Refugee Week: Home in the heart of the city

“One of the things I like the most is how welcoming you are, and the way you help people with their problems.”

Notre Dame Refugee Centre has been working with refugees and asylum seekers for more than 25 years. Originally, it was set up by the Church of Notre Dame de France in 1996, in response to changes in asylum and immigration laws that year. It was then registered as an independent charity in 2007. It is based in the heart of Leicester Square, behind an unassuming little blue door that could easily be missed by the majority of passers-by. The Centre is bilingual English and French speaking but has welcomed visitors from 98 different countries over recent years, offering emotional and practical support to people who often find doors closed to them elsewhere.

At the end of Refugee Week (17th – 23rd June), we asked their Director of Operations and Fundraising - Christina Ball - to reflect on the work of Notre Dame Refugee Centre and the theme of this year’s Refugee Week...

At Notre Dame Refugee Centre, we always take time out to celebrate and acknowledge Refugee Week. The theme for 2024 is ‘Our Home’, and we feel that it’s important to reflect on what we mean by “home” and what it might mean to those who have been forced to flee their home or the place they were born.

Just last week, I was reading an extract from one of Benjamin Zephaniah’s poems which was shown on Poems on the Underground:

Naturally this made me think of our clients who are not always treated with dignity and respect by others. This is why our centre opens its doors to people whose main desire is to integrate and contribute to our society.

I met a lot of people at Notre Dame, I built a great network there and I proud to have been in touch with peoples with same issues at that time. All this helped me facilitated my integration in this country.
Notre Dame Refugee Centre visitor

Our visitors are often destitute, socially isolated and facing many disadvantages as they navigate the challenges within an increasingly hostile environment. Our centre is a welcoming space for refugees and asylum seekers where we try to support them as best we can. This is often in the form of giving professional immigration advice (from our Office of the Immigration Services Commission (OISC) qualified staff team). Alternatively it can be helping them to learn English, giving more general advice or welcoming them to our drop-in/social space. The centre is a place to call home, where they can enjoy a hot nutritious meal and take part in a variety of activities - from playing board games, reading the newspapers, or coming to one of our more creative groups and making new friends.

When I arrived in the UK I didn't speak a word of English, but thanks to your lessons, today I am starting to be able to get by in English, little by little.
Notre Dame Refugee Centre visitor

Our small team is so dedicated to the centre’s work, often going above and beyond to achieve a successful outcome for our clients. This includes just this week taking part in the 10K London Legal Walk. However, without our incredible team of volunteers who provide such a warm and genuine welcome to our visitors, Notre Dame Refugee Centre simply would not exist. Although we are a French-speaking charity, with many volunteers and staff speaking French, we have seen visitors from over 90 countries across the world, speaking many different languages. Each of them have the chance to find a home with us, even if only for a few hours each week.

Christina Ball, Notre Dame Refugee Centre

The team at Notre Dame Refugee Centre have been celebrating Refugee Week throughout this week, including taking clients for a picnic and games in St James Park. The London Community Foundation is proud to support community organisations like Notre Dame Refugee Centre in making a difference to all Londoners – helping them to call the city home, wherever they come from originally. Thanks to our donors, including British Land and the Evening Standard, who have helped to support Notre Dame Refugee Centre over the years.

If you would like to know more about community organisations like this and how you can support them, to make London a fairer and more equitable place for all, please sign up to our supporters newsletter:

You can also find out more about Refugee Week by visiting the accompanying website: