Justice for refugees & the homeless in Lozells

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At Lozells Church and Community Centre the staff are passionate about helping the most disadvantaged. 

lozells team

 

Lozells is one of the most deprived parts of Birmingham and its residents live with the injustices of poverty and inequality. The Centre’s staff team, Eddy Aigbe, Salome Noah, Mima Yedale and Ian Nannestad, are committed to supporting people as they come for help and advice. 

The impressive range of help includes: English language classes, a nursery, Homestart, stay and play groups, dance to health, computer skills, mental health services, refugee support, benefits advice, a job club, drop-in sessions and emergency food provision. Here three members of staff describe their work.

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Ian Nannestad 

Benefits advice worker Ian Nannestad says the Centre sees well over 500 clients a year and thrives on word-of-mouth recommendations. 

He says “We provide advice on welfare benefits and related matters three days a week. We help clients to understand correspondence and make Universal Credit claims and we challenge decisions and assist clients to make appeals. 

“Many of our clients do not have English as their first language and we enable them to access mainstream services. Much of my time is spent on the phone trying to make sense of decisions made by the Department for Work and Pensions or the local authority. The ‘service’ offered by authorities is often very poor: calls to the DWP can take up to 50 minutes to be answered. I also complete forms for disability benefits for those on long-term sickness benefits. 

“We see well over 500 clients annually, achieving outcomes of over £100,000 in annualised benefit payments and around £30,000 in lump sum payments.” 

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Eddy Aigbe

Eddy Aigbe, who has moved on to manage a church community and conference centre in Birmingham, was part of the Lozells’ story for 11 years. He was the centre manager, church trustee and a member of the Circuit executive and has witnessed first-hand the power of community organising in the Church. Working in one of the poorest and most diverse communities in England gave him a ‘trenches’ view’ of the challenges people face. 

He says “Through teamwork, community organising and partnerships, we have provided support and empowered individuals and families. The Centre helped me and my family to navigate the complexities of being classified as people with no access to public funds. People like that often find themselves in a challenging maze trying to get support from the various Council departments and the Home Office. 

“As a new resident in Lozells, my family and I started attending the church when it was being refurbished for the community centre. I got involved first as a volunteer and then as a resident artist for a community project. The more I was involved, the more I wanted to do, to the point that I applied for and was eventually employed as a caretaker. 

“I found myself blessed threefold because I had a place to worship, somewhere to contribute to people in need, and a place where, as an artist, I could help people with my art and knowledge. 

“Through the Church, I have been blessed with skills that helped me become a leader in the Lozells community and the Birmingham Circuit. I raised funds, managed community projects and partnerships as well as a Grade Two listed church with a community centre, a nursery and spaces for projects and events. 

“Although I’m leaving the Centre, I’m confident that it will get all the support it needs. The team at Lozells are capable of riding the Covid storm and continuing the good work. My hope is that other churches follow this model of mission in their communities and become places of welcome through the transforming love of Jesus.” 

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Alison Richards 

The Revd Alison Richards says that walking alongside a volunteer at the Centre and his family, who were granted ‘limited leave to remain’ and then immediately became homeless, opened her eyes to the suffering of so many families in Birmingham. 

She says “They were trying to navigate the benefits and asylum system with English as their second language and were living in one room in a B&B hotel (minus breakfast) and then in temporary accommodation miles from their school. Inevitably the children’s education and health suffered. 

“Working with Citizens UK, we discovered that there were 3064 families in Birmingham in temporary accommodation in June 2020. Affordable social rent housing for families became one of our top priorities as we challenged those in power during the 2021 elections and got this onto the agenda of newly re-elected Mayor, Andy Street. Afterwards I was privileged to work briefly with Citizens UK on their national housing justice work with the government, which the Methodist Church is now involved in. We have a national housing crisis to which the Church must speak to bring about justice.” 

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To find out more about the Lozells Community Centre and its work, visit www.lozelsmc.co.uk 

 

Taken from the connexion magazine Issue 26 • Spring 2022 

 

Justice for refugees & the homeless in Lozells