Today we’re announcing that our co-founder and Chief Executive, Paul Hutchings, is stepping down from Refugee Support after eight years.
“Prioritising dignity and compassion means that sometimes you have to make difficult decisions,” says Paul. “This work is rewarding yet demanding, and it’s time to step back. I’m incredibly proud of how we’ve managed to help so many people at such a critical time in their lives, and feel very fortunate to have been at the heart of so much positivity at a time when events in the world can seem so bleak. Refugees need support more than ever and the organisation is in a good position to move forward with fresh energy.”
As we say goodbye to Paul, it’s a fitting moment to look back and celebrate everything we’ve achieved since our founding back in 2016.
We started out in Greece at Alexandreia refugee camp, which was home to 800+ people. There, we pioneered a points-based distribution system that prioritised normality, agency and dignity to an anxious group of people with scarce resources. Our offerings there included:
- A free weekly shop for food and hygiene items, and a clothes boutique
- A large warehouse to manage deliveries and sorting
- A community kitchen serving up to 400 people a day with nutritious, culturally appropriate food
- A language school with programme for up to 200 people to learn English, Arabic and Greek
- A cafeteria for people to spend time away from their tents and isoboxes
- An IT suite for people to use computers
- Daily activities for the many kids on camp
- Temporary accommodation for post-partum mothers
- Gas heaters to 80 isoboxes with no heating during a winter (with temperatures of -10 C, this undoubtedly saved lives)
After that, we went on to work in refugee camps right across northern Greece over the next three years at Veria, Filippiada, LM Village, Doliana, Katiskas and Ioannina, where we distributed thousands of items of food and clothing. Overall in Greece, we supported around 4,000 people for about 18 months each and distributed £735k of support.
Cyprus: Since 2019
We arrived in Cyprus in April 2019 and created our first Dignity Centre in the capital of Nicosia, offering a range of services. We fill an important gap in a poorly resourced frontline location, so continue to operate there after nearly five years.
- The Refumade sewing coop, where 80 people were trained to manufacture high-quality bags and aprons that were sold online.
- Language lessons, computer skills classes, CV writing support.
- Bicycle distribution: We provided over 200 bikes to refugees.
- A breakfast club for 75 people a day and food bank for 200 people a week.
- Space for people to have a shower and wash their clothes.
- Post-pandemic, we shifted our focus to food shops and employment support for 300 recent arrivals each week.
- Since 2019, we have helped about 10,000 recent arrivals to Cyprus with food support, employment and vital skills and distributed £700k of support.
Moldova: Since 2022
We went to Moldova in March 2022 to respond to the immediate crisis of millions of Ukrainians fleeing their country, and promptly set up a Dignity Centre that has become a permanent support centre in the capital of Chisinau. Working with a Moldovan organisation that refers people to us, we offer a weekly food and hygiene shop serving over 950 people every week.
- We have served around 25,000 people (many every week) and distributed £620k of support in the last 18 months.
UK: 2021 + 2023
During the pandemic we created a Community Sponsorship group, helping a Sudanese family of six from a Jordan refugee camp to settle in Birmingham, UK. Now, with the UK government creating a hostile environment and neglecting the basic needs of asylum seekers, we are setting a up new project in Dorset to help new arrivals there.
We’ve also provided short-term humanitarian relief in a number of locations across the world:
- In 2017, we went to Bangladesh to support 5,000 Rohingya people, who had crossed from Myanmar, for four months with food and clothing.
- In 2018, we supported a caravan of 400 Central American migrants stuck at the Mexico-US border in Tijuana with a street canteen offering daily hot food for two weeks.
- Earlier in 2023, we distributed hygiene items to over 10,000 people in the worst affected areas of the earthquake in Turkiye.
Behind the scenes
We’re also hugely proud of the organisation we’ve built, and the people who keep it running: Together we’ve:
- Built a team of over 50 regular volunteers and six paid employees: trustees, ambassadors, admin staff, advisors, volunteer recruiters, communications and coordinators.
- Created systems for finances, fundraising, monitoring, impact data, volunteer recruitment and feedback.
- Developed and managed communications for the website, social media channels and our supporters.
- Equipped volunteers and coordinators with training to deliver our support.
- Managed the safeguarding of members and volunteers.
- Built and maintained relationships with the many other actors from small independent groups through to large INGOs like the Red Cross, IRC and UNHCR.
- Worked with groups that supported us with items and funds.
- Overcame the difficult and often obstructive bureaucratic state systems.