On a practical level, Aid Box Community (ABC) provides essential items for people who have nothing, but the love and friendship it offers extends far beyond that.
“I came and met Imogen and she welcomed me so well and took me in as a sister,” says Margaret Oquaye, who has become a volunteer with the grassroots charity that provides support and supplies to asylum seekers and refugees.
Speaking at the launch of ABC’s brand-new premises on Cheltenham Road, where guests are greeted with a bold ‘welcome’ sign and the enticing aroma of freshly-cooked samosas, Margaret is among several volunteers and service users delighted to see the charity hub open once more.
Imogen McIntosh, along with a small group of people, founded ABC in early 2016, when the plight of the thousands of people displaced from their homes and risking their lives to seek sanctuary was in the public eye.
The charity has gone on to help more than 400 families and individuals who arrived in the UK with nothing but was recently threatened with closure when its previous Redland-based premises was declared not fit for purpose.
Read more: Appeal to save Bristol refugee charity
Now, relocated in a building on Cheltenham Road that was most recently home to a loans company, the move is a chance to build on ABC’s grassroots work and ensure its long-term sustainability.
“The free shop is our main service but just as important, if not more so, this is a place where people can come and get away from isolation because it can be really lonely coming to a strange country,” explains Imogen, chatting to Bristol24/7 ahead of the official launch celebration on Thursday.
“A lot of people are still arriving into the UK, but there are also asylum seekers who have been here for years and not yet been granted asylum because it’s such a hostile environment and the asylum process is so difficult.”
Reflecting on ABC’s work, Imogen continues: “Back in 2015-16 the refugee crisis was very much front of mind because of the consistent media coverage, but though it does not often make front-page news now it is very much still happening, devastating lives and forcing people to live in the most treacherous conditions.
“When they arrive here, people are utterly broken and traumatised yet still have to face insurmountable odds – we are committed to providing supplies, support and sanctuary and are so, so grateful to have had the continued help and love from the generous Bristol community when we needed it most.”
Keen to speak about what ABC means to her, Lily Ulasi, who volunteers with the charity, tells Bristol24/7: “They are really helpful to me – almost everything in my house they have provided for me. The way they help refugees and asylum people is so good, they make you feel relaxed and at home.”
Volunteer Carol Ann Hannon adds: “We are here to offer kindness and love and a different environment for people who are often trapped in small homes. Loneliness is probably the biggest issue people have and here, they have a few familiar faces.”
Bristol West MP Thangam Debbonaire will cut the ribbon on the new hub, which has comfy sofas and a children’s play area for people who want to drop in, as well as a stock of essential items.
The MP has spoken out about the issues with the current asylum process in the UK, which renders people unable to work while their application is being processed – sometimes for years – and forced to live on an allowance of just £5.39 a day.
ABC is one of the organisations working at a grassroots level to improve the lives of people who have already faced so much.
Rob Adlem, a long-time refugee and youth support specialist who took on the role of CEO at ABC in June, says the closure of the previous building and subsequent move has proved to be a blessing in disguise for the charity, which can now secure its future and expand on its work.
He says: “The ethos of ABC is based on humanity and love and we are now in a fantastic position to solidify many of the projects and ideas we had previously but did not have a secure enough facility to deliver from.
“It’s impossible to put into words the gratitude we all feel for the people who have helped us make this move but we will, through our actions, ensure that their belief in what we do goes straight to the people who need it in a way that is even more impactful and supportive than before.”
He revealed to Bristol24/7 that he hopes to see the model replicated in other cities around the country – without losing the grassroots ethos that makes it so special.
Read more: Bristol’s pioneering asylum seeker project