Support swells for Dundee refugee charity

A SCOTTISH group set up on Facebook to help support refugees has now raised nearly £10,000.

Dundee Refugee Support volunteers, from left to right, Stephen Crofts, Angela McGregor, Sonia Grecka, Emma Ryland, Meaghan Crofts, Emma Hann, Sammi Craig and Mike Strachan. Photo: Sofiane Kennouche

After seeing images of drowned three-year-old Syrian boy Aylan Kurdi washed ashore this summer, Sammi Craig became one of the founding members of Dundee Refugee Support - a group which now has nearly 6,000 likes on Facebook.

The organisation moved into city offices and has grown to become Scotland’s largest donation point - recently becomming a registered charity.

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As well as offering support to refugees stranded around Europe, the group has been so inundated with donations, they are now able to help people living in Dundee.

Dundee Refugee Support volunteers, from left to right, Stephen Crofts, Angela McGregor, Sonia Grecka, Emma Ryland, Meaghan Crofts, Emma Hann, Sammi Craig and Mike Strachan. Photo: Sofiane Kennouche

Sammi said: “I saw the pictures on Facebook and I just remember being in a hotel room in Birmingham and crying all night.

“I had a few other friends who were feeling the same way and on the train home we decided to do something. Next morning we set up the Facebook page, and now we’re here.”

United by events they had seen unfolding on the world stage this summer, Dundee Refugee Support’s base at the city’s Swan House offices has swelled to become Scotland’s largest donation point - with deliveries even coming in from as far afield as Orkney.

But as well as providing for refugees throughout Europe, the team plan to provide for those who face poverty and homelessness in Scotland too, with new fundraising events the first actions of the recently-formed charity.

Dundee Refugee Support has set up in Swan House in Dundee Technology Park. Photo: Mike Strachan

Mike Strachan is one of the volunteers who has been involved in everything from sorting donations to loading the vans bound for Europe.

He said: “We’d sometimes get a massive load of one product which we couldn’t always use with refugees so sometimes it would go to local charities instead. We’ve been able to give donations like toys to the shoebox appeal so far.

“That’s been born out of the donations we’ve had and how useful they have been.”

Such is the scale of the charity’s operations that the group has several fundraising projects to look forward to, with an art auction on Friday 4 December to be hosted by Dundee MP Chris Law.

Donations sorted by volunteers at Dundee's Swan House. Photo: Chris Scott

Volunteers Angela McGregor and Sonia Grecka have organised the Dundee Helps Refugees Exhibition event, which will see 25 artworks created by local artists and valued at up to £450 auctioned off. Singers will also perform at the evening event on Dundee’s Chambers East.

The run-up to Christmas will also see the charity collecting donations from Errol Sunday Market every Sunday until 25 December to further their winter aid plans.

Volunteer Emma Ryland added: “People are still bringing stuff in; the generosity of people in Dundee is just huge.”

Dundee Refugee Support had been encouraged to formally register as a charity by Dundee Council, after internal group discussions indicated that their first deliveries to Calais would not be a one-off gesture.

Part of Dundee Refugee Support's first delivery to Serbia. Photo: Mike Strachan

Mike said: “It was ragtag at the beginning; the original plan was to send vans to Calais, then it became measured in tonnage.

“We’ve been sending to Kosovo and Serbia. We’ve sent £2,000 to Lesbos in Greece and we have spaces on two 20-ton deliveries due to go out before Christmas.”

The group’s formal status marks a shift towards a long-term charitable cause, as volunteer Stephen Crofts outlined the “need to be accountable” for the cash donated to fund the transportation of donations abroad.

Mike tells the story of Open Aid Direct, who managed to recently secure 1600 brand-new Lyle & Scott jumpers for refugees as they were previous year’s stock.

“We would love to get a partnership with a company who may still have last year’s lines”, he adds.

The centre at Swan House - gifted to the charity by Elin House Church is well-established, with very few donations going to waste as even single shoes are recycled.

Dundee Helps Refugees Art Exhibition will be held this Friday. Photo: Dundee Refugee Support

A mix of religious organisations have donated to the cause, united by the humanitarian aspect of the charity’s mission, while one Glen Isla resident has made no less than eight separate large donations to date.

Sonia said: “As we’re all volunteers and have our own lives, our kids and our work, it’s difficult to be here all the time.

“The public expect us to be open daily and it often means that the volunteers have to put their own lives on the back burner.”

Nevertheless, the efforts of the volunteers have been noticed so far, with the Scottish Government pitching in to help create aid organisation Dundee the Caring City.

Volunteer Emma Hann said “This whole experience has been an amazing coming-together of all different types of charities and religions within the area. For me, that’s been the best thing about it.”

Dundee Refugee Support is looking for new volunteers and donations. More information, including contact details and information on upcoming fundraisers, can be found on the group’s Facebook page.

Emma, Sammi and Sonia sort through clothing donated to the charity. Photo: Sofiane Kennouche
The team often work into the night sorting out the volume of donations. Photo: Sofiane Kennouche
DRS will have a Christmas donation collection at Errol Sunday Market. Photo: Mike Strachan
Photo: Dundee Refugee Support
The first meeting of Dundee Refugee Support at The Charleston Bar, Dundee. Photo: Chris Scott