Meet The Forum: Beth

[h4]Community Development Worker[/h4]

[blockquote]"I’m a Londoner with roots in the English countryside, where I grew up and where my family is from. I like being involved in community initiatives which is why I feel at home at MRCF. I have studied history and human rights. I’m also a freelance photographer with an interest in portraiture and documentary work." [/blockquote]

Where do you live now? Where have you lived

I live in north London. Previously I have lived in small villages in the south of England, Germany, Havana and briefly in Buenos Aires.

Why are you interested in migration?

I think it’s a combination of my experience of living in Cuba for a year when I was 18 and studying apartheid South Africa at university. Cuba was a radically different society to the one which I had grown up in and one going through huge difficulties and change as a result of the collapse of the Soviet Union. It made me start thinking about what a just society might look like. I had a great time but also experienced how isolating it can be to be in a new place, not to speak the language, and to know very few people. Studying the extreme limits to which South Africa institutionalised racism made me interested in how we relate to people who we think are different to us. When I left university ‘the asylum seeker’ was one of the big ‘others’ in British society and so I started volunteering to find out more. I met people from all over the world and became increasingly fascinated by migration and bymy then new home, multi–cultural London.

What do you do at MRCF?

I support our member organisations who are self help community groups run by refugees and migrants. It’s very varied involving anything from assisting them to develop a service to help people in their community into work, to supporting a community leader to meetwith their MP.

How did you come to work at MRCF?

Previously I had worked for an organisation which researched refugees issues with the aim of increasing public understanding of them. I enjoyed this but was keen for a change and a chance to ‘do’ rather than read and write papers. I had been a fan of MRCF for several years and so when the job came up I jumped at it.

What do you think is unique about MRCF?

It’s a home from home for the people who use its services and also for its staff and volunteers. I think it’s a great example of community self help.

What issues do you think are most important to migrants in London?

We mainly work with migrants who are finding life in London very difficult – maybe they have no family with them, have fled civil war or speak no English. Most of them are also very poor. Like many other groups in London they experience extreme social exclusion. So it’s about how migrants can find a way to feel like they belong in and can build a happy life in London. I’m also very worried about proposed cuts to legal aid.

What are you looking forward to in the next year?
I organised an event for the centenary of International Women’s Day. We rarely look at our work through a gender lens, yet many of our community leaders are extraordinary women. So I’m looking forward to seeing how this might develop.

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