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Kol Nidre Talk by Leonie Bennett

This evening I’m going to make an appeal on behalf of two organisations which are changing people’s lives. The first, Refugee Resource, supports asylum seekers mainly in Oxfordshire; the second, the Langdon Community provides support for young Jewish adults with learning difficulties and is based in London.

Refugee Resource was established in 1999. It is an organization which focuses on the therapeutic rather than the practical needs of asylum seekers, helping them to process traumatic memories and deal with new challenges. It works in partnership with and complements other organisations which meet different, more practical needs. 

The vast majority of asylum seekers are law-abiding people who have fled from danger. Most come from countries with poor human rights records or where there is war or conflict. Asylum seekers are not allowed to work for the first 12 months of their application and have to rely on state support, which is set at 70% of the level of income support. The accommodation they are allocated is usually ‘hard to let’, which other people do not want. Consequently, many asylum seekers live in poverty and experience poor health and hunger.

The social and psychological support offered by Refugee Resource make it possible for people to rebuild their lives and integrate into the new world in which they find themselves. The charity treats people as individuals and works hard to make them feel accepted - aiming to relieve their distress and improve their well-being. It is important to note that the refugees and asylum seekers are themselves involved in developing and running the services - so they are not passive recipients.

In addition to counseling and mentoring services, Refugee Resource run a women’s group which enables women from diverse backgrounds to come together, share experiences and give each other strength and support. There is also an allotment programme where refugees and asylum seekers work together to grow things they can then share.

The aim of Refugee Resource is integration and it achieves it by providing social and psychological support. It is a space for healing, empowerment and participation. 

And now to the second organization to benefit from your donations .

The Langdon Community helps young jewish adults with moderate learning difficulties to live independent lives. 

People with learning difficulties face considerable barriers in life. 

They don’t mix easily with mainstream society and, consequently, often feel isolated. Acutely aware from an early age that they are different from everyone else and frequently bullied, they often suffer depression and anxiety. 

At Langdon, young adults are supported, according to their level of need, to live in their own homes in the context of a wider community. 

And here I declare a personal interest because my 29 year old son Simon is a Langdon resident. Simon grew up in Oxford, came to liberal services here and was a keen member of the youth group. But, as he entered adulthood, his aspergers’ syndrome made his life more and more challenging. He left Oxford to go to university but was unable to sustain independent living in spite of the support offered by Lampeter uni. Eventually the years of stress led to mental breakdown. Oxfordshire social services could offer nothing appropriate and he was housed in East Oxford amongst middle-aged alcoholics and drug addicts. Many of the staff seemed indifferent; those who were conscientious were severely over-stretched. It is hard to describe the constant daily difficulties Simon faced and my struggles to keep him off the streets and out of hospital.

Why, you may ask, didn’t he just get a bus home and come and live with me? It was because, like, most other young adults, he wanted to live independently of his parents.

Then a member of this community told me about Langdon and, after 2 years battling for funding, in July 2009, Simon moved into a shared house in Edgware and his life, my life and his sister’s life changed. After years of worrying every day about Simon I was able to relax, knowing that he was amongst people who care about him and who help him to live a fulfilling and independent life. After years of feeling excluded, Simon became part of a community. After years of failures and false starts he was able to achieve small successes. He now lives in his own flat, works for a local Jewish charity and is training to be a cub-scout leader. Every Friday night he shares a meal which he has helped to prepare, with fellow residents; he celebrates Jewish festivals, birthdays and other events with members of the community. Above all he has self esteem and the respect of others. 

Simon is not a special case. His story is typical. All Langdon parents feel their children have found a safe haven after years of inappropriate housing and inadequate care packages. The support workers at Langdon behave with humanity and respect towards the residents. They and are not paid more than those in East Oxford but everyone who works for Langdon is affected by the ethos of the organization – an ethos of respect and inclusion. Langdon currently supports more than 30 young Jewish adults in North London and another 50 in Manchester – but there are many more in need and the charity is seeking to expand.

I cannot praise the work Langdon does highly enough. Most of the residents lead lives that, without Langdon, their parents could only have dreamt about.

On behalf of Langdon and Refugee Resource, may I ask you, this evening, to give generously.

 

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