Tom’s volunteering in Athens

Tom Doust, one of MRA’s founding members, has been in Greece this summer. He was volunteering at an organisation called Ankaa ( which provides support to vulnerable communities such as asylum-seekers, refugees, migrants and other people seeking employment. He has been volunteering as a teacher at Ankaa since 2019.

The approach at Ankaa is holistic and ranges from the delivery of educational programs to skills development in order to open the path to the employment market. Their social business model advocates for sustainable products created under fair and ethical working conditions. As social and environmental challenges are interconnected, they include a positive approach towards the environment and the principles of circular economy in all their programs and activities.

Last year Ankaa moved to a new building in Kipseli. It is smaller than their previous one but is in a much more convenient location. The new building has a garden and 3 good sized balconies.

In addition to the core language and tailoring classes they offer, Ankaa have evolved some other activities to fit into their sustainability ethos. Although they are limited by space they are trying to partner with other organisations and businesses to provide some vocational training and skills. This works well alongside the upcycling projects run by the tailors. The sustainability coordinator Nikos, keeps bees and runs a bee keeping course – with a marketable (and very tasty) product.

The garden is being developed with the help of a permaculture organisation Nea Guinea (Νέα Γουινέα) They have advised on some of the issues with urban gardening and with growing plants from seed. They lent a small polytunnel and the students grew a range of vegetables and flowers; these were sold in the Kipseli community market.

Ankaa gardenAnkaa garden

I’ve been helping evolve the garden and the plan is to repeat the seed growing to plant-sale model. In summer 2022, while I was there, MRA generously donated €250, the bulk of which was spent on a portable greenhouse, the rest on some plants to keep the garden active over the summer. Having a greenhouse that is easy to move allows them to make full use of the 3 balconies as each gets different amounts of light and shelter in the winter.

The soil in the garden is pretty poor but homemade compost, and a lot of advice from Nea Guinea, is helping improve it. Hopefully it will get more productive, but in the meantime the greenhouse and growing seedlings in containers is proving to be a great way of teaching some of the basics of growing stuff.

I’m just about to go there for the 5th time and am looking forward to seeing how the garden is developing.

Refugees from Ukraine coming to Marlow

Currently UNHCR believes there are over 4 million refugees from Ukraine, with more than 2.3 million in Poland alone. Some of these refugees are in the process of applying to come to the UK, and about 20 families from Marlow and the surrounding area have submitted visa applications to welcome refugee families, around 60 people, into their homes. To date just two visas have been issued.

This is being coordinated by Marlow Ukraine Collective, a community group which has only been in existence for two weeks, since the Government launched the Homes for Ukraine scheme. The group can offer support in finding sponsors for Ukrainian families and vice versa; assistance in the completion of visas, and translators and interpreters for calls with Ukrainian families. Going forward they are looking to help people find jobs and, with the help of other organisations, support families to settle in the UK.

Marlow Refugee Action has launched a fundraiser that will be ring fenced to support these families in the local area when they arrive. Please donate to it if you can.

Are you considering hosting a family? Do you want to offer help to Ukrainian families when they arrive? If so, then you can contact the group by email at You can get further information, and see what else they are doing, by following their Facebook page – Marlow Ukraine Collective. They plan to launch a website shortly.

We are also giving thought to the impact of the current war, and resulting exodus of families from Ukraine, on our local community. We have put together a page of helpful information for parents and teachers who want to talk to young children about the situation in Ukraine.

Currently the Government states that potential hosts must nominate a named Ukrainian individual or family to host. We have created a list of organisations which may be able to help with this process on this page. Please email us any additions for this list, or information on your experience, to aid the Marlow community. The page also contains a lot of additional information for hosts and those considering hosting, including a link to information about the UK application process in Ukrainian.

Some local organisations, such as Christ Church URC, are collecting goods to send to refugees in countries bordering Ukraine. They have a specific list of goods needed (which is regularly updated). It is posted on the entrance door to the church in Oxford Road or see their website. Drop off times are 10-12am on Wednesdays and Fridays and 4-6pm on Sundays. Please do not leave any goods outside of these times.

Alternatively you could help in the following ways:

1) Financially donate to reputable organisations who already have infrastructure in place to make a difference on the ground. For example, the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) has an active appeal.

At Ukraine’s borders with Poland, Romania, Hungary, Slovakia and Moldova, huge numbers of people are arriving with only what they can carry. DEC charities and their local partners are in Ukraine and in neighbouring countries providing food, water, shelter and medical assistance.

Alternatively, click on the link to see the Ukrainian Institute’s recommendations.

2) Write to your MP. Putting pressure on the UK to welcome Ukrainians to the UK is vital. Although there is now a scheme available for refugees to seek to come to the UK, the process is by no means straightforward. Let’s encourage our MPs to push for the scheme to be made more user-friendly!

The current crisis also highlights the woeful flaws in the Nationality and Borders bill – please ask our MPs to reject the most controversial aspects of the bill, and demonstrate their commitment to the UN Refugee Convention.

Our local MPs are Joy Morrissey, MP for Marlow/Beaconsfield ( and Steve Baker, MP for Marlow Bottom and Wycombe (

Advisory Board

The Trustees of MRA are always looking to expand their knowledge and experience of helping refugees ‘on the ground’. Hence an advisory board has been set up to provide valuable input, expanding their knowledge, understanding and strategic thinking around the issues affecting refugees. This is an important part of helping us select projects to support and to maximise the impact of our funding.

Advisory Board members have distinctive knowledge of the refugee crisis and some have access to networks operating in this space. They all share our goals of providing tangible support on agreed projects and building awareness in Marlow.

Advisory Board meetings are held up to four times a year. The first was held in November 2021 and a second meeting in February 2022. Both meetings have provided insights into the ever-changing situation for refugees and hence the areas where we can most make a difference. We have also learnt a lot about possible new partnerships and other individuals that we could be working with.

The information provided, in addition to that provided by the partners we fund, is helping MRA to target funds where they are most needed within our agreed criteria:

  • we can often only help a small number of people, so we want to make a significant difference
  • we want to make the people and the issues real
  • we want to connect people with the issues
  • we want to support projects that have connections in one way or another with our local community

Five years of Marlow Refugee Action

October 2021 marked the fifth year of MRA as a registered charity. As with all anniversaries, we feel a mix of emotions as we look back on that time and ahead to future challenges and possibilities. We have enjoyed tremendous support from the Marlow community—from local businesses like Coopers and Candle Calm, to the pupils and teachers at the local primary schools, we are very grateful for the acts of generosity, ingenuity and kindness that have been shown. Our supporters have barn danced, run, cycled and walked literally thousands of miles to raise thousands of pounds. We have collected clothes, boots, tents and mobile phones to distribute to refugees. We have shared some delicious Syrian food, thanks to chef Imad Alarnab, and we have sold hundreds of plants and raffled quite a number of soft toys! You have welcomed us into your churches, schools, WI and Rotary meetings, and on to Marlow FM to talk about the global refugee crisis and how we can work together to help.

It has been inspirational to see people from Marlow giving their time and sharing their skills on the frontline to support refugees and other displaced persons—through legal advice, medical care, distribution of aid, and helping in very practical ways in camps in Calais and Samos.

The projects we fund are those where the money can help a small number of people a lot and where there is a local connection to Marlow. Thanks to your immense generosity, MRA has been able to fund a wide range of projects both abroad and in the UK, providing, amongst other things, education, school uniforms and stationery, legal advice, transport, food and clothes.

While we can reflect on what we have managed to achieve since 2016, the five years ahead of us look particularly challenging. There were an additional 11.2 displacements during 2020, bringing the total number of displaced persons to 82.4 million, of which 26.4 million were refugees. Conflicts in northern Mozambique, Ethiopia and the Sahel region of Africa caused significant numbers of displacements. The situation in Afghanistan became the focus of the world’s attention for a short period but, even before the Taliban had taken over, the country was already described as having “all the hallmarks of a humanitarian catastrophe” due to conflict, Covid-19 and food shortages. The impact of climate change and pressure on natural resources will add to difficulties faced by populations who cannot survive inhospitable environments. The developing world continues to host the largest number of refugees, while developed countries, including the UK, make it increasingly difficult for refugees to penetrate their borders and to exercise their rights under the UN Convention.

At MRA, we will continue to work according to our strategic goals, focusing on changing hearts and minds in our community, building strong partnerships and raising funds. During 2022, we will be making a concerted effort to attract more volunteers to help us achieve those goals—whether that be by increasing our links with schools, assisting with events, helping with social media. We have a great variety of events planned for 2022, including dinners cooked by chef Imad, a wellness festival in Frieth in August, and our annual On The Move running challenge during Refugee Week in June. And, in May, one of our supporters will be taking part in London’s annual cycling festival RideLondon to raise funds for us.

Afghanistan Response

We have been overwhelmed by the generosity of our community in Marlow in wanting to offer clothes and other items, money, time and skills in response to the arrival of several thousand refugees from Afghanistan in the UK. 

As the refugees were quarantined in a number of hotels around the country to which only a few organisations had access, we have signposted your kind offers to organisations like Care4Calais We also gave a £200 donation to the Wycombe Youth for Christ who were able, through a paramedic working at a hotel where refugees were quarantining, to provide essentials for babies and children. We have met with WYC subsequently and will see how we can continue to support these efforts.

MRA is in regular contact with Wycombe Refugee Partnership who are supporting a family from Afghanistan as they move to High Wycombe. WRP send out requests for specific items, or specific help, as they identify them and we will ensure that these are promoted through our social media as well. You can follow WRP to get the latest updates here:

We also attended the All Saint’s Church Fun Day in September and had a Donation Station for mobile phones – we were delighted to receive so many and are happy to receive more. These will go to refugees via Care4Calais. Please visit to donate a phone.

You are no doubt aware that Buckinghamshire Council were one of the local authorities who agreed to support Afghan refugees. We have signed up with them to offer support. However, the Council have specific criteria for organisations they will engage with to support refugees coming to Buckinghamshire, which we do not meet. We will continue to explore ways of offering support however and will update you as soon as these become available. 

Virtual Book Reading event with MARION MOLTENO

On Wednesday 6th October at 6pm we are excited and privileged to welcome author MARION MOLTENO to an online ZOOM event. Marion will be talking about her books and the refugee lives that formed and inspired her writing.

The event will chaired by local author HARRI ANGELL and is a free event, open to anyone interested in learning more about Marion’s publications and the people and places that have informed them. Details about joining the meeting will be available from Marlow Refugee Action’s Facebook page nearer the time, or by contacting

Marion Molteno is an award-winning novelist. She has had several books published including A Shield of Coolest Air, which is specifically about refugees and the problems they encounter, and Uncertain Light, which gives an insight into war conditions that cause people to flee, and is set among people who work in humanitarian organisations responding to them.

Her latest book, Journeys Without a Map, will be available from end of September 2021. Through this memoir, Marion takes the reader on a journey of discovery, tracing the origins of her fictional worlds. With refugees from war in Somalia or exiles from apartheid South Africa, working with newly arrived immigrants in London or with Save the Children in the mountains of Tajikistan – everywhere Marion engages with people she meets and is inspired by them.

For the book reading event on 6 October, participants are invited to read one of the books referred to above. A complete list of Marion’s books is available from her website: Although we would love you to have read one of Marion’s books, it is not essential to have done so to attend the event.

The event will be chaired by Harri Angell, author of “Pilates for Runners” and “Pilates for Living”, both published by Bloomsbury. Harri lives and works in Marlow. In addition to running a business teaching Pilates and yoga, and to writing, Harri runs a local book group in Marlow.

There is no charge to attend the event, but if you would like to make a donation to Marlow Refugee Action, you can do so here: donate

Spinfield students changing lives through Bags for life!

Year 6 students at Spinfield School have been putting their creative and entrepreneurial skills to the test producing and selling eco bags for life made from unwanted bed linen as part of their British Council International School Award.

Not only are the students converting household waste into useful items, but they have chosen to fundraise through the sale of these bags in aid of Marlow Refugee Action, a local charity who supports projects working with refugees and asylum seekers both locally and across the world. The students made 32 bags, raising £211. In addition, children in Spinfield’s link school in Rawalpindi, Pakistan also made some eco shoppers as part of this collaborative Social Enterprise Project . These shoppers were sent to Spinfield by post and then raffled, raising a further £94. The total raised is £305.

Chair of Marlow Refugee Action, Tania Baldwin-Pask was delighted to receive the support of these entrepreneurial students.

“We are so grateful to the pupils of Spinfield School for supporting Marlow Refugee Action and the projects we partner with. These funds will be used to support fellow school students living in refugee camps on the island of Chios through our partner, Action for Education.

“This funding will be used to buy educational materials for the students, allowing them to progress with their studies in just the same way as students here in Marlow. They need books, worksheets and stationary; and this donation will cover these costs for around one school term.

“We were particularly impressed that the students of Spinfield connected an environmental project to our work with refugees. As climate change continues to affect us all, more people all over the world will become displaced, and so this initiative not only shows outstanding ingenuity and entrepreneurial skills, but also a very mature understanding of the interconnected nature of people and planet.”

One of the students in the class said of the project “Our class created a Social Enterprise project as part of our work towards the British Council’s International School Award. We wanted to produce a sustainable product to support a worthy charity: Marlow Refugee Action. We are children helping other children. Our Eco-Shoppers are sustainable, fun to make and use, and most importantly they help support the welfare and education of less fortunate refugee children.” Head teacher Jayne Spreadbury could not be more proud of her students; “At Spinfield we believe that being a Global Citizen is an important life skill.  We have been delighted with the children’s response to the fundraiser for Marlow Refugee Action and it shows the spirit of the Spinfield children helping other children.”

Update from Dom Ford at Distribute Aid

“Back in November I left Offene Arme on Chios, and started a new job working for Distribute Aid, in Belgrade, Serbia. Distribute Aid is a charity that’s specifically focussed on the supply of aid to the frontline groups, helping to move containers of aid across the continent, completely at cost, thereby freeing up money to be spent on helping those that need it.

The main thing I’ve learnt from working at DA is just the monumental effort across Europe – UK and Germany are the 2 biggest senders of aid, and containers are constantly being shipped to Calais or to Greece. We’ve also been running a few other interesting shipments for example we’re currently moving 10,000 reusable masks from LA to Calais.

In my short time of working here, I’ve been able to work not just on running shipments, but also on some projects to really help improve the wider community. This includes figuring out how to move aid into the EU, post-Brexit, developing a needs assessment, and a new guide on sorting donations that we hope will be implemented across the continent.

Having worked in each of the regions across Europe, and seen the results of the European-wide policy, I’m now just not surprised any more. I know how dehumanising, humiliating, and illegal the policy is – whether it’s the evictions in Calais, the pushbacks in Greece, or the beatings by police officers in Croatia and Romania. I don’t really respect European governments any more, and the only thing that’s keeping my going is the small, grassroots organisations, whose combined efforts really help to make a difference. Imagine how many donations can fit into a shipping container – and it all relies on one person donating their jacket.”

We have just heard that since Dom sent us this update, he has successfully navigated all the post-Brexit tangles and red-tape and enabled a huge truck-full of aid to make it from the UK to Calais where it is so desperately needed – great news, and well done Dom!

If you’d like to hear more from Dom, he also sent us a video update available here

Proposed UK Reforms to Immigration Policy

You may have heard Home Secretary Patel announcing yesterday (24 March) the public consultation on the government’s New Plan for Immigration.   The wide-reaching reforms are to be debated in parliament in summer and are allegedly aimed at smashing the criminal gangs which bring those seeking asylum to the UK. Most notable among the reforms is the proposal to differentiate between those arriving through “safe routes” and those who arrive in other ways – regardless of the merits of the individual’s claim. 
Unfortunately so much of the language and the information that is given in these debates – whether through government statements or parts of the media – is misleading and incorrect. Given the potentially devastating impact of these proposed reforms, and the fact that there is a public consultation under way, we believe it is important that people are properly informed about the facts and figures about the asylum system. More information and relevant links will be provided in our next newsletter. 
Although the language surrounding asylum tends to refer to the system being “in crisis”, last year, some 30,000 people sought asylum in the UK.  In comparison to previous years, this number is relatively low – and it also low when compared to other countries, including countries in the EU – eg Germany received 120,000 applications for asylum during the same period.
Over 8,000 of those crossed the English Channel to reach the UK. The largest number of people seeking asylum in the UK came from Iran.
Home Secretary Patel claims that the UK asylum system is broken. Certainly numbers awaiting decisions on their applications have grown significantly.  In 2010, nearly 12,000 asylum seekers were waiting to hear if they could stay in the UK. Just before the pandemic hit last year, that number had reached almost 44,000. But this is because cases are taking longer to resolve. Non-governmental organisations and legal firms who support people seeking asylum maintain that this is due to mismanagement of the process over many years and poor quality of decision-making which results in people then seeking a review of the decisions made.
The UK government is a signatory to the UN Refugee Convention – indeed, it was one of its key architects in 1951. Nowhere in the Convention does it state that asylum can be granted on the basis of how one has travelled to a country. Although the government is proposing official routes, it gives no detail about these. Nor does it recognise that, for people who are desperate and fleeing persecution, they will travel in whatever way possible to reach safety. Rather it seeks to make conditions considerably less favourable for those who use routes which are not “official”, even if they have a solid claim. Further, the government will try to send them back to other “safe” countries they have travelled through, even though there is nothing in the Refugee Convention which obliges a person seeking asylum to seek sanctuary in the first safe country they reach. Now that the UK is no longer part of the EU and has therefore left the EU system governing transfers of people being removed, the UK cannot force other EU countries like France or Greece to receive people without permission.
Lastly while the Plan includes important commitments towards, eg family reunification, no numbers are provided.
We encourage our supporters to have their say in the public consultation, open until 6 May 2021. This can be found at: You can also find the New Plan at this link.

MRAG word cloud

Marlow Refugee Action turns 4!

With so many challenges being faced by refugees in the UK and overseas, it can feel strange to want to celebrate.

But, today, we have cause to as Marlow Refugee Action has just turned 4! On this happy occasion, founders Vanessa and Tom said…

“When the two of us first talked about doing this, we never thought we would achieve anything like this much. It just goes to show what is possible when a group of like-minded people come together in support of a shared passion.

An enormous thank you to our fellow trustees, all our volunteers, donors, and supporters and all the people who have touched our hearts and inspired us along the way”

On this anniversary, Marlow Refugee Action wanted to share with you the difference your generosity has made, and how every donation really adds up to make a meaningful difference to the lives of refugees in the UK and beyond.

Together we’ve bought school supplies for Lebanon, flip flops for Chios, winter boots for Calais, laptops, underpants, torches,  tents and tablets.

You’ve collected coats and clothes, sleeping bags, SNUG packs and shoeboxes; run races, supported tombolas, held concerts and plant sales, inspired school kids & eaten many many Syrian suppers! 

From the bottom of our hearts we want to thank everyone who made the last 4 years possible and hope you will join us as we move forward into 2021 and beyond.

Inspired to get involved? Join us for the next step of the journey!

We need passionate advocates, speakers, organisers, fundraisers, and trustees as well as teachers, hosts and volunteers to come alongside asylum seekers and refugees in the surrounding area.

Get in touch to find out more…