Like U Worcester: Building Bridges and Supporting the Community
There has never been a more important time for communities to come together in order to support each other through troubled times. Since 2013, Like U have been continually trying to support their community and build bridges; a task that has been made more difficult due to the pandemic. The charity hope to set up their Community Hub as soon as possible in Worcester as they look to support, specifically but not exclusively, the local European Migrant Community. I spoke to Tomasz Jarecki, one of the charity’s lead organisers, about the group’s mission and how it is trying to offer both support and open arms to all.
Could you just briefly outline the work that Like U Worcester does, what it has been doing since its creation and why the group was set-up?
“Like U Worcester is a little bit different from every other charity in the sense that other charities tend to tackle a single issue. Meanwhile what we do, as a charity run by migrants, is focus on a single part of the public and we try to help people similar to ourselves. We understand the struggles of migrant living in the UK and want to support others that are going through the same things we have gone through as well.
To take a specific example of the sort of thing we help deal with on a day-to-day basis, due to being in a new country and the language barrier, migrant families can be easily targeted by scam calls or texts. We had a lady around 3 weeks ago who was waiting at our door before we had even opened, and she was terrified because someone had called her and told her that she owes £1400 to the Tax Office and if she does not pay straight away the police were going to come and arrest her. She came to our office saying she did not even have a card to pay them and wanted to know how she can get a bank card in order to pay these people.
These are the type of things we are trying to deal with and help our community with. It may not sound like something massive but sometimes small things to one person are life changing to someone else.
But it’s important to note that whilst our focus is on the European migrant community as that’s where our area of expertise is, we don’t close ourselves to anyone. You can’t exactly be an anti-racism, anti-hate charity and not be open and welcoming to all. We are focused on but not limited to just supporting the European migrant community is the best way to put it.”
How has your work changed or been affected by pandemic?
“We have certainly been affected by the pandemic because of the effect it has had on our community. The pandemic has thrown up some very specific issues for the European migrant community as you have many of our folks on temporary or agency work. This is because when you are coming in from Europe and you are still working on your English, then paperwork can be quite difficult for you and it’s an obstacle for many that is not really passable. Therefore, many of the community use agency employment because the agency does all of the paperwork for you, so it’s been a preferred way of working for many.
The problem is when you are working for an agency you are on zero hours contract. I know of people that have worked for an agency for 5, 6 even 10 years. So as the pandemic hit, we found out a lot of agencies weren’t putting workers on furlough as it was less hassle to simply stop their contracts.
To then add to that is the fact we’ve have had people working double shifts when their partner has lost work to try and pay all the household bills instead of claiming benefits that they are entitled to. So, our work, as always, has been to adapt and support the migrant community with the problems they face.”
With the issue regarding Britain’s exit from the EU being still very much unresolved, is there a nervousness amongst European migrant communities about their future in the UK? And how do we build bridges moving forward between communities?
“I think nervousness would actually be an improvement in honesty. The community is very nervous and anxious about existing in a post-Brexit Britain and we can only hope that we can continue to be good neighbours and build bridges together.
We think that the building of bridges between the migrant community and other communities is vital and it can be seen in the name of the charity; Like U. Yes, we may be from elsewhere in Europe originally, but we are just like you and we face the same issues as you in everyday life. When Worcester floods again, as a simple example, it won’t pick areas based on who lives in those communities; it will affect us all.
One of the main ways we are looking to bring people together is through our community hub. The hub is going to be a community centre based on ones you see in Europe, but it’s not massively different from what you see in the UK. So, the plan is to have a support area on the ground floor which will be giving Citizens Advice type support in various languages in order to tailor to our community. So, there it will be a case of giving basic advice in the required language or to referring people to other agencies who can give further expert advice.
The centre will be unique in the fact that it will not only offer support for migrants living in Worcester, but it will also be a way of the general public getting to know their local European migrant community. The ground floor will be split in two with the advice on one side and then the other being an event area. In this event area we will be doing a lot of events to get people familiar with European cultures. It’s using the space to show people where we come from has a rich and interesting history, it’s about putting on cultural events, cabaret evenings, Oktoberfest etc. All as a way of bringing communities together.
Then on the first floor we are going to have an Eastern European, volunteer-led and run, restaurant. This is because whenever you want to build connections with people and win them over, it’s always good to start with their taste buds.
We are currently having to fund all of this through community efforts as we have had a lack of support from the City Council and a few different things have fell through. What our community has been able to do is incredible in terms of labour time they’ve put in to get the community hub renovation started. Hopefully the moment lockdown lifts we can get the restaurant open at least.”
How do people support you in terms of volunteering and donating?
“So, we are enrolled in a project called Crowdfunder Worcestershire and in this project you have to describe a project and set a fundraising target. For us we set it at £24,000 which is around 40% of the yearly cost of running the hub. If you manage to raise all of that target, they give it you and the donate some on top – if you fail to hit the target its effort wasted and you don’t get what you have raised. Currently we have raised around £10,000 and we need to get to the £24,000 before the 20th of January. Being a migrant charity, we are not many first people’s thought when it comes to accessing funding sadly, so we really need as much support from the general public as possible.
We will also be looking for volunteers to support the running of the restaurant, getting the community hub ready and all sorts really. So please get in contact via Facebook or via our website. Other than that when the restaurant is up and running please order a takeaway from us and come along when we can open fully to the public.”
Like U also need donations for their Spacehive Crowdfunder at https://www.spacehive.com/peace-worcester
Don’t forget you can support our work by pledging a monthly donation to our Patreon or by making a one off donation to our Crowdfunder. You can find details here.