Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Another day, another capital

After Ankara came Cardiff where I spent two days visiting programmes of Oxfam GB's UK Poverty Programme and considering, with colleagues, how we can build programmes effectively to scale so as to help more people, more effectively.

My field visit was to Swansea and to a charity called the City of Sanctuary that helps community groups, public and private organisations to create a welcoming space for people fleeing persecution and seeking asylum in the UK. We met representatives from organisations that had been helped by City of Sanctuary and asylum seekers themselves. Our focus was on how they had used their limited resources to lever change by building effective networks of support.

In the process, we heard of the 'Byzantine' nature of our asylum system where people can find themselves in 'limbo', unable to work, waiting uncertainly for the 'system' to decide their fate. These were people, many of whom had been tortured, persecuted, threatened in their own countries and now faced a long wait before being able to fully rebuild their lives. Some did not wait and we met Hannah who volunteered in no less than six different places to bring her energy, skill and humour to bear on helping others.

These are the people 'demonised' in our newspapers and it is a stereotyping that CofS hopes to unpick one relationship at a time. In Swansea it appeared to be working and everyone present acknowledged what a welcoming place, on balance, it was.

I was also fascinated by the juxtaposition of coming from Ankara to Cardiff. The former exceptionally neat, ordered, with a felt energy of abundance and growth, a self-confident place emerging. The latter post-industrial, a bit battered, with an over-dependency on government expenditure and a kind of tiredness as if trapped in a cycle of decline.

I am sure that this latter perspective is ill conceived if you had time to look more closely but it is the externalised impression - and these count (and indeed can become self fulfilling). When you travel to 'emergent Asia', you come back wanting to infuse a huge jolt of energy into home.

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