Meet the organisations supporting refugees through the pandemic

This week we celebrate Refugee Week, a UK-wide festival highlighting the contributions, creativity and resilience of refugees and people seeking sanctuary. The London Community Foundation supports refugees in a number of ways: either through our London Refugee Response, or through many of our other grants, but today, we wanted to highlight the work of two organisations who received COVID-19 funding to support refugees: RefugeeYouth and The Cotton Tree Trust.


RefugeeYouth is dedicated to improving the lives of young refugees aged 16-21 at different points in their journey. They focus on increasing emotional wellbeing, self-esteem and confidence, and reducing isolation amongst young asylum seekers using collaboration, creativity and community building.

The organisation received £10,683 from our COVID-19 funding to ensure their young people were effectively supported during the pandemic by developing a new online programme, increasing 1:1 support, engaging with external facilitators and community partner organisations, and expanding the capacity of their staff. This included wellbeing checks, hygiene and wellbeing packs and delivering online workshops focused on creativity, fitness, and skills building.

This is the best time of my week for me
RefugeeYouth beneficiary

The young refugees and asylum seekers they work with form one of the most vulnerable and isolated groups of the community. Facing perpetual stigma, countless barriers to support and further reduced access to services, these young people, here without their families, were some of the most severely affected by the COVID-19 crisis. With the large majority suffering with ongoing mental health needs, there was the dangerous risk of re-traumatisation and falling through the cracks if not supported adequately throughout the pandemic.

The mental health of their young people is an ongoing concern for the group, even as we begin to recover from the effects of the pandemic. Some young people struggled to leave their 'lockdown cocoons' and RefugeeYouth remain concerned about their drive and desire to engage. Others focus on seeking employment, but are facing increasingly fewer opportunities and are at risk of being exploited with low rates of pay. The organisation continues to find ways to replicate a feeling of being welcomed and to find creative ways to keep young people engaged through their youth-led approach.

We ensured everyone had someone to talk to, especially important for those living alone, provided a genuine 'place to go' and remain connected, to be comfortable sharing fears whilst encouraging them to also focus on hope for the future.

The Cotton Tree Trust

The Cotton Tree Trust is a charitable organisation that offers legal, social, practical and emotional support to asylum seekers and refugees as they seek to move on with their lives in the UK.

For The Cotton Tree Trust’s members, the effects of the initial lockdown specifically meant reduced food security and loss of social connectivity for those could not afford to top up their phones or Wi-Fi. This, when combined with the tense limbo created by Home Office delays and limited access to good quality legal support, had a profoundly negative effect on mental wellbeing and social interaction.

The £8,200 of funding The Cotton Tree Trust received from The London Community Foundation’s COVID-19 response fund meant they could provide food delivery packages to 46 asylum seekers and refugees, and regular mobile top-ups to 20 households. It also funded weekly Zoom workshops, offering informal discussion and warm companionship. This much-needed support helped people to cope with their isolation and manage the impact that the instability around Covid-19 had had on their mental wellbeing.

The food deliveries we ordered during the pandemic meant that none of our members had to go without the basic essentials. The project that LCF helped fund not only provided food, but also the opportunity to choose their items when so many of our members’ options already been restricted. LCF allowed us to carry out our food project safely and with dignity. As well as the food project, LCF also provided funding for digital inclusion and mental well-being sessions. Staying connected and checking in with our members was a lifeline to many.
Janet Gilbert, General Manager, The Cotton Tree Trust

Both the food project and the data and phone top-ups were a brilliant success, offering incalculable relief to vulnerable people during a time of unprecedented anxiety. Keeping members in contact was particularly important to three blind members who would otherwise have been totally isolated. These projects were even facilitated by former refugees with lived experience.

Looking ahead, the charity plans to increase its support for digital inclusion, exploring new provision, such as English tuition. They are collaborating with other charities to exchange ideas and build on their communications strategy, and they plan to re-evaluate their destitution budget to ensure members continue to be fed.

When we provided Wi-Fi to one mother with two tiny children, she cried, ‘God bless the Cotton Tree one hundred times!'
The Cotton Tree Trust beneficiary

Even as we transition from COVID-19 crisis to recovery, we are seeing the positive impact of our COVID-19 funding and the power of community collaboration.

If you would like to find out more, see our recent COVID-19 impact report: 'Collaboration in the Capital: Lessons from the pandemic' below.

A report cover reads: The London Community Foundation - Collaboration in the Capital: Lessons from the pandemic