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Acting quickly and funding flexibly to support Refugee Action

In September 2021, we committed our largest single grant to date to help Refugee Action respond to the Afghan refugee crisis.  

£250,000 was awarded within days of liaising with the team. We were led by our IVAR principles of flexible funding and proud to stand out as part of the Co-op’s own efforts to tackle the crisis.  

Our grant would go on to fund immediate support for newly-arrived Afghan refugees fleeing the Taliban, longer-term support services and the promotion of Refugee Action’s own lived experience project.  

Lou, Head of Services and Safeguarding at Refugee Action, remembers how she felt meeting Afghan evacuees as they arrived at Birmingham airport. She said: “You could see that some people were feeling every moment of their trauma. [We understand] it’s going to take [them] a long time to recover and they’ll need all of our kindness and all of our help. 

“It was amazing getting this level of support from the Co-op Foundation. It has gone on to become a very comfortable partnership in terms of our values and aspirations. We draw strength and resilience from their support.” 

Watch more about what this funding means to Lou and the team: 

The Afghan refugee crisis 

The situation in Afghanistan in August and September 2021 was perilous and fast-changing. People were fleeing, as lives and rights were under threat. Those who reached the UK usually arrived with no more than a few possessions, sometimes just the clothes on their backs. They were traumatised and, in many cases, unable to speak English.  

Refugee Action had the expertise and ready-made collaborative networks to help them, and we wanted to enable this work as part of our ongoing efforts to tackle inequality in communities. 

Following our grant, we deferred to Refugee Action’s expertise in the field and empowered them to do what mattered most. This enabled them to provide emergency services for Afghan refugees as they arrived in airports and hotels without cutting back on its other core services. 

Lou said: “Without the funding from the Co-op Foundation, we would have lost services. We would have been reducing things like campaigning, which we didn’t want to do at a time when our services were needed more than ever.” 

Unrestricted funding 

The funding we awarded Refugee Action was unrestricted, which meant it could be spent where their team felt it would make the most impact.  

It also meant we could contribute towards Refugee Action’s wider goals, allowing them to create a new senior leadership role to shift power and focus to those with lived experience of the refugee system. 

As a result of our funding, two ‘Experts by Experience’ network members recently joined the Refugee Action Board of Trustees. 60% of its Board is now made up of people from a refugee background. This is a massive step forward in Refugee Action’s long-term commitment to shift power to people with lived experience. 

Lou said: “The Co-op Foundation saw us as the experts. They asked us what we needed and they helped us to help others. We used funding to develop our family services, so families could support each other and build a new sense of community and belonging. 

“It has also helped us on our journey ensuring that refugee voices and experiences are amplified through everything we do. There’s no way we could have done this without those funds.” 

We have also been able to work more closely with Co-op to enable Refugee Action to publicise   volunteering opportunities on Co-operate. This is Co-op’s online community centre, which helps people in local communities come together to make good things happen, including volunteering. 

Read this guest blog from Harbi Jama and Ali Noyce at Refugee Action to find out more about how the rest of our funds are being used.  

What we learned 

Our support for Refugee Action involved a new way of working for the Co-op Foundation. We acted with urgency to be a more responsive funder and provided a fully flexible grant to enable immediate and long-term impact.

Louise Snelders, our Head of Funding and Partnerships, says: “The humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan unfolded before our eyes in summer 2021, and the situation changed day to day. We knew we had to act quickly. Our commitment to being a flexible funder meant we could respond swiftly and without lots of onerous paperwork. It also helped Refugee Action to direct funds where they were most needed.  

“We had to work through logistical issues, seeking a decision outside of our usual Board meeting cycle, and work at speed that was not without its challenges. However, knowing we were supporting those who were fleeing persecution made all the difference.” 

Keep reading 

This story was written as part of our 2021 digital Impact Report. Read more stories from this report, sign up to our blog to find out first about future funding or donate here to help us continue to build fairer and more co-operative communities. 

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