Learning from lived experience through our partner, Refugee Action 

A woman and two men sat together. The woman on the end and the man on the end are both looking at the man in the centre who is explaining something

I visited Refugee Action’s offices in Manchester last month. It was a privilege to meet some of the people who use the service that Refugee Action offer and have been directly impacted by our funding. I was also lucky enough to meet some of the people on the front line of their work with refugees. 

We began funding Refugee Action in response to the Afghan refugee crisis in September 2021, awarding them £250k. At the time, this was our largest ever grant to an organisation. We have since awarded them an additional £250k in funding to continue their work. 

We know that Refugee Action are the experts, so trust them to direct funds where they are needed most. That’s why our funding to them has been unrestricted, in line with our IVAR commitments as an open and trusting grant maker. 

What emerged from our visit was that we haven’t just been supporting the nuts and bolts of their work – we’ve been supporting them to do so much more for those seeking refuge in the UK. 

There’s always hope 

Andy, one of the experts by experience who shared his story on our visit, said something that stuck with me: 

“The most important thing is giving people hope, so that they know tomorrow will be a good day, no matter how bad things get … If you know there is somewhere you can go, it makes you feel like there is going to be hope.” 

Refugee Action can provide the space and expertise for people navigating our asylum system, giving them support and hope.  

Their Pathways to Work employability programme is the first of its kind and provides much-needed stability and support for those who are eligible to work. Most people seeking asylum are not eligible to work, so they also provide training and volunteering opportunities to allow people to develop their skills and make a difference. This highlights the importance of flexible funding and providing partners with the resources they need to launch innovative new projects like this when a need arises.  

Lived experience 

One of the reasons we support Refugee Action is their focus on removing barriers to power for those with lived experience of the asylum and refugee system. For example, 60% of its Board is currently made up of people from a refugee background.  

Seeing the experience of refugees being put front and centre – as well meeting staff and volunteers from refugee backgrounds – really demonstrated why their expertise is so important. They know what is needed to support people seeking asylum in the UK, including, at times, internal cultural knowledge that others might not have access to.  

This has informed my thinking around our own strategy, as we work towards becoming a youth- led funder. We want to work alongside young people to develop the communities they want to see. This can only be done through listening and learning from them, as well as working with them and growing stronger together.  

Creating future communities 

Refugee Action are working towards creating a UK where refugees and people seeking asylum are welcome. One where they will get justice, live free of poverty and can successfully rebuild their lives. They want an asylum system that is anti-racist, workable and welcoming. 

Through their work and collaboration with refugees and asylum seekers, they are delivering on Co-op’s vision of ‘Co-operating for a fairer world’. Even more than this, they are working towards systemic change, so that those seeking safety do not also have to worry about a hostile environment when they get here.  

They’re changing the narrative around the kind of society we can be, and that’s also what we want to do when we talk about building communities of the future together.  

If you want to know more about what our partners are doing and how we’re delivering on our strategy, sign up to our blog. 

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