Last year the Home Affairs Select committee announced an inquiry into asylum accommodation after visiting some properties our service users had invited committee members in to. The inquiry was announced in the Pearce Institute, where one of our offices is.
We have a long history of working with people in the asylum process to ensure that they can live in safe, habitable accommodation. We believe that holding accommodation providers to account is integral to achieving our purpose: 'To achieve social justice in Govan and Craigton by building a strong community based on equality, mutual respect, support, and integration.'
Below is our submission to the aforementioned inquiry. If you have any comments or questions relating to our submission, or have someone who could use our help, please get in touch with our project manager: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please find below a summary of our experience of working for more than three years with people who are in the asylum process and who are being housed by Orchard and Shipman as part of the COMPASS contract.
We have found that service users have had many difficulties with Orchard and Shipman and experienced many problems with their properties, ranging from problems with the physical standards to treatment by Orchard and Shipman staff. Many of the service users living in Orchard and Shipman accommodation are extremely vulnerable and the problems they experienced with properties and staff treatment had serious negative impacts on their wellbeing. In addition, our staff team has also found that working with Orchard and Shipman has been extremely difficult. We have often found that the only way to resolve housing issues is either to escalate the complaint to the Home Office or to speak to the press. This is clearly, in our view, completely unacceptable - it disempowers the service users from enacting the complaint process themselves and also requires huge amounts of staff capacity from local charities which are often already overstretched.
This submission has been divided into these two main problem areas, however, the problems often overlapped or were more complex than simply falling into one of the two categories. An example has been provided for each problem, in some cases more than one service user experienced the same problem. In many of these cases the complaint resolution letters from Orchard and Shipman were unsatisfactory as they only partially, or did not at all, address the issues raised in the original complaint. These unsatisfactory responses were damaging to the wellbeing of the service users as they felt that their problems were not being taken seriously and were then faced with the prospect of having to re-submit complaints and undergo lengthy waiting periods, sometimes whilst being housed in completely inappropriate accommodation in the interim.
Service users experienced problems with:
● Accommodation not fit for purpose.
○ CASE A : a single mother with a newborn child and a 2 year old child who, due to recent surgery, was rendered effectively housebound as she was unable to safely carry her children downstairs to leave the building. Her only options for leaving the flat involved leaving her two year old son on his own in the stairwell whilst she picked up her baby and the double pram and brought them to join him at the bottom of the stairs.This meant that she was only able to leave her property once or twice a week when there was someone available to assist her with carrying her two children and the double pram down two flights of stairs. This situation further exacerbated her mental health issues as she was increasingly socially isolated, was at risk of postnatal depression and suffered from panic attacks. This inadequate housing also had a severe, negative impact on her children’s development as their mother was increasingly unwell and they were unable to leave the property to play outdoors. Case B was placed on a relocation list and had to wait for 8 months. During this extremely lengthy waiting period, she was offered a completely inappropriate property which was on the third floor. Of course, she was obliged to refuse this as it would have worsened her (and her children's) condition further.
● Overcrowding or accommodation provision too small for family size.
○ CASE B : a couple with a young child and expecting their second child had to reside in a one bedroom property. This created undue stress for the expectant parents as they had to cope with the prospect of 4 people sharing one room.
● Problems in the property including broken washing machines, lack of heating, broken boilers, broken toilets, widespread dampness, uncovered pipes, broken showers, faulty cookers etc.
○ CASE C experienced problems with a broken boiler and broken toilet in the same month. When the complaint was submitted by CASE C an inappropriate reply was given: despite it being November and winter weather, she was told to wait until the next day and no emergency heaters were sent out. It was not until a staff member from our organisation submitted a complaint on her behalf that emergency heaters were sent out the same evening. Regarding the broken toilet, Orchard and Shipman responded in their complaint resolution letter that “there was no issue with the toilet. The issue was that your client didn't know how to use it properly so our maintenance showed her how to use it.” Please note, the service user had been living in that property for over four years and they were obliged to then refute this claim from Orchard and Shipman .This is, in our view, an outrageous response; not only is it patronising to suggest that the service user does not know how to use a toilet, but it also leads us to believe that this was used as an excuse to cover up a repair which had not been properly done.
● Problems with the relocation process including flat being filthy upon arrival, an apparent lack of inspection before the move-in took place, lack of communication with service users meaning that they are left waiting for the removal team to pick them up or left separated from their belongings (including important medication) for extended periods of time.
○ CASE D: Orchard and Shipman staff confirmed that the service user was on the relocation list and would be moved on a specific date. The service user packed her and her child’s belongings and stayed in the property all day and no one came on the date given by the staff member. When she called Orchard and Shipman’s office she was told that someone would come the following day (they did not). After two weeks of waiting, a member of the senior management team came to the property and deemed it not fit for purpose. Despite this, the service-user was not relocated for another 5-6 weeks. This meant that the service user was given false hope for a move, had to pack, unpack and re-pack her belongings everyday for 6 weeks and also had to cope with living in a property which was unfit for purpose, which in turn worsened her child’s asthma during this lengthy waiting period.
● Inappropriate sharing arrangements including breaching the contract by placing service users who do not share a common language in the same property, lack of privacy for breastfeeding mothers, lack of cultural sensitivity between vegetarian and meat-eating service users sharing properties.
○ CASE E: A heavily pregnant service user is currently sharing a one bed property with another heavily pregnant woman. COMPASS outlines that service users should share a common language, in this case they do not. The two service users are unable to communicate normally and they are obliged to use google translate or sign language to communicate with one another.
● Lengthy delays for repairs and inadequate accommodation provided in in the interim.
○ CASE F: A service user with three children under five years old who was on section 4 support was informed that she had to leave her property ‘for a couple of days’ due to a faulty window. During a period of 3 weeks they were placed in three different hotels in different locations across the city and had no access to laundry or cooking facilities. CASE F was provided with just £5 per person of food vouchers per day, and had to rely on charitable donations in order to take 4 buses to get to the nearest supermarket where she was unable to buy food to cook hot meals for her children anyway, due to the lack of cooking facilities. They were not provided with breakfast, and the eldest son visibly lost weight during this time due to the lack of adequate food and cooking provision. Despite Orchard and Shipman being aware of the situation, the family was not moved into adequate temporary accommodation until our staff members escalated the complaint to senior management.
Problems with staff members:
Service users experienced problems with:
● Aggressive and intimidating behaviour including shouting at service users on the phone and in person.
○ CASE A : A senior member of staff entered the property and shouted and used intimidating body language when requesting that the service user move her belongings from a spare room to allow for a new service user to move in (she had not been informed of this prior to the visit). CASE B had recently undergone surgery and was unable to move the belongings at which point the staff member began to shout and made the racist comment “you mean you can’t help your fellow Africans like you”. The staff member’s behaviour was so aggressive that the service user felt obliged to lock herself and her family in her room because she was worried for their safety. There was a lack of adequate response regarding this complaint and none of the issues were resolved; a contract manager even told a member of GCIN staff in person that the complaint was nonsense. We find it extremely worrying that (1) the complaint was not taken seriously or followed through the appropriate channels, (2) that there was no resolution to the complaint, and furthermore, (3) that the staff member accused of intimidating behaviour by more than 3 individuals has now been promoted to a more senior position.
● Inappropriate behaviour regarding entering property without prior consent when service users are not there, visiting properties outside of normal working hours and not using ID badges.
○ CASE G: someone claiming to be a staff member from Orchard and Shipman tried to enter the property of a service user (who was a victim of sexual violence) without ID. When CASE F refused to answer, he became angry and said that she had to let him in because ‘they pay for her flat’; she then called the police. A female staff member (with ID) then came later. The same service user was also visited outside of normal working hours by Orchard and Shipman staff at 2am on a Saturday night to make arrangements for a new service user to move in. Given the service user’s extremely vulnerable position, this staff behaviour was completely unacceptable and created undue distress for her on more than one occasion.
● Threatening behaviour
○ CASE H: When moved into a new property, the service user was forced to sign an occupancy agreement that she didn’t understand by an Orchard and Shipman member of staff. The service user thought the flat was not fit for purpose (it was far too small for her and her young child). However, the staff member threatened her, claiming that if she did not sign the agreement he would throw out her possessions. Not only was this threatening behaviour extremely distressing for the service user, the fact that her concerns were dismissed meant that she ended up being forced to live in accommodation which was too small for her family. She then had to endure a lengthy complaints process regarding this accommodation.
In several of these cases, the same staff members were complained about. The trend in the complaint resolution letters is that the staff members were subject to internal investigation but no further information was provided. Given that complaints continued to be submitted about these same staff members, this suggests that the investigation was either not appropriately conducted or that the staff were not provided with suitable training following the incidents.
To conclude, our staff and the service users that we represent have had a very negative experience of working with Orchard and Shipman. Orchard and Shipman’s management of the COMPASS contract created undue stress and hardship for service users who already often have multiple complex needs and disempowered them during this process as they had to rely on charity representatives in order to attempt to resolve them. This was made even more difficult by the incomplete and inadequate complaint resolutions which were offered by Orchard and Shipman. As previously mentioned, this created a situation in which we frequently felt obliged to escalate problems in order to gain some sort of satisfactory outcome.
GCIN’s Participatory Action Research Project has been in action since June 2015, bringing together members of the local community to find out the requirements of those who could benefit from the organisation. With a dedicated team of around 12 regular volunteers, the group are now into the next stage of their research.
The focus for the PAR Project has so far been on support services, opportunities and legal rights for asylum seekers and since the last online update, the team have devised questions that would give them the best impression of those they wished to reach out to. They also mapped out the community, and planned where would be best to conduct research.
The group then created questionnaires and conducted interviews using these questions. A lot of the challenge has been in gaining trust, as there was some trepidation for some who felt unsure about being candid in answering the questions.
However, the group have handled this well, building solid relationships with interviewees and conducting a total of 15 interviews in total. They also received an impressive 54 questionnaires back, giving them a solid range of perspectives from which to build their research.
The size of the group has been a real asset and many of the volunteers in the team agree that it has been a great experience working on the project. One member for example, stated that the group ‘gives you experience, you can meet other people and learn about other things you didn’t know’.
It’s certainly true that the group’s shared knowledge has increased. Their weekly meetings are also interspersed with personal experiences and informative visitors. GCIN’s Nicky, who co-ordinates the group, said that through this: ‘The understanding of the groups’ own rights has increased and they can talk to people that GCIN can’t directly reach.’
Last Monday’s meeting on the 8th February was the next big step for the group as they began to analyse all the answers collected from the questionnaires and interviews. With so much information, interpreting that information can be tricky, but fortunately Monday’s guests were the helpful Matt and Anna, two researchers from the University of Glasgow.
Matt and Anna got the group to start placing individual answers into groups. It was meticulous work but by the end of just one session you could already see the common patterns of what those questioned knew and needed, making the vast quantities of information much easier to understand!
This work is very important- as Nicky states: ‘The process itself is action. We can act on issues that we find out about.’ Another member of the group states that after doing this research, they now feel that they know ‘what asylum seekers need and want.’
The next step is to continue to analyse the answers and the PAR Project will hopefully be able to show GCIN what the local community needs from them, as well as increased awareness of GCIN in the area and a way to provide solid backing for the organisations’s funders.
Govan & Craigton Integration Network’s Homework Club has been running for a year, and comprises of two afternoon sessions per week at the Moss Heights Community Flat. It’s a productive environment designed to encourage confidence in young school students who are finding their work challenging.
Sessions run on Wednesday 4-5.30pm for primary school pupils, and on Friday 4-5.30pm for secondary school pupils. Children and teens can bring their homework to the flat and get support from the volunteers and staff. It’s a relaxed setting, with tea and snacks to fuel busy brains!
The emphasis is on education although the group also balances out the work with some fun activities in the holidays, from trips to parks, the library or creating art projects at the flat. Computers are available for those who need to use a PC to complete their homework.
Diligently organising the Homework Club is Patricia, who is passionate about ensuring children get a fair education. She described how the club first came about-
‘The idea came from working at GCIN as a placement, when I was making a community map for them. There was no activity for kids, and for some who had come from other countries, they struggled with their education. Some were also from countries that placed less emphasis for women gaining a full education. So it began in the Women’s Group, when we decided to start and see what happened.’
The club has since taken off, and although attendance varies, there can be approximately 10-15 students in attendance in one session. Patricia is also keen to encourage volunteer participation as study mentors, as sometimes the bigger sessions can require extra knowledgable minds to assist.
However, it’s important that children and teens that attend the club learn to work independently, with volunteers and staff supporting them with their work but not doing it for them. This is so that when they go back to school they feel confident in their own abilities.The club has seen some great results too, with Patricia stating that some children have come back very proud of the positive feedback they’ve got from their teachers.
The Homework Club is an great space to get help and support. For the future, Patricia hopes that they forge relationships with neighbouring schools, in order to fully follow-up on positive results from the club. She also emphasised that ‘it’s important for parents to engage, and we’ve been trying to find a way to involve the parents’. Parents are therefore encouraged to attend alongside their children.
The club is very keen for more volunteers in the future, and to secure more funding to allow it to continue with crucial staff and support. If you think that the Homework Club would benefit a student you know, please don’t hesitate to get in touch through the GCIN website, or drop in at the flat on a Wednesday or Friday in the designated time.
The Moss Heights Community Flat is situated at Flat 1, Block 40, Moss Heights Avenue G52 2TX.
Homework club times are-
Wednesday 4-5.30pm (primary school students)
Friday 4-5.30pm (secondary school students)
An important part of Govan & Craigton Integration Network is the advice and support offered at their Govan office. With three drop-in times per week and a weekly fresh food distribution, everyone is welcome to get the assistance they need.
The office is located at the Pearce Institute in Govan, an old converted church situated close to the Glasgow bus network and just a minute’s walk from the Govan subway station.
Drop-in times are 11.30-2.30pm on a Monday, and 12-3pm on a Wednesday and Friday. For those interested, when you first come into the office your name will be put on a list and you’ll be given an assigned time.
During each visitor’s designated appointment, knowledgeable staff are on hand to offer advice and take practical steps towards resolving issues. Along with contacts and resources for applying for asylum support, GCIN can offer guidance for those who find themselves struggling or destitute, as well as finding legal advice.
In particular, staff assist with applications for the Government’s Asylum Support’s Section 4 services, which can provide payment cards to cover essential food and toiletries, as well as accommodation. They also work with the Refugee Survival Trust, who distribute grants to refugee families, and with the Scottish Refugee Council.
Food vouchers are available during some drop-in events and a typical drop-in day features around 7 or 8 different appointments, but each visitor is always given the sufficient time they need to get the most out of their trip.
The fresh food distribution every Wednesday is another important event at the Govan office, and has been running for a few years now. The weekly delivery is organised by The Unity World Cafe & Foodbank, and the food is diligently distributed into bags by a dedicated group of volunteers.
Those interested in the fresh food distribution should sign up at the office before 12.30pm on a Wednesday, before returning to the office to pick up the food at 2pm. Each individual bag comes with a generous mix of breads, fruit and vegetables, provided by large stores Wholefoods and Costco.
Govan & Craigton Integration Network’s office is a crucial space to provide planned drop-in sessions and, along with the Community Flat, is the beating heart of the organisation. Those interested in any of the great services above should come along to the next scheduled time for invaluable support.
The Women’s Group is an important part of Govan & Craigton Integration Network, encouraging conversation and fun activities in a casual and welcoming environment. Co-ordinated expertly by Jenni Clapham, it’s always open to new members and is based at the Moss Heights Community Flat in Craigton.
The flat is well equipped so that those coming to the group can feel at home. Last Friday’s meeting featured some excellent homemade doughnuts made by one talented participant and a lovely lunch that catered for everyone.
There’s a variety of ages that attend the group and children are always welcome, with toys at their disposal. The doughnuts seemed to be quite a hit for the little ones too and they had a ball running around in such a relaxed environment!
Friday’s group also featured a monthly visit from Lucy of the Urban Roots programme, who runs programmes in gardening skills. We learnt about seed saving, first taking the seeds from Picolino tomatoes and then taking them to the flat’s gardening space to be carefully planted. Hopefully by spring there will be some lovely tomato plants to use for another lunch in the women’s group. It certainly made you appreciate how much you can gain from just of the seeds that you often eat without thinking!
Some members of the group have already proven growing skills too, having home grown an array of vegetables in the past year which will be great for creating organic, healthy meals. The next gardening event at the Women’s Group will be a wreath making class on the 11th December and it’s sure to be lots of fun.
The women’s group isn’t just about gardening, featuring lots of different activities and events throughout the year to interest everyone, aided by volunteers who work hard to make sure everything is run smoothly. Most importantly however, it’s a very social group, where conversation thrives easily and the laughter is infectious.
Some participants have been regulars of the GCIN Women’s Group for a long time, whilst others are very new to the group. As a newcomer, it took no time to become part of a fun, friendly atmosphere and find a safe space where you are made to feel welcome.
For ladies interested in coming along, the Women’s Group meets every Friday between 11.30 - 2.30 at the Moss Heights Community Flat which is situated at Flat 1, Block 40, Moss Heights Avenue G52 2TX.
We've uploaded a copy of the minutes from our most recent network meeting so you can see what we've been up to.
The chosen topic was: 'hate crimes & safety', in view of the extremely concerning rise in hate crimes in our areas. Our network meetings focus on trying to get participants to agree to collective actions to help work together towards resolving some of the problems in our communities.
Our next meeting is on 4th August at 2.30pm, focusing on 'Asylum in Scotland.'
If you wish to attend please email: email@example.com
You’ll have heard the trope about the swan on the water; still on top but paddling furiously below the surface? GCIN is a little like that, volunteers and workers busy running from drop ins to group meetings, the door being chapped by people looking for advice, food donations being delivered while the phone doesn’t stop. It’s hard to take time out to think about the future, but we’ve been trying.
GCIN is a charity and limited company so our work is overseen by a board of trustee directors, which I chair. Our job, as well as seeing that everything is running as it should be, is to ensure that we are achieving the change we set out to and to plan for our future.
We’ve been thinking, what is it we are trying to achieve, what’s our purpose? And it is simply this:
‘To achieve social justice in Govan and Craigton by building a strong community based on equality, mutual respect, support and integration.’
We want to work with partners in Govan to support everyone in Govan. We were initially founded to act in the interests of refugees seeking asylum, but quickly also began working with established BME communities, new migrants from Poland and elsewhere and people who have always lived in Govan.
Mutual support creates integration at its best. Imagine two women sharing and supporting each other’s experiences of domestic violence. One is from Zimbabwe, one from Cardonald. Their interaction and shared experiences lead to actions that contribute to equality. This is the type of integration that we are interested in.
We are setting ourselves a pretty big task, but we have a lot going for us. We’ve been around for over ten years, building trust and connections in Govan. We have the energy and talents of more than 20 brilliant volunteers and 5 workers bringing their knowledge from all over the world. We’ve been bringing people together through drop-ins, parties and exchanges. We have use of a community flat, and are delighted that we get a lot of support.
We are proud to provide safe place for new communities to grow, this weekend a member of our women's group told us: “Women’s group is the oxygen in the week for many of us”.
We think we’ve achieved a lot but we know there is always more that could be done. Sometimes it’s difficult to see what progress is being made and this can be frustrating.
For example, we know that the official racially aggravated crime figures in the Govan and Craigton area have been rising and that in this past year they have been among the highest in Glasgow – official figures are yet to be published, but we are requesting figures to be released to us, which we will share as soon as they are made available. We do know, however, that between April and July 2014, at least 9 incidents were reported, between August and November 2014, 16 incidents were reported, and from December 2014 to April 2015, at least 9 incidents were reported,
This is just the number of times that people actually report being racially harassed and we know it’s the tip of the iceberg. There are lots of theories about why people don’t tell the police when they’ve been racially abused. Many think that refugees are scared of the Police here because of their experiences with police forces in their country of origin.
We are not sure if this is still true, if it ever was. We have heard first hand from people that they don’t report these crimes because they don’t see the point - ‘you tell the Police and then nothing seems to happen’.
For years we’ve acted as a third party reporting centre – people can tell us about the harassment and we forward the details onto the police. However, we don’t think this approach is working because so few people use it. We all need to do more.
While it’s important to be critical of those in authority where it is deserved, we’ve been thinking about ways to find a new approach. We’ve been part of a process organised by a local councillor, bringing together community groups, housing associations and local authorities to work together in tackling this issue, and we’ve invited Nicola Sturgeon to our next network meeting to make sure she knows the extent of the problem and to ask her what more the Government can do.
We are keenly aware that the make-up of our board doesn’t fully reflect the profile of the people who are part of GCIN so we have been trying to put more of our effort into being led by those people for whom we provide services and support (we still can’t work out what language to best use – ‘members’ seems exclusionary, our ‘service users’ seems a bit clinical).
We’ve started simply, asking members of our Women’s group and drop-ins; ‘Do you feel safe?’ ‘What would help you feel safer?’
Their answers were profound, troubling and surprising. Racial and religious harassment was an issue, but more time was spent talking about domestic violence. Already, we’ve identified some shared actions and different ways of working.
We want to take this further and have secured funding to support community members to develop their own research, focused on action, into whatever issues are important to them. We hope it will be around safety and harassment but it’s really up to the community. We are looking forward to being guided by the findings, whatever they are.
We’re also about to start a men’s group and a homework club and are always trying to improve our drop-ins whilst better publicising our housing case work. At the same time, we want to be better at telling you what we are doing and asking for help.
If you think you can contribute in anyway, please get in touch. We’d love to have you join in with the paddling.
Chair of Govan & Craigton Integration Network
Thoughts, words and pictures from our staff, volunteers and service users