Working in solidarity: new group to support women in Derwentside

In this first person blog, one of our Training and Membership Coordinators, Fiona, considers some of AVID’s recent work in the North East of England. One of our key aims is to ensure that everyone in immigration detention has access to a supported, trained, and informed volunteer. Part of this includes working with local communities when a new detention centre opens to establish a volunteer group.

 

As we’ve seen in recent weeks, the powerful campaigns against a new detention centre for women in Derwentside have demonstrated the extent of opposition to detention and shone a light on the deep harms it causes. The campaign has also powerfully highlighted the particular harms experienced by women. Despite this broad and sustained resistance from the local community, and from women with experience of detention, the first women are expected to be transferred to the new centre from Yarl’s Wood in the next few weeks. In this context, an overwhelming number of individuals, organisations and community groups have been considering what they can do to demonstrate solidarity with those who will be held inside, and have begun collecting items that they hope might be of practical help to women in detention.

Along with my colleague Gee, as AVID’s Training and Membership Coordinator, I’ve been working with a diverse range of local organisations and individuals who are keen to visit women in Derwentside, with the aim of facilitating a group of people who are trained and confident in visiting women in detention. To this end we’ve been meeting local groups and networks, delivering core training for visitors, and facilitating meetings of those interested in working together to establish a strong approach to visiting.

Our approach has been shaped by AVID’s experiences of establishing and nurturing visiting groups across the UK over 25 years. While building on the existing experiences, best practice and skills of our national network, we have also been working particularly to enable the group to develop its own identity, appropriate to and emerging from the local context. Each group in the AVID network is very different, and has developed in relation to the specific detention site they are visiting (our members visit in immigration removal centres, short term holding facilities and prisons), the size and location of the centre, the people they are likely to meet, and of course the unique organizing approaches of those involved in setting up the group. We see the unique nature of each group as a strength, and have been working to support the new group in Derwentside to find its feet and own way of working. We do this while providing key support such as liaising with centre management, or providing advice on different models and approaches, so that they group can initially focus its energies on the support it can offer women in detention.

We’ve also spent a lot of time as a group discussing values and building these into the foundations of the group from the start. These include taking a solidarity approach: working with people in detention, rather than on their behalf as ‘saviours’. This is so important to avoid replicating the experience of disempowerment and relationships of control that are inherent to immigration detention.

Ensuring meaningful participation of people in detention is also something that the group, and AVID as a network, has been reflecting on, and while there is much more work to do on this front, the advice and guidance provided in the initial training by someone who had been visited in Yarl’s Wood has played a formative role in the group’s thinking about visiting. This shows how the experience of others in the network, and the people they’ve supported, is so important.

As the group has developed I’ve been struck by the volunteers commitment to critical reflection on the role of visitors to immigration detention, and the many valuable experiences and skills they bring with them to the task of establishing a group. While we wish there was no need for new groups like this, it is heartening to know there are communities and individuals prepared to demonstrate their solidarity with people in detention through visiting. 

Photo by Claudio Schwarz on Unsplash

Publication date: 
Tuesday, November 30, 2021