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A day in the life of a Bridge Plus volunteer

Another busy day at the Bridge Plus Office…
Never a dull moment, and often no time for a cuppa or lunch…… because our clients are worried, frightened, puzzled, frustrated, angry or sad and so a quick coffee doesn’t get a look in, unless I am making one for them – which I do as one of my regular jobs as the office “dog’s body”. Sometimes our clients are overjoyed and grateful, because they have the piece of paper they have been waiting for from the Home Office, or news from the Housing Department that bigger or better accommodation has become available. Then we all rejoice, often with chocolates!
Officially I do Triage in the office – greeting guests as they arrive, sometimes reassuring them that they are in the right place. (Our office is in a rabbit warren of identical white doors in Sackville Place.) I check appointment times, find files, get out the toys for the children and make sure they are not scribbling on the walls (not unknown). I often take the phone, and listen for the required number of minutes waiting time on every government and council help line, or the electricity or gas customer services queue, until a person answers and problems can actually be talked through; not always solved but may be moved on a little.
Then there are the more unusual things – an electricity cut (too familiar, unfortunately) , which freezes everything, of course, sometimes literally; a query about the contents of the Food Bank box (“What is mincemeat? Is it meat?) ; keeping children from interrupting their parents’ interviews, or playing with the wrong things.
We have to be here, as often as our funding allows, for all the new residents of Norwich who just want to find their feet, make things work for their families and contribute to Norwich life – like Samira (not her real name.)
Samira came to London to improve her English and applied for asylum when things went wrong for her in her Middle East home. She is still waiting to apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain, which takes 5 years’ residency, and is depressed that she is “still a refugee”. Bridge + supported her with advice about welfare benefits and Employment Support Allowance and finding her a council house. She has a talent for cooking, and is hoping one day to have her own catering business.
It is almost always a long and slow journey for refugees to become citizens, not to say also frustrating and expensive. The “hostile environment” is active around us.
But we at Bridge Plus will, hopefully, always be here.
Frances Middleton (volunteer at Bridge Plus)