Refugee Week

Islington Refugee Services and Support

Islington has long been a place where migrants and refugees have settled. The borough is central, accommodation has often been cheap and there is a history of tolerance – Finsbury was the first UK constituency to elect a South Asian MP – Dadabhai Naoroji in 1892.  Islington today is an especially diverse place with 33% of residents born outside of the United Kingdom compared to 14% nationally.  The most common countries of birth for Islington residents outside the UK today are Ireland, Turkey and the United States – and we have explored a little bit of the rich Islington Irish migrant story in this tour.

Our tour this week has concentrated on the migrant experiences, both current and historical, around the Holloway area.  This area also houses some of the many Islington based organisations who support refugees and migrants in varied ways.  We know that refugees suffer disproportionately with poor mental health – 61% of asylum seekers in the UK experience serious mental distress and there are organisations who do amazing work in this sphere. Some organisations work to build resilient and healthy communities and individuals in Islington others use Islington as their base to reach out nationally and internationally to campaign and develop programmes for refugees and migrants.  Here are just a few examples of the 96 organisations providing services for refugees and migrants identified in the Islington Directory.

Stop 8: Hilldrop Community Centre, Community Ln, Hilldrop Rd, N7 0JE


Hilldrop Community Centre, located at Community Lane, Hilldrop Road, N7 0JE,, is a large, multi-purpose facility offering a wide variety of activities and services to their diverse local community. Hilldrop Area Community Association is based at the centre and aims to enhance the wellbeing of their community with a focus on employement and health.  A number of migrant community groups organise  activities here which support health, heritage, education and social well-being. In recent years Hilldrop has partnered with the Evelyn Oldfield Unit (see below) to provide ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) courses.

Manor Gardens Welfare Centre, at 6-9 Manor Gardens, N7 6LA, is a longstanding Islington charity promoting the health and well-being of Islington Residents – founded in 1913 as the North Islington Infant Welfare Centre and School for mothers.  How appropriate that they run the Bright Beginnings Project which, since 2016, has supported 1,500 newly arrived women from the migrant and refugee communities through maternity and birth by providing bi-lingual Maternity Mentors.

Manor Gardens, home to the Manor Gardens Welfare Centre and the Baobab Centre

Manor Gardens also provides advocacy services – they have worked with refugees and newly arrived migrants for many years and have a pool of trained community interpreters who between them speak over 30 languages. They also employ trained advocates who speak Arabic, Farsi, Spanish and Turkish as well as being fluent in English.

The Baobab Centre for Young Survivors in Exile finds a home at Manor Gardens. The organisation was formed in 2008 by a group of clinicians – experienced human rights workers – who identified many unmet needs in the models of treatment and support offered to young asylum seekers and refugees who had experienced human rights abuses during their developmental years.  As an alternative to the ‘clinic’ approach where individuals come for weekly appointments as a form of ‘treatment’, they offer an approach based on the idea of a ‘Therapeutic Community’. Clinicians, caseworkers and group workers encourage and enable all young people to become active members of the community and participate in community life. There are about 80 young people who visit the Centre regularly from all across Greater London where they can participate in individual and group psychotherapy as well as activities such as music workshops and eat together. Baobab social workers also provide essential support to deal with the complex practical needs of these young people.

A testament to Baobab’s work (

Another Islington organisation using the approach of a healing community is Room to Heal who work in Culpepper Gardens and Mildmay Community Centre.

Evelyn Oldfield Unit (EOU), is based in Resource for London, 365 Holloway Road, www, They have been ‘enabling BAMER communities for nearly 25 years’ by providing, developing and coordinating specialist aid and support services for established Refugee and Migrant Organisations.  Their aim is to increase refugee and migrant organisation capacity and potential for meeting the needs of their communities.  Examples of their work include delivering, at Resource for London, training sessions for community organisations on financial management and fundraising.  The also run an evening beginners ESOL class (English for Speakers of Other Languages) which aims to fill a gap normal service provision does not provide – drop-in sessions are available for individuals who have uncertain immigration status and don’t qualify for free English classes or those who cannot commit to a regular learning session or cannot afford to pay for college tuition.

As a member of the Mayor’s Migrant and Refugee Advisory Panel the EOU contributes to the London Strategic Migration Partnership (LSMP) –  a cross-sector partnership to maintain strategic overview of the state of migration in London. The LSMP helps inform the Home Office and the Mayor of London of key issues and trends in immigration operations, immigration policy and integration affecting London’s economic growth and future planning.

Islington and beyond

Islington Refugee Forum is based at Voluntary Action Islington, 200A Pentonville Road, N1 9JP,  An independent, refugee led organisation it was created to act as a common voice for refugees improving their quality of life and supporting their integration into the community.  Their vision that a cohesive and inclusive group of refugee community organisations working in partnership with other voluntary sector organisations and services can drive real change in the lives of refugees by sharing resources, improving access and building capacity.

Finally Islington is home to one of the best known organisations addressing the human rights of refugees and migrants internationally – Amnesty International is the world’s largest grass-roots human rights organisation. It champions the human rights of refugees, asylum seekers and migrants by pressuring governments to honour their responsibilities, protect those within their borders and properly process asylum claims. Amnesty International UK ( is based in Clerkenwell. 

This article was produced for Islington as a Place of Refuge, an online tour developed by Islington Museum and Cally Clock Tower, in conjunction with Islington Guided Walks. Centred around Refugee Week 2020’s theme of ‘Imagine’, Islington as a Place of Refuge explores diverse stories from migrant history in relation to the London Borough of Islington.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s