Dover Detainee Visitor Group - Refugee Council
January 15, 2010

Dover Detainee Visitor Group

A new Basis Project case study.

By providing weekly visits to immigration detainees and other forms of assistance, the Dover Detainee Vistor Group strives to improve the quality of life of people held in detention centres.

Transcript

Alan Ramsay:
I was a priest south of the river in London for 38 years and when I retired we came to live in Kent.

Vebi Kosumi:
I’m the director of the Dover Detainee Visitor Group (DDVG). Our charity was set up in 2002 when a group of volunteers supported by Refugee Action, Kent Refugee Action Network and the Association of Visitors to Immigration Detainees.

Alan Ramsay:
A group of us came together when we heard that this removal centre was to be opened in Dover and thought it might be helpful if the detainees had visitors from outside. Somebody who’s not a solicitor, not from the prison service

Vebi Kosumi:
Our relationship with Dover Immigration Removal Centre I would classify as ‘professional’ and we are able to communicate with each other very easily. We attend the diversity meeting and we meet with centre management on a regular basis. As a result of our communications, for the first time in any removal centre, mobile phones were provided for detainees and we have had other requests that have been approved. We advocate for better facilities for detainees and we act as a bridge between detainees and centre management.

Alan Ramsay:
Although we euphemistically call them removal centres – that’s what they’re there for – not all detainees are removed. A number are bailed and some get leave to remain, eventually. The period of detention can be very extensive – we have had detainees who have been in Dover for three years.

Beatriz Fernandez:
My name is Beatriz, and I work for the Basis Project as part of Refugee Action’s Basis Project team. I met Vebi and DDVG through my colleague who had a long relationship with them already. So I came to their ex-detainees conference at the beginning of 2008 and they said ‘Great – we do need some help; you could come and help us with our business plan.’

We started with an evaluation of what had been happening with DDVG so far. We looked at the successes and also the challenges – what had been difficult for them throughout the years. We realised that they were doing really wonderful work supporting and training volunteers from the local community and we also realised that the volunteers were being tremendously helpful; they gave detainees a window of light in a very dark place. I think that it was crucial for the staff and volunteers and management committee to realise that they were actually doing really good work.

It was a long process but by December we were ready with new priorities and new outcomes for the organisation – well, not new but more well defined. Then Marianela came back from maternity leave and she was ready to get her hands on the application for the Big Lottery Fund.

Marianela Clayton:
I started as a volunteer for DDVG five years ago and after that I have had every imaginable position – admin assistant, project worker, assistant co-ordinator, and now I am the strategic planning and development manager. But most of the time I have concentrated on fundraising.

Beatriz Fernandez:
While writing the application we had lots of conversations, back and forth, about what we understood by ‘outcomes’ and ‘milestones’ and all the things the Big Lottery asks you to talk about. We had to work on transferring our business plan – our plan for the year – into the language that the Big Lottery Fund, and most other funders, speak. It was a two-way process, together understanding what the Big Lottery Fund expected from us, how they expected us to put the information in and working out what that meant in reality.

Marianela Clayton:
Even with the success that we had, with the money covering the core services, we needed a big fund to secure our work for the next three-to-five years. We applied to the Big Lottery Fund and in that period while we were waiting was extremely stressful – the recession was at its height and was the main problem for every organisation in the third sector. But during that period the Basis Project was there all the time reassuring us, providing us with information about other funders and helping us with an emergency plan to continue with the core services and involve the trustees a little bit more so that the organisation could continue, and continue growing [even if we didn’t get the Big Lottery funding].

Vebi Kosumi:
We were expecting that by the 19th of May we would know about the outcome of our application to the Big Lottery Fund. However, it took longer and it came to June and, I remember, a member of staff said ‘Why don’t you contact them?’. So I phoned them and the grants officer answered, she checked and then when they told me about the outcome I put the phone down, didn’t speak to anyone and then I gave Marianela a kiss on both cheeks! She didn’t know what was happening, and I still didn’t say anything – but she soon realised and it was a very happy moment. So much work had been put into it, and we got £397,000 which for a charity like ours is a lifeline for the next three years.

Marianela Clayton:
The whole office fell very quiet. We were all very nervous – I was going to be out of a job, the other man who worked here was going to be out of a job – and all of a sudden we received this great news and everyone was jumping and happy and we couldn’t believe it; we were really thankful to the Basis Project for all the support. And we were thinking: well, now we need to do this, we need to monitor that – we wanted to do everything at the same time! We wanted to satisfy our funders, our service users, our service providers. We already had the plans but now we dared to dream a little bit more.

Beatriz Fernandez:
I was at home off sick when Vebi rang me and I was feeling really dizzy and bad, but when he rang me I was really happy. I felt chills in my skin! I was really, really happy for them because I know the organisation will continue doing more of the great work they do already whereas, if they hadn’t got it, it would  have meant their services would have shrunk dramatically.

Marianela Clayton:
We are really thankful to the Big Lottery Fund, of course. This is the second time we have got money from them and that’s the reason why we exist. £397,000 is not easy to get from funders or companies – only funders like the Big Lottery Fund can fund a project like this.

Vebi Kosumi:
The Basis Project has supported us a lot – particularly Beatriz Fernandez has been a great support in developing our overall organisational capacity, as well as supporting us in fundraising.