Reflections from John Shaw

Some reflections from retiring Committee member John Shaw ……’I seem to remember…….’

I first heard about the Refugee Partnership (then Project) about ten years ago. I was giving a lift home to an elderly lady.She told me that she had heard (a rumour?) about a refugee woman giving birth in Cassiobury Park;  and she mentioned  `a wonderful man` called Lawrie Coe who was trying to raise awareness locally about the plight of refugees in our midst and the urgent need to help them. I felt challenged by what she described, pursued the matter separately and ended up joining as Membership Secretary.  There was only a handful of clients at that time, and despite our best efforts coupled with Lawrie Coe’s boundless energy, there were many (albeit often fruitless) attempts at complaining about the short comings of social services on behalf of our clients.

WTRRP has always been blessed with the timely arrival of committed volunteers who take up the baton of the demanding workload just as their predecessors feel obliged to call it a day often through advancing years or moving on or away.   Joy Hobbs who will be known to many (all?) of you, ‘saved the day’ when Lawrie Coe stepped down.  Her wide ranging Health Visitor experience and contacts together with her deep faith and compassion for those in need has immeasurably enriched the organisation, whilst attracting additional clients and volunteers.   Joy and her husband (and more recently Mick and Jeanette Hayter) took charge of providing food parcels, until in 2015, when the sheer size of the storage and packing process required the practical operation to move to use the Foodbank resources.

Another significant tipping point occurred with the establishment of our drop-in centre at St. John`s, Sutton Road.  No special research or piloting was done, we just did it, thanks to the effective guidance of Guy Buckler.  When no clients came at all in the first few weeks, we wondered if we had made a foolish mistake. But we stuck at it and gradually the word spread and clients (old and new) began to drop by and the rest is history. Soon after, Andrea Hudson and Marie-Jo Churchill (also our indefatigable volunteer co-ordinator) initiated our ESOL classes to run alongside the drop-in centre and these classes (beginners, literacy and intermediate) are now increasingly popular and well attended.

There is an increasing onus on trustees to ensure a robust system of self governance and better procedures for recruiting volunteers through to the development of policies around confidentiality and safeguarding.   Tim Whittaker and Dorothy Knightley our current Chairman and Secretary respectively with input from myself played a key role in the development and production in 2015 of the Volunteer’s Handbook to ensure we had robust practices in place as well as realising our registration with the Charity Commission


A more recent impact has come as a result of the terrible conflict in Syria and the Middle East and the plight of desperate families fleeing from warfare, seeking safety and a more settled way of life. These horrors touched a nerve among many people locally and many began to volunteer for the Partnership in extraordinary but welcome numbers. The upshot is that we now have an unprecedented number of talented and committed volunteers on our books, which enables us to diversify into other activities (from fund-raising to social media; from training to IT). The Syrian crisis has also brought a number of Syrian refugee families into our orbit and we are very happy to be of service to them.

The increase in the number of our volunteers has been matched by an equally large increase in the number of our clients. This has meant that no one person can `do everything`, as was the way in our early days and the work and responsibility for it has to be spread much more widely than before.

Many years ago I was a member of staff of Voluntary Service Overseas and must have debriefed dozens of volunteers returning to the UK at the end of their service.  Their almost universal concluding remark was, `I have received so much more than I have been able to give`. It sounds a bit trite and pious perhaps but, oddly, it neatly sums up my own experience with the Partnership. I have wondered at the patience, resilience and warmth of our clients and vastly enjoyed the support and comradeship of fellow Committee members and volunteers. Thank you, everyone.

John Shaw April 2017

We are all greatly indebted to John who has given so much of his time (and considerable wisdom) to WTRRP since its early beginnings.   We are delighted that John is remaining a Trustee and will still be keeping a watchful eye on us all!