Imagine losing everything and having to rebuild your life from scratch. What essential items would you need?
Greenwich Refugee Aid and Community Enterprise ('GRACE') is a non-denominational charity, founded in 2015 by Claire and her Greek-born husband Andreas, in Greenwich, London.
The charity began as a grass root effort in response to the plight of Syrians and other asylum seekers arriving on the shores of the Greek islands. As we witnessed fellow humans drowning, or landing in a new country with only the clothes on their back and the horror stories of why they fled, we knew something had to be done.
From gathering items of aid in Claire’s living room, we grew to fill a church-hall in Greenwich, then a self-storage unit and finally made the move to Lewisham. We now occupy two large storage/retail units within our much-loved home in Leegate shopping center, South-East London.
Fives years on and we have a remarkable network of refugee and asylum partners across Greece, France and beyond, who we send physical aid to and/or purchase items directly for. Many of our trustees and volunteers have been out to refugee camps, regularly meet with our recipient groups and travelled on the convoys of aid to ensure their safe and responsible distribution.
The response from South-East Londoners continues to be overwhelmingly positive and supportive. We have had hundreds of volunteers come in to help us sort and package aid. Many get involved with gathering donations through local school and faith-based efforts. Individuals fund-raise in many creative ways such as running marathons, bake-athons, selling crafts, hosting street parties or performing school shows on our behalf. We have regular donors contributing as little as £5 on gift-aid each month to help keep us afloat. We love and thank every one of you- we couldn’t do any of this without you!
GRACE’s reach now extends to a network of South-East London charities who distribute our physical aid locally to their recipients. This has occurred organically because the physical donations we received, often pre-loved, were not always suitable for the refugee camps. As big believers in recycling and upcycling, we quickly found a way to repurpose the aid to other charities locally who fit our vision and mission statement.
In particular Lewisham Brighter Beginnings is based on-site with us. LBB receives referrals from midwives and social workers to support and supply destitute families with newborns.
We always welcome any local South East charities and grass root endeavours, whose recipients of aid need a helping hand to get back on their feet. To date we have assisted charities whose help extends to women in domestic abuse homes, trafficked individuals, homeless, children and a wide network of asylum seeker and refugee resettlement groups.
We know we can extend our aid to the vulnerable groups needing assistance in COVID-19 and work is already underway on these fronts.
Looking ahead beyond Covid-19 efforts, our next big project is to create a storage/retail hub where charities that share our vision can refer aid recipients to us. Individuals will be able to ‘shop’ for all non-food items in a dignified fashion, alongside regular customers. To do this we will introduce a cashless voucher-based system. We are modelling this solution on the systems and cashless shops already in place in Greece that function well. It seems fit that we apply the lessons learned from the refugee crisis to helping here in the UK. This project is in the making so do reach out to us if you’re a charity, donor, IT-guy or volunteer who wishes to help establish this.
We look forward to another 5 years ahead at the heart of South East London and can't thank you all enough for the love and support you have shown.