leave to remain.   It is at this point where Justice First intercede if their application for leave to remain by the Home Office has been refused.  People who approach Justice First feel that they have not had a decent opportunity to submit their case. 

They are supported by the Lloyds Foundation.  It has been interesting how money has ‘just appeared’ from different sources. 

They have a Main client day on a Thursday where people feel welcome.    Other organisations come to help them on the Thursday.  They assess whether there is a chance of success.  Assisted Voluntary Return (for people who have not got a chance of winning a case).    Most of the feedback they get relates to levels of fear and anxiety and how Justice First have helped.

Barbara gave a couple of case studies. 

  1. Helped one person to gain support while his case was being decided upon.

Pro-bono help received from a solicitor one day per a week.  Assisted with this particular case.  The case took over 2 years for a Home Office case and a successful Judge led decision. 

  1. Several submissions were made for asylum. Had dealings with the councillor.    Justice First sent letters to the Home Office on his behalf; have put the council in touch with the local MP. 

There is a lot of resources, time and money, wasted in the bureaucracy.  The worst thing is not being believed. 

They rely heavily on volunteers.    They have a programme of awareness secessions. 

During refugee week they have a 5 a side football tournament.  For one day of their lives they can forget they are asylum seekers.  The police of Middlesbrough offer funds to support their projects. 


Is it any good writing letters / lobbying for asylum seekers? The answer given was yes, at times it can work unless it is last minute. 

Introducing clients to their MP with Justice First in attendance can help gain the MPs which can make a difference. 

Following the lunch break there was a facilitated discussion led by our speakers

1. Who is blind  Bartimaeus?

We discussed the idea of blindness, who and how blindness can be a choice and also sometimes we can be near sighted or blinkered so as not to notice our needful neighbours.   The recognitions of colours associated with learning to recognise things we are otherwise blind or ignorant to.

On occasions some of the barriers are just uncomfortable barriers – just needing us to do something.  Being accessible to people and different types of poverty; it matters to that individual.  We should dare to be courageous and in everything, relationship is crucial.

  1. Who can we make relationships with – who are our allies ?

Institutions contain people who share our values.  It has worked with Durham CC – where seminars are held on the morning of full council meetings.  A social justice speaker would be invited to speak in addition to members of the public and other councillors; the Seminarians feedback and report.  This helps identify our allies.  Allies are in the places of influence.  We can use allies to get things on the agenda, in this instance the Council agenda. 

We were urges to use as many contacts as possible  regardless of the institutions.  Allies can be found in unexpected places.  We all have social capital which can be utilised.  Use reputation. 

We should be looking at the make-up of some of the MPs which could be sympathetic to social justice and look to make them parliamentary champions. 

Churches do work quite well together. Use the Catholic network. We also need to get out beyond the Catholic community all doing similar work – there are too many agencies doing similar things.   We need to become one strong voice, to use grassroots groups and people of all traditions, of all faiths and none. Exchanging news and stories in churches and individuals within the churches can be a powerful tool.     We are not listening sufficiently to the needs of people and need to become more organised to support vulnerable people.  Bartimeaus had the advantage of being known – many people in my rural area to not have the advantage of being recognised.

 It can take time to build trust with those who feel invisible but forming relationships with people can go a long way in addressing to those who are overlooked in communities and sometimes it doesn’t take much to turn a life around by just being there.  

Blindness can be people being ignored.  We are not making our voices heard and advocating enough to address the underlying causes of social ills

The next Open Networking Day will take place at CAFOD – Saturday 16  November.