I’m just about to head out into the cold to walk to the borough’s clothes bank, run by K&C Mutual Aid, to help out with some sorting. It’s a free service which is wholly volunteer run and which has helped thousands of recent arrivals in Kensington & Chelsea over the last fourteen months, starting as a pop up hosted by the Church of Latter Day Saints for a month and then moving to a disused part of the Town Hall’s basement. Many of the new arrivals have had to leave almost everything they have behind, escaping from persecution, war and poverty and journeying thousands of miles to find a place to rest, sometimes having their remaining possessions confiscated by the authorities when they get to the UK. For these people, cut off from their families and friends in an unfamiliar city, the clothes bank may be the first place they get a real welcome and a sense of connection, as well as the basic supplies to maintain their dignity while they try to set up a new life in a strange land.
This is a great time of year to get involved – lending a hand when you can, getting to know a local organisation that needs additional help, or beginning to build a relationship you hope will last with a project that reflects your values and beliefs. If you have enough time and energy you might even be able to try a few different groups on for size, to see which reflects what you have to give and what you want to do. You can get advice and guidance from the Volunteer Centre. We’re here to help you navigate and to answer your questions – send us an email, call us, or pop in to see us at Ladbroke Grove.
I’m struck by the precarious nature of these wholly voluntary endeavours, and how much they depend on the commitment and hard work of a relatively small number of organisers. When I mentioned this to an experienced charity leader this week she said “If you want a job doing right, ask a busy woman.” Looking at the local response to people newly arrived and seeking asylum, you could go a long way by following that advice. The precarity has nothing to do with the quantity of demand or its extent – it’s been at a high level locally since the summer of 2020 and shows every sign of increasing rather than fading – it’s part of the way civil society develops, by becoming aware of a need and trying to respond to it quickly and efficiently. Our sister organisation, Kensington & Chelsea Social Council, the voice of the voluntary sector in K&C, is expert at helping every kind of public-benefit body to flourish; while at the Volunteer Centre we see those groups before they formalise, when they’re at the stage where neighbours and colleagues are trying to meet immediate demand, raise awareness with those who might support the effort, and sustain what they’re doing without exhausting themselves. We love our many established charitable partners, but it’s a privilege to be in at the start of so many new initiatives, surrounded by the energy and passion that comes with them, whether they’re able to keep delivering or come to an end.
Michael Ashe, CEO