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Refugees from across the world have come to the North East to create a new life for themselves and their families. Recent government statistics show that the region has the highest number of asylum seekers relative to its population.  However, the systems in place can often prove to make an overwhelming, confusing and sometimes hostile environment for those new to the UK.

Support through shared lived experiences

Purple Rose CIC, which is based in Stockton-on-Tees, offers a range of services for refugees and asylum seekers in the local area, and aims to create a welcoming space for individuals, families and communities who are navigating the asylum system.

Susan Yeama Mansaray founded Purple Rose after her own experience of fleeing her home country of Sierra Leone and seeking refuge in the UK. Susan explained: “Having been a broadcast journalist in my home country, I’ve always fought for people who are vulnerable: making their voices heard. 

“As an asylum seeker myself, I wasn’t initially allowed to work, but I decided that I could still use my skills.”

Providing a vital service

With the support of the regional refugee forum, Susan initially set up Purple Rose primarily as a service to support those affected by FGM (female genital mutilation). However, the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic saw the operation expand to fill gaps left by other organisations as a result of the lockdowns.

Susan explained: “A lot of the local drop-ins at that time were church-led, often led by older people, so during COVID a lot of those shut down completely because the organisers weren’t able to go out and had to isolate. I saw this massive gap where nothing is happening for asylum seekers, no support, nowhere to go, nowhere to socialise.”

In addition to supporting those experiencing food poverty, Purple Rose also offers advice and signposting for refugees and asylum seekers in Stockton and the surrounding areas, giving guidance on issues such as Home Office documentation and opening bank accounts. It also provides a space for meeting others, sharing experiences and socialising.

Susan volunteers her time for Purple Rose alongside her full-time job and is supported by a handful of other volunteers.

A sense of community

At the centre of Purple Rose’s work is the Friday drop-in event at the Newtown Community Resource Centre in Stockton, which sees hundreds of people come along to connect with their community while enjoying a hearty meal – courtesy of Susan herself. “I wake up at 5am to start cooking for 400 people every Friday. It’s making such a massive difference.”

Supported by Poverty Hurts from County Durham Community Foundation last year, the project was able to expand its work with local refugees and asylum seekers as well as providing a valuable community space. Susan explained: “[The Foundation] appreciates what we do – it’s not about just giving us the money. 

“I think that relationship is always going to be there because they make me and the team feel special, because they really care. They really support us in a way that might seem little, but it means a lot to us.”

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