What does a typical day at West London Welcome look and feel like?
The nature of drop-in centres like ours, where we support the many refugees, asylum seekers and other migrants who visit us each Thursday, mean that a day at our centre can rarely be described as ‘typical’. Those who visit us have usually led, and continue to lead, lives that have been continually disrupted; their long journeys to London and experiences before and within this city have frequently been unpredictable and traumatic. Many – though not all – of our clients are in some stage of the characteristically highly challenging and often exhausting asylum application process, and the quickly changing nature of the immigration system and status of individual cases means that the day-to-day lives and immediate futures of our clients are usually precarious and unclear, making the population of the centre an often transient one. Seeking to provide an antidote to the daily uncertainty experienced by so many of our visitors, our volunteers and clients have been working together to create and develop a recurring schedule for our centre on Thursdays, one that both allows regular visitors to depend on us as teachers of English and providers of good hot food and friendly company, but also caters for those who may only ever stop in once in their lives for some companionship on their journey elsewhere.
Opening our doors at 10am, we start each Thursday with tea, coffee, and many a croissant donated by local coffee shops, while clients and volunteers ease into the day and catch up with each other. We’re very lucky that our centre space, which was donated to us by the Hammersmith Quaker Centre, is a true respite from the city; it’s filled with light, and extraordinarily peaceful.
English classes, catering for all levels, begin at 11am in our main hall or outside in our garden on sunny days. A number of trained teachers work with a wide range of materials and props to engage new speakers of English of all ages, while other volunteers run a makeshift crèche for the children of the centre at the back of the hall. A local writer runs our book group in the centre library for more advanced English speakers and writers, where literature is read and debated. Operating out of a nook on the other side of the library is our busy client-run nail bar.
By 12.30pm, clients and volunteers alike can smell enticing aromas making their way through the building from the kitchen, where our chefs (including Rose Dakuo, a BBC Cook of the Year nominee) are busy cooking everyone one of their renowned meals. Our chefs, who also work at numerous other centres and events around the city including at the fantastic Amnesty International initiative Welcome Cinema + Kitchen, are refugees paid a Living Wage through the centre. Hot lunch changes week to week, but reliably features a variety of spectacular Middle Eastern and African food enjoyed communally, which is often followed by some group singing by the piano. For newcomers, lunch is often the simplest way to meet others living locally and to share experiences, histories, frustrations and laughter.
Between 1.30pm and 4pm, the centre space is made use of in every possible way: arts and crafts, games, IT lessons, and one-to-one English tutoring in the hall; yoga and meditation in the library; gardening in our outside area; advice and signposting to other services in private rooms; football on the green by the riverside. Expenses are given out to those with no recourse to public funds to ensure that travel is covered for all those visiting us.
While no Thursday is the same at West London Welcome – sometimes we’ll even leave the centre entirely for a client and volunteer group trip to Kew Gardens or one of our favourite museums – we work to create a space that reliably offers safety, education, creativity and friendship with as few questions asked of our visitors as possible. For those seeking respite and company in West London, our doors are open for you.
Want to support us? We’re very grateful for any donations you can send us on our Localgiving page here.