Since 2017 Brushstrokes Community Project has become a much-valued partner of Refugee Action’s Good Practice and Partnerships team. Based in Sandwell in the West Midlands, Brushstrokes illustrated how good leadership and an appetite for change can enable projects to move from responding to crises to preventative early action, while retaining their community focus and spirit.
Brushstrokes provide outreach and befriending services alongside information and advice that enables people seeking asylum to negotiate key stages of the asylum process and prevent them falling into crisis. The Frontline Immigration Advice Project (FIAP) at Refugee Action has supported Brushstrokes to re-register with OISC (the Office of the Immigration Services Commissioner) to increase awareness and understanding within the organisation. FIAP are training members of the team to be regulated to Level 1 and give free, high quality immigration advice, increasing their beneficiaries’ access to justice. David, the Project Manager at Brushstrokes, summarised the impact of working with FIAP:
“The ability to access the training for staff and volunteers and the ongoing support of FIAP has been vital as the organisation seeks to develop capacity to provide much needed free immigration advice in our area. Without the opportunity to receive support from FIAP we would have been unable to consider developing our immigration service”.
A core partner on the Asylum Early Action Programme, Brushstrokes are developing preventative ways of working and embedding this learning across the organisation. Refugee Action have supported them through organisational visits, needs assessments, workshops and training to develop their Early Action methods. Brushstrokes have increased their contact with people new to the area; they have visited 73 properties where people seeking asylum are accommodated since October 2018. Outreach is enabling them to reach groups affected by health issues, lack of childcare and geographical distance, and allowing them to plan and foresee problems to engage with people much earlier on in their asylum journey.
More than half of the cases seen in the first few months of 2019 were known to the project because of outreach. Seventy per cent of them did not have legal representation for their asylum claim. Meeting people at their accommodation has built trust, enabled them to understand the type of support they can provide and enabled them to secure legal representation for all individuals. David is confident that without this contact it is likely most of these individuals would be unrepresented in their asylum case. The outreach team spoke with one client to find out how the project has benefitted them
“Brushstrokes has provided me and my children life-saving support… its staff and volunteers are so kind displaying empathy and appreciation, and their support has made me and my children to feel welcome, socially included and not isolated.”
A key component of Brushstrokes’ Early Action work is delivering Asylum Guides, a legal education programme dedicated to supporting people seeking asylum to understand the asylum system and feel more confident throughout their asylum journey. Since July 2018, 22 Asylum Guides have been matched with a client. When asked about the service, 100% of clients would recommend the programme to their friends. While most are still waiting for a decision, five clients supported by a Guide have received a positive decision on their asylum claim. One of the clients introduced to a Guide early on received support to find a solicitor, understand the legal context of their asylum claim, their entitlements and what happens after a decision is made. In their final meeting the client inquired about training to become an Asylum Guide so he too could help others. He summarised the impact of the project in the most honest and illuminating way:
“I hope many people can get the same help in the future. Many people misunderstand the process, so it would be very good for them to have the same support. Thank you again. The project should be announced publicly for more people to access.”
Brushstrokes’ Early Action approach is enabling them to work more closely with beneficiaries; running regular focus groups to develop their understanding of the need for support and information at a much earlier stage. Brushstrokes continues to be instrumental in changing the landscape of asylum support by sharing early action approaches with local and regional policy makers.
The Good Practice and Partnerships team look forward to seeing how our partnerships develop as we collaborate further and seek to shift the sector’s approach to refugee support from crisis to prevention and early action. We are looking for organisations to join us on this Early Action journey as we discover ways to rebalance our efforts towards giving asylum seekers early attention, information, and timely help and to do so in ways designed by them, not just for them. You can register your interest in becoming an Asylum Guide partner today and join us by becoming signatories to the Asylum Early Action Principles.