Aid Box Community opens new 'free' shop and refugee hub after Bristol raises £25k
After months of uncertainty a new home has been found for refugee charity Aid Box Community (ABC).
In February this year the Bristol humanitarian organisation faced threat of closure after the building in which it hosted its free shop for refugees and asylum seekers was condemned and it had nowhere to move to - and no funds.
However, the community came to the rescue and raised £25k in less than two months through a crowdfunded campaign to save it and now a new and improved free shop and social hub is opening at 174a Cheltenham Road, Stokes Croft.
ABC has supported more than 400 individuals and families since opening in early 2016 and the move to a more central location is expected to be much more accessible for refugees.
This will help support hundreds more people access basic supplies and day-to-day goods which are hard to come by given many people live on £5 or less a day and the shop will be open for business from September 17.
The timing is particularly poignant as ABC, which originally started as Aid Box Convoy, began following the death of Alan Kurdi, whose little body in red t-shirt and blue shorts made headlines across the world on September 2, 2015. He was photographed washed up on a beach in Greece having, like hundreds of thousands of others, made the crossing across the Mediterranean with his parents in a bid to reach a safe haven.
The image was the final breaking point for Bristol mum-of-three Imogen McIntosh and a group of dedicated people from the city, as well as others across the UK, who were part of the front line of responders taking aid and supplies to the camps in Northern France. While Calais was already quite well established, a new camp made up mostly of families sprung up in a residential suburb of Dunkerque, at the end of the Chunnel, and it was here that Aid Box Convoy, as it was known then, was born.
Hundreds of volunteers travelled to Dunkerque from Bristol in ‘convoys’ managed by Imogen and a small group of organisers. Each spent five days at a time helping put in infrastructure and sanitation for the growing group of desperate people and children trying to gain refuge in the UK.
After the camps were burned down or moved on in the spring of 2016, Imogen and the volunteer team were still receiving aid and Aid Box Community was born - a small shop and hub where refugees and asylum seekers in Bristol could access the basics of life at no cost.
In June this year, Imogen moved into a founder role and the timing of the new community shop also sees a new CEO appointment in Rob Adlem, who had previously been ABC’s operations director.
Imogen said: “We have been on a long journey since that first convoy, but not as long as so many of the people who have tried to make a home in the UK after fleeing persecution, war or natural disaster.
“Back in 2015-16 the refugee crisis was very much front of mind because of the consistent media coverage, but though it does not often make front page news now it is very much still happening, devastating lives and forcing people to live in the most treacherous conditions.
“When they arrive here, people are utterly broken and traumatised yet still have to face insurmountable odds - we are committed to providing supplies, support and sanctuary and are so grateful to have had the continued help and love from the generous Bristol community when we needed it most.
“Having Rob now in position as CEO is also a fantastic boost to our future capabilities and I am looking forward to working with him further as he takes the charity from strength-to-strength.”
Rob said: “The ethos of ABC is based on humanity and love and we are now in a fantastic position to solidify many of the projects and ideas we had previously but did not have a secure enough facility to deliver from.It’s impossible to put into words the gratitude we all feel for the people who have helped us make this move but we will, through our actions, ensure that their belief in what we do goes straight to the people who need it in a way that is even more impactful and supportive than before.”
Thangam Debbonaire, Labour MP for Bristol West and Chair of the APPG for refugees, cut the ribbon to open the premises. She has been a long term supporter of the charity. She said: "I was honoured to cut the ribbon on Aid Box Community's new community shop and hub.
"They have helped so many families secure the things they need to make their home in Bristol, and I'm delighted that this vital, much-loved and much-valued charity has found a new and secure home on Cheltenham Road.”
To find out more about how to help visit the ABC website on https://www.aidboxcommunity.co.uk Photos Barbara Evripidou