How you can help Croydon Refugee Day Centre

By - Wednesday 11th October, 2017

Refugees welcome here: a smile and a helping hand from Croydon to some of the most desperate people on Earth

Croydon Refugee Day Centre Christmas lunch.
Photo author’s own.

Whether your local school sings about fluffy cauliflowers, ploughing fields or that samba song that rhymes vegetable with festival, chances are it’s had a letter from Croydon Refugee Day Centre asking whether it would like to donate its harvest festival goodies.

Those car boot-fulls of baked beans will be meticulously stored in best-before date order in the capacious cupboards of the scruffy but huge halls of West Croydon Baptist Church (you know, that large orange brick building at Hogarth roundabout, where Whitehorse Lane becomes one-way and meets St James’s Road) which hosts the Refugee Day Centre.

The main action is on a Tuesday morning. Each week, fifty to a hundred people from dozens of different countries gather to connect with each other over a cuppa, receive some take-home cooking ingredients (clean jam jars with lids always welcome), a sympathetic listening ear, art and craft (courtesy of Crisis), a freshly cooked dinner, and help with understanding letters, making official phone calls, referrals, sign-posting and other services. Last week a young Bengali woman with a small son started the morning with tears spilling down her cheeks.

You’d be surprised how many single journalists who’ve fled from oppressive regimes find themselves too far down the priority list to get help

Two phone-calls and a conversation later, she was smiling. Her situation hadn’t actually changed, but she now had the information she needed along with a bit of perspective and could work towards accepting her new situation.Tempted yet? Be warned: if you’re staffing the help desk, there’ll be a lot of time spent listening to ‘hold’ music.

Photo author’s own.

There’s an under-5s play area where toddlers from all nations are read to by smiley retired people and learn the universal lessons of sharing and taking turns on the slide. Meanwhile, any adults in need can receive warm clothes, essential toiletries, household items (lidded saucepans are much requested) and baby equipment. (Buggies are always in huge demand!) In one week alone they received eleven requests for new-born prams. It’s busy and full-on; in September 2017 they had seventy-five new registrations, of whom twenty-three were children. Last week all twelve new guests came from twelve different countries!

Those who find themselves utterly destitute can have a shower. (Any clean old towels you’d like to donate?) You’d be surprised how many single journalists from oppressive regimes with a legal right to shelter in the UK find themselves too far down the priority list to merit a bed for the night. Instead, they might receive a sleeping bag from Croydon Refugee Day Centre and unofficially find night-time sanctuary in the church’s carport so they can be verified as officially destitute.

Clients often go on to become volunteers

Many will have walked there with their families from cramped one-room temporary accommodation; some may have been lent a loaded Oyster card to travel from the further emergency hostels. (Oh, did you say you need Oyster cards? Yes please, what a very useful item to donate!) Clients may be asylum seekers, refugees, economic migrants (ssh, clutch your pearls in horror), so-called failed asylum seekers (more gasps of horror), trafficked workers, those desperate to return home, those with definite or indefinite leave to remain or any other category of recent and not-so-recent arrivals to the UK who find themselves in need of a little support.

Clients often go on to become volunteers and the remaining team about thirty each week) comes from a variety of backgrounds, local churches and other faiths or none. This whole set-up has been running steadily for the last twenty years, finding creative ways to keep going whichever way the fickle winds of funding and politics blow. Nowadays, Tesco often donates fresh food with a short date, which makes for a deliciously unpredictable menu – Ben and Jerry’s Lemon Meringue Pie ice cream, anyone? Things have come a long way from the early days of an unexpectedly donated half tonne of potatoes mouldering in a rented garage.

On Monday mornings, donations are sorted and on Wednesday mornings, there are more ESOL (English as a Second Language) classes run by the lovely Rachel and Natasha from Emmanuel church. There’s often a role for DBS-checked crèche helpers. (Have your ears pricked up yet at anything you might like to contribute?)

Children who’ve lived in fear of Da’esh play with others who’ve fled to escape forced marriages

Wednesday school is my part. It’s not a proper, Ofsted-inspectable school, but a family education project. Six-year-olds who’ve spent the last two years and four months in the Calais Jungle decorate gingerbread men, ten-year-olds who’ve been unable to play outside in Mosul for three years for fear of Da’esh crawl around with Brio train tracks and Kurdish girls do Thomas the Tank Engine jigsaws or play that immortal board game ‘Tummy Ache’ with teenage Sikh girls who’ve fled from forced marriage in Kabul. (By the way, we’re currently in need of play-dough stuff and card games to give away: felt tips are strictly not allowed in the hotel bedrooms.) Hyper toddlers who’ve been required to stay silent during tense drives across continents knock down Jenga towers built by seven-year-olds who were kidnapped by the Taliban and quiet children whose stories we’ll never know join in the actions for ‘wheels on the bus’.

It’s intense and exhausting but there are moments of hilarity. Most of all, it’s providing a welcome to refugees who find themselves in Croydon, right on your doorstep.

If you want to find out more about supporting the work of Croydon Refugee Day Centre, click

Rosie Edser

Rosie Edser

Rosie is a member of the team at Croydon Refugee Daycentre. She's a teacher of both adult English learners and (in her day job) children. She relishes the fact that her own offspring have attended a school in Croydon with over forty first languages spoken. She lives in Waddon.

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  • Anne Giles

    What wonderful people! Incidentally, I couldn’t understand the bit about clutching one’s pearls in horror. I think the only person who wears pearls is the Queen and she is not in Croydon!!


    Excellent way to ask for anything that can help these very unfortunate people – will hunt down my ‘spare’ oyster card …..

    • Rosie E

      That’s brilliant, thank you so much :)