Marlow Refugee Action
Marlow Refugee Action is a local group which has harnessed social media to inform the people of Marlow about the refugee crisis and inspire the community to practical, positive action to help refugees.
How it began
Marlow Refugee Action(MRA) began in October 2016. Vanessa Faulkner was moved by the image of Alan Kurdi, a young Syrian boy who drowned on 2nd September 2015 as his family tried to reach Europe. She wanted to do something to help, so initially went to volunteer with the already established charity High Wycombe Helping Others, helping sort donations of aid for shipment to refugees overseas. There she reconnected with another volunteer from Marlow, Tom Doust. Both Vanessa and Tom felt that it would be good to have a group in Marlow.
Together Vanessa and Tom started a Facebook group, Marlow Refugee Action Group, in October 2016. The following day they went on local radio to publicise their initiative. The Facebook group soon gained momentum and over 400 members joined. Vanessa notes that social media enabled this local group to start up in a new way, without the need for committee meetings.
Marlow Refugee Action’s initial focus was on targeted appeals, in conjunction with High Wycombe Helping Others. They contributed to various appeals for clothing, hygiene items, tents, blankets & sleeping bags and other non-food items which went to refugees in Calais, Greece, Lebanon and Syria. They also did a Shoebox4Syria appeal. The group felt that asking people to give things was an easy way to start getting people to engage with the cause. It placed a donation bin in the porch of All Saints Church, Marlow, and organised several ‘Donate and Sort’ events in church halls. These events were even more helpful than the donation bin, as they gave opportunities for good conversations and getting the community involved. One girl who participated, for example, then got her school to do the shoebox appeal.
The group recognised the potential to raise considerable sums locally for refugees. Following Vanessa’s trip to Samos in June 2017 Marlow Refugee Action ran a “Sundowner for Samos” fundraiser in the garden of one of the co-founders and raised £695 for Samos Volunteers, as well as raising people’s awareness of the refugee crisis and the work of their local group. This went on to be an annual event. Other fundraisers have included Imad’s Syrian Kitchen pop-up restaurant meals (£40 ticket which included a £15 donation to MRA), a barn dance, the Marlow5 sponsored run, and a tombola on a stall at Marlow Carnival. By April 2019 the group had raised over £12,000. Having applied for charity status, in October 2018 Marlow Refugee Action finally received confirmation and their Registered Charity Number. This has enabled them to recover Gift Aid on donations and to approach trusts for funding. The group now fundraises for specific projects which have a particular connection with or relevancy to Marlow, and no longer collects and sends donated items to refugees.
One of the first projects supported by Marlow Refugee Action was Samos Volunteers. The group has a personal connection with the refugee camp on the Greek island of Samos, as a relative of one of the founders began as a volunteer there in Summer 2016 and became the co-ordinator for the Samos Volunteers. Visits to Samos by the founders have helped them to understand more about the refugee crisis and share what they learned with others. The overcrowded Samos refugee camp, designed for 650,is now home to over 7,000 refugees, with 5,000 estimated to be sleeping rough outside the camp. Most have been there for many months, unable to move on. Material aid and support with educational and recreational activities, given by Samos Volunteers, are very valuable. Also vital is legal advice, to help refugees navigate the Greek asylum procedure. Since August 2018, Marlow Refugee Action has been funding the Samos Legal Centre. When the coronavirus emergency forced most NGOs to stop work on Samos, the Marlow group sent funds to one still operating, Med’EqualiTeam, providing primary health care to refugees.
Marlow Refugee Action sees an important part of its role as informing the people of Marlow about the global and national situation with regard to refugees and about how they can help. This is particularly important since the refugee crisis has been less frequently in the headlines. To this end they share relevant Facebook posts, send out monthly newsletters by email (with paper copies for those not online), maintain a website, give local radio interviews and speak at local churches and other venues in the community, including assemblies in local primary schools.
In early 2018 Marlow Refugee Action, in conjunction with Churches Together in both Marlow and Maidenhead, organised a successful Lent initiative “Come to Calais”. Volunteers went in small groups, for a few days each, to join community groups providing food and practical aid to refugees living rough in northern France. Since then several groups from Marlow have been to Calais to volunteer, and a young man from Marlow spent 6 months as manager of the warehouse of provisions for refugees there. The group has further supported refugees sleeping rough in northern France by salvaging discarded camping equipment for them.
Partnerships supporting refugees locally
As well as helping displaced families overseas Marlow Refugee Action seeks to welcome and support refugees to the Marlow area. To this end the group has worked in partnership with several other charities locally. It has linked up with Marlow Language Centre to support refugees learning English with scholarships and conversation practice and is working with Refuaid to help refugees into employment. Marlow volunteers have become befrienders, tutors and donors for Wycombe Refugee Partnership. The most recent partnership is with Sanctuary Hosting who were invited to speak at an event in September 2019 – already one guest has been able to be placed with a host in Marlow. This activity had to be suspended during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Involvement of local churches
Whilst Marlow Refugee Action is not a faith-based group, some of the individuals who are part of the group are active members of local churches. The group has been able to work with the Marlow 4U team of churches to help them focus on refugees. During Lent 2019, resources shared by CCOW were used for a number of activities. Refugee Prayer Service Materials developed by Revd Ben Kautzer at St Nicolas Church, Earley, were used at All Saints Marlow as the basis for morning services one Sunday and also for a thought provoking art installation around the themes of Escape, Displacement, Refuge and Peace. Marlow Refugee Action helped organise “Share the Journey”, a walk of solidarity around the team churches stopping along the way to consider and dwell on these topics. Churches Together in Marlow also adopted the USPG material on Migration and Movement (found through the CCOW website resource library) as their chosen Lent Study which was followed in four small groups.
Inspired to do something similar?
If you would like to know more about the work of Marlow Refugee Action, please take a look at their Facebook page and website (https://marlowrefugeeaction.org.uk/), listen to CCOW’s conversation with Vanessa Faulkner recorded in June 2020, or contact email@example.com.
Perhaps you are inspired to set up a similar project in your area? Please have a chat with CCOW’s Churches Refugee Networking Officer, Joanna Schüder – firstname.lastname@example.org 07552948688, who would love to help you. Vanessa Faulkner is also very happy to work with anyone starting a new group, as she recognises the importance of having other groups as role models.