2019 AGM Roundup
by Nicola Santamaria, Women’s Group Coordinator
The 2019 Annual General Meeting was, as always, both interesting and enjoyable.
The meeting began with the formal proceedings; all of the charity’s trustees and committee members were re-elected and two important revisions to the constitution were approved. One of the amendments extended our remit from supporting those granted refugee status or seeking asylum (and their dependents), to include those who are in the process of applying for leave to remain in the UK. The other change was to push back the date on which the AGM is held in future to allow more time to finalise the charity’s accounts.
This official part of the AGM concluded with a presentation of the 2018 accounts from Treasurer Paul Shaw. Paul was pleased to report that our examiner had given the 2018 finances a clean bill of health, but also highlighted the need to continue to grow our annual income, as expenditure was slightly greater than income during the year. This was a result of an increased number of clients needing financial help with their applications and other needs. So in 2019, new income streams are being pursued to generate additional funds, primarily from grant applications and a renewed focus on fundraising.
We also heard that due to the closure of the BT MyDonate platform, the charity is moving to Virgin Money Giving for facilitating online donations.
Forging new friendships
Before the main speaker, we heard from young people from two different families the Partnership has been working with. The youngsters spoke eloquently, answering several questions posed to them by their befrienders John Shaw and Mary Coleman.
It was clear that these teenagers were highly engaged with their education but also liked to have a good time outside of school. They talked animatedly about WTRRP-organised outings to Lee Valley White Water Centre last summer (everyone’s favourite trip so far!) and forging new friendships at charity parties.
The Lightless Sky
Next, we heard from our guest speaker, Gulwali Passarlay, campaigner and author of The Lightless Sky, who described his experiences as a child refugee travelling from Afghanistan to the UK. He talked candidly about the difficulties he had faced, from making the life-threatening journey across the Mediterranean, to living in the Calais Jungle. His personal account of being a child refugee gave an insight on how thousands of other refugees are treated and the challenges they have faced.
You really need to read the book for the whole story, but hearing from the author in person was even more inspiring and we had the chance to ask questions afterwards.
I observed that during his long journey (it took a year to get to the UK), Gulwali encountered many people who could not be trusted and so I asked whether this has made it harder for him to know who he can trust now. He replied that he is still a very trusting person and that he remembers those on his journey who were kind and could be relied upon, saying ‘the system did not value me but these people did’. I personally found this encouraging, as it somehow endorsed the work we do. We try to show our clients that, in spite of the hostility they may have experienced, there are people who are on their side.
Gulwali was a hard act to follow, but after his talk I spoke briefly about the work of the Women’s Group which has recently had a renaissance following the recruitment of a new and highly talented volunteer, Hendrike. Hendrike works for the Breslaff Centre, a small refugee support charity in London, and has helped us publicise our meetings and led popular workshops on fabric painting and jewellery making.
Our meetings take place from 10.00 to 12.00 in St Mary’s Church Hall, Watford, normally on the second Saturday of the month. It is vital to have plenty of helpers at these meetings so that we can properly entertain the children while their mothers participate in the activities on offer. If you would like more information about the Women’s Group please do get in touch.
Our AGM is a natural time to say thank you to our volunteers, supporters, donors and partners who enable us to keep the charity running. It was therefore fitting that we heard from Emily Janes
from the Watford Quakers who talked about the strong bonds between our organisations. This gave the opportunity to publicly thank the Quakers for the many occasions on which they readily share their time and resources to support us.
In his talk on the drop-in centre, Paul Tucker thanked Salma Khan from Pickup and Scott Solicitors in Aylesbury, who provides us with crucial legal support and recently helped train volunteers on immigration issues.
Finally, our examiner Philip Bond stepped down at the AGM after many years of being associated with the charity and was justifiably praised for his valued contribution.
Impressions of the AGM
My family and I have been clients of Watford and Three Rivers Refugee Partnership for two years now. We are all stunned and very grateful for the tremendous amount of time, effort and commitment volunteers have spent helping our family and others like us.
The partnership has provided us with many opportunities to ask for advice on legal matters, build relationships with others who are going through similar experiences as us or just allowing us to talk to people.
After attending the AGM alongside my younger brother and sister, I felt a greater appreciation and gratitude towards each and every volunteer. The kind and open atmosphere of the meeting allowed us to immediately feel comfortable and we felt that we could talk openly. I was particularly interested in how WTRRP had helped refugees from befriending through to organising the Women’s Group and parties.
The work of volunteers has changed my life for the better and I’ve become inspired to start volunteering for WTRRP myself. It will enable me to give back to the organisation that has helped my family greatly and help new clients as other volunteers have helped me.
Fatima, WTRRP Client