We’ve grown and developed new services since 1989, when local people first got together to campaign against the imprisonment Kurdish asylum seekers, but the welfare and rights of asylum seekers and refugees remain at the heart of all we do.
We began working with people seeking asylum in 2001. Across the country the government placed 500 people in 10 prisons, one of which was in Winchester and a Winchester Visitors Group was established. However in 2002 the policy of detaining people seeking asylum in prisons was phased out and they were instead given accommodation in a number of towns and cities, one of which was Southampton. Thus began our work based on befriending individuals and families while they waited for their cases to be resolved.
Our volunteer befrienders were trained to help them deal with the particular issues faced by people seeking asylum, who were carefully matched with their befrienders. Every volunteer was given support from a “buddy” and in 2003 support groups were set up, enabling the befrienders to meet monthly to share concerns and discuss issues in a confidential and supportive environment.
In 2004 it became evident that many of those we helped were destitute. ASSIST (Asylum Seekers Support in Southampton) was formed to give them weekly financial support, backed up by a fundraising sub-group making grant applications to charitable trusts. A Money Allocation Group (MAG) was also established to agree and scrutinise payments. In 2004 the group achieved charitable status, with trustees drawn from the committee members, and at the same time changed its name to SWVG.
In 2005 we employed our first part time paid administrator and in 2006 an events sub group was formed, to organise events to raise funds and awareness of our work. In 2008 we joined with other local groups to launch the Avenue Multicultural Centre. This drop in centre is held every Friday at the Avenue St Andrew’s Church in Southampton. It provides information services and acts as a meeting place for refugees and those seeking asylum.
In 2009 we launched what was then called our Legal Justice Project, enabling us to engage an immigration lawyer to act as a legal advisor, undertake client reviews, address legal questions and provide training for the group, and fund some legal costs for those seeking asylum.
The 10th anniversary of SWVG was celebrated in 2011. The same year we participated in the “It’s my home now” project, collecting stories and pictures from refugees and people seeking asylum in Southampton and Winchester. These were published in a book and exhibited locally.
In 2012 the Bromley Trust funded a review of our work. The consultants’ final report “Investing in the Future” was launched at a reception in the House of Lords attended by volunteers, those we help, as well as funders and members of other groups.
In 2013 we launched new social events to supplement the New Year and Summer parties held for those who we support. In 2016 we set up campaigns and communications sub-groups, to campaign locally and nationally, re-launch this website, establish a presence on Facebook and Twitter and produce leaflets and newsletters.
In 2017 we worked to address new laws which prevent us from renting rooms from private landlords. After research and legal advice we took the step of leasing a house to run as a hostel, enabling us to stay within the law whilst continuing support those who would otherwise be homeless. We also started to offer one-to-one English language teaching, a new service which grew rapidly.
In 2018, SWVG was visited by Caroline Nokes, MP the Home Office Immigration Minister, and clients had the opportunity to feedback on their experiences.
In summer 2019, the new SWVG allotment where volunteers work with asylum seekers, produced over 100kg of fruit and veg including a giant 17kg pumpkin. to grow fruit and vegetables. We also became a Charitable Incorporated Organisation, charity no. 1183558.