RAY's first 10 years.......

Refugee Action York achieved charity status in 2009 and on the 1st of April, RAY's manager, Carrie Wheater, celebrated 10 years working at RAY. We thought that supporters would be interested to read Carrie's thoughts on how things have changed over her 10 years -

'RAY became a registered charity in 2009, and at the same time was fortunate to receive our first official funding. This was from City of York Council, and was given to RAY to fund the work of a part-time “Drop-In Coordinator”, to oversee the running of the weekly Sunday Drop-In session. At the time I had been volunteering with RAY for a few months. I applied for the post, was appointed as the first ever paid employee of RAY, and started work on 1st April 2009.

At that time we had regular contact with 10 adults and 23 children, around 15 volunteers, and were meeting weekly in a church hall. The children had a weekly Turkish class, and as numbers started to grow, we found we needed more rooms. Bootham Junior School kindly stepped in at that time and offered us the use of their premises, and we continued to meet there for a couple of years. By then, numbers had increased again and we needed yet more rooms! We were offered the use of Clifton Children’s Centre, which has been a fantastic facility for us ever since.

In June 2013 we consulted with some of the teenagers, who had stopped attending on Sunday afternoons (apparently it was not cool to be out with your mum and younger siblings on a Sunday afternoon!) and as a result we started running a fortnightly youth club, 4Corners, based at Moor Lane Youth Centre in Dringhouses. This has evolved somewhat since those early days, but continues to run fortnightly now, with sports sessions now offered on the alternate weeks.

By autumn 2017 numbers on Sunday afternoons had increased again to the point that we were really struggling to manage in the Children’s Centre, when a fortuitous meeting (in the midst of a loud fire alarm!) with the Headteacher of Clifton Green Primary School (next to the Children’s Centre) led to an offer of us expanding to use the school too. Since then we have been running the Hub across both buildings, and we are now working with around 120 adults and children on a regular basis. Our team has also increased to 5 part-time staff, and around 100 volunteers.

Looking back at some early newsletters and report from 2009, I was reminded of the progress some of our service users have made since then. I mentioned then “the pre-school children of one Kurdish woman have increased in confidence so much that, whereas previously they would never leave her side, they are now happy to attend Turkish Class and other activities without her.” That family are still attending now (in their mid-teens, and no doubt would hate to be reminded of their crying days!). They are still enjoying Turkish classes and in the case of the mother, English classes.

I also came across information about some campaigning we carried out that summer, against the deportation of a family who were related to some of our service users. The deportation was stopped at the last minute, and the family are now part an integral part of our RAY community. It just goes to show that we can make a real difference.

Over the last 10 years I have had the privilege of working with some fantastic colleagues, Trustees, and dedicated volunteers, and of getting to know many lovely refugee, asylum seeker and migrant families. We have some very sad times, including the deaths of some much-loved volunteers and service users. However, we have also welcomed many new volunteers and families to RAY – some new to York, some new even to the UK, and we have also shared the happiness of new babies joining their families at RAY.

As I started to write this piece, I did some rough calculations, and as a conservative estimate I would say that RAY has helped well over 300 people over the last 10 years. Some of them have moved on, some still use our services and others come and go as and when they need our support.

A particular highlight of my time at RAY has been the residential trips we have taken young people on, and the day trips to the beach we have all been on together. Relaxing together; having the time to spend getting to know each other a bit better; sharing food; watching children run into the sea for the first time ever (albeit fully clothed, they were so excited!) - there is nothing quite like it!'

From reading Carrie's thoughts and from the fact that she has been involved for 10 years it is evident that she has played an integral role in RAY's development and I think it is safe to say that it wouldn't have been as successful without her. So on behalf of RAY's service users, volunteers, staff and trustees, a big THANK YOU for her hard work over the past 10 years.