As we lead up to Refugee Week 2020, we want to create an online space for story sharing of refugees and migrant groups. We also wanted to share stories of our staff members and how they came to be part of the MRSN community.
Anybody who has been involved with or reached out to MRSN will probably have met Alex, but not many may know how he came to work here.
It’s quite a convoluted story of how I first got involved in Manchester Refugee Support Network, so I hope everyone is sitting down.
Teaching in China
My previous job was as an English teacher in China, where I spent much of my twenties. Unfortunately, that life was brought to an end rather swiftly when I suffered a fall that broke pretty much every bone in my body, permanently fractured my spine and left me with parts of my body put out of service to this day. This necessitated a move back to the UK so the NHS would allow me to spend six months in hospital for free.
Visit visa rejection
A couple of years later, when I had recuperated enough to be able to walk and choose when I went to the toilet, I really wanted a friend of mine from China to visit me in Manchester. It would have been her first time out of the country, and we both got embarrassingly excited about all the places we could visit. Of course, her application for a Visit Visa (which I flew to Beijing to help her post) was rejected, and I got my first experience of the kind of hurt that can be prompted by negative and harsh Home Office decisions.
Also around this time, I was starting to consider re-entering the world of work, mainly because I was getting bored sitting alone in my council house. Unfortunately, I had no recent work experience in the UK, and no desire to become a teacher in the UK (I imagined British school children would be like myself, and I was not prepared to deal with that), so I had no idea what I could do.
Becoming an Immigration Advisor
By chance, I came across the job title of ‘Immigration Advisor’ and immediately knew that it was exactly what I was born to do! I could help prevent people feeling the kind of disappointment and heartache that I had recently felt!
I read more about it and discovered that I would need to be registered with something called ‘OISC’. Fine, I thought, no problem, I’m an extremely smart guy, I could probably just do that exam and guess most of the questions correctly, right? To sit the exam though, you needed to show that you had a certain number of hours’ experience in immigration, so I figured I might need to do some volunteering.
I sent off volunteer applications to every immigration and refugee charity in Manchester. MRSN were the first charity to get back to me, so that’s the technical and literal reason I started volunteering there in late 2016.
TLDR: I started volunteering at MRSN because I nearly died in an accident in China. But you kind of need the bit in the middle.
Volunteering with MRSN
Once I started volunteering at MRSN, I quickly fell in love with the place. I hadn’t previously had much experience with either refugees or asylum seekers, and I felt that every day I spent volunteering to support them I was learning valuable things that my comparatively sheltered existence had never previously had the chance to interact with.
I loved the people at MRSN and I loved how well everyone got on.
I loved the casual atmosphere, where just because everyone took their work extremely seriously didn’t mean that the people had to be humourless.
I loved how the service was truly client based, how it didn’t just say that it was but actually went out of its way to frame every decision and launch every project through the lens of how it would support Manchester’s refugee and asylum seeker community.
I loved how dedicated it was to its philosophy that nobody should ever have to pay money for any service from MRSN. As someone who had averted earning money his whole life, it really appealed to me.
Without wanting to sound too corny, I really began to feel that offering support and advise to these refugees and asylum seekers when such support might not otherwise be available to them meant there was a real reason that I survived the accident in China. I started volunteering two days a week instead of one. Then three. Then four. Until I was volunteering every spare moment I had at MRSN, and even though I was a volunteer I became a fixture of the office and it became very clear that they weren’t going to easily get rid of me.
Getting a job with MRSN
Eventually in 2018, MRSN came into some funding that allowed me to get a wage two days a week, but I still volunteered the other three days. Finally, in 2019, MRSN were able to employ me full time, which I am to this day. I now supervise the two drop-ins that MRSN has each week, and have recently launched a third drop-in to deal exclusively with Travel Documents that I will also supervise.
I am currently the Project Coordinator of the Digital Employability Skills course, but that has had to go through a lot of changes recently! I am also the main person responsible for recruiting, training and supporting MRSN’s unbelievably wonderful group of volunteers, which has become one of my favourite parts of the job- MRSN seems to attract the nicest, funniest and most incredible volunteers (no idea how I slipped through the net) and many people still stay in contact and offer to help out whenever they can even if other commitments mean they can no longer volunteer in person.
Because of my OISC Level 1 accreditation, I would also be MRSN’s Immigration Advisor. Yeah, I finally passed that test. One of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Probably wouldn’t have been able to guess the answers…
We are so grateful to hear all stories of people within the MRSN family. If you would like to share your story please click here.