Community links: supporting refugees in West Lancs

Lawrence Smye Rumsby works as a caseworker supporting refugees in Skelmersdale. Formerly a primary headteacher, he is officially ‘retired’!  Lawrence also plays a key part in ‘Skem International’, a voluntary group formed of members of the community including refugees. Action for Refugees’ links with local groups ensure we are in touch with refugees placed in our community. This is important to make sure that our work reflects their interests and needs.

Lawrence writes:

I started my caseworker contract officially on 1st August of last year, but had been volunteering in a similar role for over two years. My contract with the Council Voluntary Services (CVS) covers 4.5 hours casework with related admin, each week, but there is always more demand than this. In Skelmersdale, two regular weekly events for refugees, Wednesdays (4-6pm in the Ecumenical Centre) and on Fridays (2.30 to 4.30pm in the library) offer an opportunity for contacting me. Both buildings are very central and easily reached by all asylum seekers and refugees, which is important when most don’t have a car or the funds for public transport. Asylum seekers receive approx £35 per week from the government which has to cover everything except housing.

In the first three months I was employed, I dealt with 166 meetings, with 67 separate refugees, from Iran, Iraq, Nigeria, Angola, Sudanese, Eritrean, Syria, Jamaica, Burundi, Afghanistan, Turky, Libya, Egypt, Russia & Morocco. Most of those coming to these meetings are young men, reflecting the population in Skelmersdale. I work with volunteers from the community in Skelmersdale to provide a range of support, with funding from the Red Cross to help with volunteers’ expenses. 

There are a wide range of issues raised at meetings. Refugees waiting for a decision on their leave to remain might need help with dealing with the Home Office, for example finding a solicitor, accessing benefits or responding to mail. Others might be seeking advice about accessing English language classes or obtaining a translator for a medical appointment. Once a refugee has received leave to remain, they have a month to find new accommodation, so support in setting up a bank account, advice on finding somewhere to live and a job becomes urgent. Other times the role involves simply listening. This is important work and I feel privileged to undertake it, I am learning more as I signpost and help people. 

I started helping when the very first asylum seekers arrived into Skelmersdale in August 2015. My career as a primary headteacher had come to an end and I knew that I wanted to do voluntary work. My wife was working for West Lancs Council for Voluntary Services and the local churches were invited to a welcome party at the Ecumenical Centre. We joined this welcome team and have never looked back. Our connection with the steady stream of asylum seekers and refugees is one motivated by both faith and community involvement.

To find out more about events in Skelmersdale with refugees, follow the group ‘Skem International’ on facebook