“There is no them. There is only us.” Derbyshire Refugee Solidarity

News | Solidarity

Steve Cooke, who is Chair and Premises Manager, explains the group’s origin as follows. ‘We were collecting donated clothes, toiletries, tents, sleeping bags and food. When we had enough we would borrow a van and deliver it to the refugee charities in Calais and Dunkirk.’ They still collect donations for Calais but Derbyshire Refugee Solidarity has now grown into a giant of radical solidarity in the community of Derby and its surrounding areas. They host an eclectic mix of popular activities and events with people seeking asylum, based on the ethos of mutual-aid and self-help. 

At Right to Remain, we are always eager to seek out grassroots groups who are active in the migration justice field, and amplify their whys and hows. Derbyshire Refugee Solidarity caught our attention when we stumbled upon their photos of packed halls with people seeking asylum deeply engrossed in what looks like debates. Their website and Facebook pages are full of amazing photos showcasing their lively work – it’s definitely worth having a look. 

A nice surprise for us was that they turned out to be one of our long-term Toolkit users – we just didn’t know. There are so many groups out there whom we haven’t met who are using the Toolkit, and we’d love to connect with more such groups in the future: get in touch, you know where we are. 

We were told that things really started to take off after the group’s move into a new venue in 2018, a lovely church hall in the centre of Derby. One of the many amazing features about Derbyshire Refugee Solidarity is that over a half of their volunteers are from the refugee and asylum seeker communities. How does it work?

Julie James, Secretary and Volunteer Coordinator, said:

‘We now have between 100 and 150 volunteers every Thursday and Saturday, most of themasylum seekers. They bring friends, people newly arrived at their hotels; some are referred by other services and other charities; some come from other towns such as Long Eaton, Burton and Kegworth to access English classes, bikes and other things.’

‘Because our motto is that lovely quote, “There is no them. There is only us,” we feel it is vital to our philosophy and practice that we are all equal. Everyone helps with everything. We encourage asylum seekers to take on positions of responsibility as soon as they show interest in doing so – and sometimes before! Asylum seekers run our storeroom, help organise sorting sessions, help run our allotment, design many of our flyers and we have an asylum seeker in the Trustee team. This invariably leads them to feel more confident in taking on more responsibilities and now, many volunteer in local charity shops and for other organisations.’ 

As well as being the powerhouse of solidarity which projects its positive energy outwards, Derbyshire Refugee Solidarity is also a place of care and listening, and the place that holds people’s struggle. 

Julie added ‘Our lows will always include when we hear about another ship sinking, another cruel Government policy being announced, another war or conflict occurring…. when we hear that one of our longer term volunteers is being moved somewhere totally unsuitable for asylum seekers….. We have also lost one of our much loved British volunteers who died suddenly a couple of years ago. This year already, we have heard of the suicides of four asylum seekers in hotels nearby, which is too hard to bear.’ Along with the difficulties, there are also shared joys of the volunteers finally getting their refugee status and receiving other good news. 

And Steve feels that more radical solidarity is possible. ‘Derby is a multicultural city with many different groups of people from around the world. It’s generally very welcoming but we still find we’re in a bubble of people who are like minded. We don’t really reach the majority of people, even here in Derby, who would be more responsive and compassionate if they understood the situation in so many other countries and didn’t just get their view of the world from the Mail, Express and Sun newspapers.’ Right to Remain is convinced that direct relationships are the best medium for communication, as they cannot be interfered with or manipulated by powerful media platforms or by some politicians. And all the relationships that groups such as Derbyshire Refugee Solidarity are holding are the basis of any positive possibilities.  

Julie gave us a wonderful example of solidarity. She said ‘Solidarity looks like a Derbyshire Refugee Solidarity chain….where we make a chain of volunteers to fill a van going to Calais etc. All different people, different ages, nationalities, all working together towards a common goal.’

While Steve and Julie are expert guides to the world of Derbyshire Refugee Solidarity, it is their volunteers who give definitive answers to the question of ‘Who is Derbyshire Refugee Solidarity?’

‘Derbyshire Refugee Solidarity is not only an organization that helps asylum seekers in the UK. This is the house in which you are always welcome and ready to help. She replaced for this period of time my family, which remained in my homeland. Here I met people with amazing mental beauty, for whom human compassion, willingness to help is not an empty phrase, but a way of life. I would like to say a huge, human thanks to all the Derbyshire Refugee Solidarity members for that invaluable help and support. If not for you, then my life would be dull and grey’. Aslan – Chechnya

‘My name is Zakaria (Zak) also known as President Zak. I have been volunteering at Derbyshire Refugee Solidarity since 2016 in June. I remember my first day to volunteer at Derbyshire Refugee Solidarity I said “waooo” I was looking place like this because of people soo good, friendly, good heart all, and I had shortage of clothes. So far at Derbyshire Refugee Solidarity I am sorting supervisor, trustee and I am premises building manager. In life, you never get anywhere alone. I am excited to continue this endless pursuit of life with amazing people at Derbyshire Refugee Solidarity.’ President Zak

‘So glad to write about Derbyshire Refugee Solidarity. Derbyshire Refugee Solidarity is such great support and home for all of us. Derbyshire Refugee Solidarity is a welcoming place withmany kind and friendly staff and volunteers. I have so much love and respect for all of them.’ Omid – Iran

You can support the work of Derbyshire Refugee Solidarity here https://www.justgiving.com/derbyshirerefugeesolidarity

You can also follow their work on Twitter and Facebook

(All photos are courtesy of Derbyshire Refugee Solidarity)

This blog is part of In search of radical solidarity series. – Right to Remain aspires to be the lead cheerleader for radical solidarity, sparkles of connections that lead to powerful action. Many small grassroots groups who make up our hub – they use our Toolkit, come to our workshops, ask us questions, discuss with us their campaigns, as well as share angers, frustrations and sorrows – they are all embodiments of such radical solidarity. They gift Right to Remain and all of us much needed energy to go on. They are our North Star. This occasional series is an attempt to scatter the seeds of that radical solidarity – because we need to multiply it everywhere.