Frontline organisations in the asylum sector work hard, it goes without saying: providing daily support to people who need so much, and doing it on often very tight budgets and with meagre resources. CSEL’s mission of ‘disseminating research findings’ means that our role in the web of organisations that make up the asylum voluntary sector is mostly one of simple information exchange and knowledge sharing. The emphasis in our relationships with frontline organisations, for example through the Evidence into Practice project, has mostly been on helping practitioners to get to grips with research results, so that they can use the findings of scientific research in their work with and on behalf of traumatised people going through the legal process of the UK asylum system.
However, CSEL is part of a thriving mutual aid network of dynamic organisations and people supporting vulnerable people, and there is more to our relationships than this. In addition to providing information and research evidence, we also support organisations in other ways.
Sometimes we do this through training. Jane Herlihy delivered training to Medical Justice staff in recognising vicarious traumatisation and dealing with burnout; and taught Room to Heal staff and volunteers to understand and use academic literature. After this session we realised the importance of providing this kind of information – and that led to creating the section on using academic literature on this website. Sometimes we help out in other ways. Last year Clare Cochrane helped with designing and delivering an Evelyn Oldfield event bringing refugee women together with women’s sector organisations; and she worked with Employability Forum to design an evaluation framework for a new project. In turn, CSEL has been the beneficiary of support from others: Denise Drake at Turning the Tide helped Clare with event design; Debora Singer at Asylum Aid gave invaluable help with planning CSEL’s early dissemination work back in 2009 - and continues to draw on our research and support us in making sure it works hard for the people who need it the most.
In any ecosystem there are both visible and non-visible relationships, and the complexity of every system means that the possibilities for interaction are almost infinite. This is what makes a system resilient, increasing its chances of survival in hard times. Many voluntary sector organisations are struggling at the moment with challenges to resourcing – funding, specifically. Unfortunately, these less visible or obvious forms of support that we provide each other don’t always get the recognition that they deserve. When money is tight, organisations can only find capacity to do the project work that has been explicitly funded. One danger arising from this is that they will not be able to provide this extra, ad hoc, support to each other - and the sector’s bonds will weaken, and its potential for development and innovation will be lost.