Celebrating the Refugee Response of North London

Last Autumn at The Bluecoats, Tottenham, was a special occasion for supported housing charity and foster care agency, Phoenix Community Care (PCC). The local charity with a big impact was marking twenty years of caring for some of the world’s most vulnerable young people – unaccompanied asylum-seeking minors and children in care. Friends of PCC, organisations from across Haringey and representatives from global and local charities, gathered to celebrate all that is being done for migrants in North London.

Manager of Supported Housing, Miri Burnett, warmly hosted the event, introducing it as an opportunity to ‘celebrate with purpose’. She took the occasion to thank all of the organisations who have supported PCC over its twenty years.  She chaired a stimulating and hopeful panel, raising awareness of the diversity of achievements from groups working in the field. 

The panel consisted of former asylum seeker and founder of You Vs You, Ahmed Mohammed, Eco-Therapist and head of The Flourish Project, Charlotte Antonio, Red Cross Project Coordinator, Ambra Malandrin, Chief Executive of Migrants Organise, Zrinko Bralo, and Project Manager for Young Migrant Care Leavers in Haringey, Donna Walker. Each gave encouraging reports, alongside harrowing facts, with an emphasis on the message that coming together to offer space or opportunities to refugees can have a life-changing impact. Donna Walker, who has worked for Haringey social services for over 10 years, reminded us that young people can produce ‘powerful hope’ and that it is vital to encourage this current generation and the ones to come to be ‘into humanity’. 

Sri Lankan artist Jeyaseelan Thirukkumaran, performed a vibrant and emotive dance with his accompanying poem, read by Rae Mortimer. His work spoke powerfully through movement and verse about migrant people’s ability to overcome the troubles they face. Kirsty de Poar, an Irish singer-song writing, charmed listeners with beautiful vocals and timely lyrics. Rounding off the performances, was the outstanding jazz singer and spoken word artist DYLEMA, whose delivery of “Why God?” – a poem about gender inequality – shook the room.          

Laura Padoan from the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), outlined the statistics relating to the current humanitarian crisis, stating that there were 70 million refugees worldwide facing hardships on multiple fronts. She spoke about the work the agency is doing to ameliorate the situation for displaced people and ended with a call to arms; ‘we are not powerless; we can make a difference.’          

The co-organiser of the event, and one of the founder members of PCC, Pauline Hawkes also took to the mic – but not without some amusing and emotional interruptions from daughter and head Keyworker, Carla Mayer, who was eager to celebrate the dedication of all of the staff and supporters. Pauline, who was one of the recipients of the 2015 WOMA award, was keen to take the spotlight off of herself, saying that she and PCC are ‘one of the pieces of the puzzle’. ‘We need to celebrate because of all the amazing things that have happened and are happening.’ She also spoke about PCC’s history, where the motivation came from and all the reserves it required to continue in the face of funding cuts and increasing intolerance towards migrants. ‘It’s hard work,’ she said, ‘but it’s a privilege’. 

The event was supported by the Bluecoats Pub, who provided the space and Donut Time, who provided donuts for everyone. Photographs were taken by the Burly Photographer and the event was filmed by Ezra Mortimer.