Helping Refugees: An OpenVillage strand?

This is a work in progress idea for the OpenVillage.

Big Question:

How can Britain and Europe work together, post-Brexit, to provide a humane and safe environment for asylum seekers and refugees across the continent?

My background:

Worked on the Ground in Calais 2016. OpenCare fellow. Wrote about my experience here.

Now, I am a Regional Coordinator for Help Refugees. The UK largest grassroots refugee charity. Initially a reactionary humanitarian charity. Sending volunteers from UK out to support projects in France and beyond. Now, works to support projects in areas across Europe. Working with local organisations doing charitable/humanitarian work in Northern France, Greece mainland and islands, Serbia, Italy, Turkey and Lebanon. Fundraisers and political change-makers – lobbying UK government and civil service/NGOs.

Starting to work on the ground in the UK. Eyes turned towards putting our own house in order. Undertaking an asset mapping of refugee services in UK. Desperate to avoid overlap or duplication. More about connecting and supporting existing services with volunteers and funds. Ethos is heavily on grassroots, non-NGO, Non-Political, but partisan actors. Working with refugees IS a political act. Predominantly Young volunteers, and young people within central team. Mix of UK and local European partner volunteers working in projects on the ground – strong split 50/50.

How could the event work?

Reach out to Help Refugees organisers. Bring in people running the groups they support around Europe. Could pitch it as a Help Refugees European summit for grassroots and citizen-led refugee projects, working with EdgeRyders to connect to a wider audience.

How might it work?

In an ideal world i would ask the team from Good Chance Theatre to bring their theatre to the city for the weekend. We would use the space inside it to run a series of open group discussions, keynote talks, breakout discussions and evening entertainment.

Discussions I would like to see people having:

  • Building a sustainable model for volunteering abroad beyond ‘pay to play’ services in “developing world”.
  • Encouraging people to volunteer ‘at home’ to refugee charities. How do we borrow ideas from the ‘Health charity sector’?
  • Practices for developing cohesion and integration. What can we learn from each other?
  • Dealing with trauma and deep trauma: When a little knowledge is a dangerous thing
  • A generation of lost skills: How do we make sure skilled refugees are assisted into skilled work?
  • Microfinancing, sharing economy and skills banks: initiatives for charities to help us help each other.
  • On the move: or how to hack your way through life. A session where people share ideas and tips with each other that they have learned from being on the move.
  • Tech and refugees. How do we stop building apps and start building communities?
  • Working with governments. Petitioning, lobbying and campaigning. What works? what doesn’t? what next?
  • What happens when ‘the crisis’ is over? How do we make sure that ‘business as usual’ is better? What next for Fortress Europe? How do we prepare for a future of mass migration and political uncertainty?

Speakers and Orgs I would like to hear talks from


UNHRC (ch/sw)

European Commission: Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection (eu/bel)

Creative Europe culture team (eu/bel)

Refugees International (USA)

European Council of Refugees and Exiles


Breaking Barriers (uk)

Citizen’s Platform for Refugee Support (be)

Refugee Open Cities (ER members - @Tomma ) (de)

Refugees Work (ER members - @ninabreznik ) (de)

EmpowerHack (uk)

RISE: REFUGEES’ IDEAS AND SOLUTIONS FOR EUROPE Greek Forum of Refugees (Advocate Europe project winner 2016)

Refugio Berlin (De)

The Orange House (gr) (ER members and Help Refugees funded)

Refugees to Refugees R2R Solidarity Call Center (gr) (@ChristinSa )

Help Refugees (uk)

Utopia 56 (fr)

Impact Hub Athens


Anyone who won the Creative Europe awards in 2016

Platforma (counterpoint arts) (UK)

Art Refuge Uk (uk)

Young Roots (uk)

@Iriedawta  and The Armenia Refugee Project

A long list of potential groups that may be encouraged to participate. The hope would be that ER existing members would be encouraged along to meet as a group and that a number of new organsiations would join. Adding their stories to the project. On top of this the hope would be to reach out to the volunteer and refugee support community in Brussels. Also, (if we can make it happen) the large theatre space would be a visable beacon to members of the public.

It’s a big idea. It could be scaled down if required. It has the potential for a lot of moving parts, but i think it’s achievable given the timescale. The biggest hurdles would be securing buy in from Good Chance Theatre to create the space, and finding ways to support grassroots volunteers to travel to, and stay in, Brussels to meet, share and talk.

Typical ER problems i guess.

Let me know any thoughts you have about the idea. Happy to reframe, or revisit any ideas here based on input.


How do we stop building apps and start building communities?

I deeply reasonate with this and it’s interesting how late the issue is being exposed.

In a conversation the other day with @Yannick last week he had a great idea: why don’t we host something with service recipients, with the very people for whom a project is intended to cater? In the case of apps/tech, it will be users, but in the case of more social services, it will be people who show up and enjoy being cut some slack. Of course, the session would welcome diverse people alongside them…

cc-ing @ninabreznik in case she has a take on this, given the hotspot that Berlin is.

Absolutely to both @Noemi and @Alberto.

Refugees welcome!

Looks promising

I used to have a contact in the Commission… If we decide to go ahead with this, I can try to bring her online, keep me posted.

As for “with” service recipients (horrible word! In an ideal OpenCare scenario we are all designers and deliverers as well as being recipients, by definition!): the mind runs to @Alkasem and @Yara_Al_Adib , who are both in Belgium. Alkasem is here in BXL, Yara in Antwerp.

“Practices for developing cohesion and integration”

Still thinking about how the theme around refugees and people on the move can work at the OpenVillage Festival this October. Heads up: it’s what participatory program building often ends up being - proposals, moving pieces around, and generating more ideas to make sure the event is both relevant and generates more knowledge.

To zoom in on one of your points above and my earlier observation @Alex_Levene : one focus could be on showcasing actual upskilling with/by people on the move, creating new market demands, so about 2 or 3 of your questions in 1, because they are interrelated.

Adding to your list of orgs and people doing really effective work already alongside refugees: could be The Bike project (just learned about it via via @CarolineM ! thanks for sharing about AMAPHIKO platform), or one of the projects @MANU_BABELE is coaching in Lesbos for business modeling?

A call dedicated to just this area of work could be useful…

I’m aware of The Bike Project, they’re doing some amazing work with refugees and asylum seekers in London.

Also, a big fan of the work done by Refugees at Home.

I would love to see examples of effective work popping up around the festival. I’d love to see the modular furniture systems of @Tomma 's team exhibited, or a display by ROC21 on their plans for building collaborative refugee accommodations.

I wonder to what extent we would need to find some innovative solutions from people/orgs on the gorund in Brussels. Would it be possible for a group like The Bike Project to set up quickly on the ground for 3 days? I guess we’d have to ask them.

I would foresee that a chunk of money would go towards covering the transport costs to bring groups that could deliver services on the ground. This would need to be delivered in conjunction with organisations already working with refugees and/or homelessness in the city. If we’re bringing these groups great innovations together then they should be delivered into the hands of people who will most benefit from them, allowing for a 2-way discussion between service users (urgh!) and service providers.

Upskilling - More resources…

@Alex_Levene after our chat last week I just realized the session at LOTE5 in Brussels last year on refugee-residents collaboration could be of help. Here is something that might go with your focus, because there seems to be another aspect to getting people into roles fit for their aspirations, and not menial work in a shrinking and polarized “job market”: building coops or services with those needing them, so taking the lead to create their/our own “jobs”:

some people in the group assert that the venture has to generate an income for the refugees, and not just training- training for what? Founder’s answer: Making people happy! (the whole conversation documented here)

Thanks @Noemi.

I’ll have a look at the session notes from LOTE5 and start to write a focussed brief for a session at OpenVillage


Still navigating the complexity of the Edgeryders site, so just coming across your inspiring post @Alex_Levene , immense work, with an impressive span. I’d not come across Good Chance Theatre - inspirational!

I’m interested in the trajectory from reactionary group to largest grassroots charity - seems to be a common thread around groups forming in response to urgent needs. I wonder how it might be better understood so that it can be more deliberately resourced across a range of issues? I’m also curious about your statement “Ethos is heavily on grassroots, non-NGO, Non-Political, but partisan actors” and what observations, experiences are behind it. I’m guessing it might relate to the theme I’m curating for the OpenVillage event. Your original post is a much bigger scope but there are commonalities and I wonder if you’re further forward in the ‘focussed brief’ you mention? A number of the discussions you’ve listed would help in illuminating the enabling factors that create and maintain grassroots care responses.

I think “practices for developing cohesion and integration” are key and would love to create some space to explore these in a session. It’s fundamental to your later discussion point: Tech and refugees. How do we stop building apps and start building communities? Its obvious that there will be many insights from the grassroots work you’ve outlined that will be very relevant to wider discussions on citizen led health and social care.

Good to hear where you’re at. Gehan

Not sure if this is happening anymore, but wanted to give @alex_levene a heads up that we’re releasing a first version of the festival program - pretty full by now - next week.

It would be a pity if after all the conversations and exhibitions last year around the issue of refugee care and new economic models we dont have anything in the Festival program…

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Hi Noemi,

Sorry to have gone so quiet. It’s been the crazy few months i was expecting it to be, and i’ve been wrapped up in all thing theatre.
I’ve kept a eye on the developments that have occurred and i’ll still very much be joining in. Seems unlikely that i would be able to run a session, but depending on the other people in attendance i’d certainly be happy to organise something informal (even if it’s just for everyone to say hello in person and share how things have moved forward for them since we shared our original stories)
If there is still an open slot and you already know that others from the refugee care strand are looking to attend i’d be happy to convene a ‘Where are we now? What next?’ session in the slot. Something on that scale could fit into my current schedule.


Hi Alex, I’m not sure how it fits the current program as it’s been a while - @woodbinehealth and @gehan are adding final touches - see the curator’s note and latest program version here.

We do want to leave small room for ad hoc, less structured sessions - maybe we save this one for that?

That would be fine for me. I expect it will depend on who is in attendance anyway.
I like the idea of being able to bounce between different sessions again this year so i’m happy to be a (helpful, busy) spectator. Do you need people to do Capture again this time around. Very happy to put myself forward.
I must admit with a few months away and the new format website (very pretty, by the way) i’m struggling to get back into the swing straight away.