Connecting clients to services

Tell us about the Early Action approach you have taken?

Our InterAction first drop-in opened its doors in May 2019. The drop-in’s are vibrant, welcoming, city-wide hubs, that run from two locations in Newcastle. CastleGate in the city centre and the library in the West End, where the majority of the community live.

We aspire to be the first port-of-call for newly dispersed asylum seekers, local asylum seekers and refugees at a critical juncture on their asylum journey.

New arrivals are often highly disorientated and lacking friendships or social networks. Through InterAction, they are able to ‘find their feet’, discover and engage with local services and support straight away, and start to orientate themselves into the local community with flexible and responsive wrap-around support. 

The drop-in facilitates connections between organisations and beneficiaries so that they are able to take control of their own situations. By bringing together service providers into one space we aim to make advice accessible to all and support new arrivals to engage with and navigate through the available local services. The drop-in is also the entry into our other services, including our extensive ESOL provision. By including language school registration within the drop-in, our aim is for newly settled asylum seekers to access ESOL provision as soon as possible. 

We provide a crucial space for organisations and statutory services, who attend on a rota basis, to be visible, make contact and reach asylum seekers and refugees. The improved configuration of local provision means gaps are more easily identified and referral routes and support pathways have been strengthened. 

As well as preventing crisis through early connection into support, the drop-in prevents isolation and loneliness. By providing space for social connections, opportunities to meet people you relate to, and who speak your language, we help people to relax, form friendships, build social networks and community resilience. 

We recognise that our beneficiaries have different and changing needs and vulnerabilities, they experience different barriers and have different capability to take action for themselves. We provide an empowering service by taking a person-centred approach, having a flexible model of support, and prioritising reaching those at increased risk of exclusion. 

We work inclusively and collaboratively with people with lived experience, partner organisations, statutory service providers and stakeholders across the city to design, deliver and continue developing this early action project. 

Why was this needed?

There are lots of brilliant projects and services across the city. But there was no central place where asylum seekers arriving to the city, or at key points in their journey (i.e following an asylum decision), could go to find support. Before we set up InterAction, people had to go to multiple different places and organisations. This could be confusing and frustrating for people trying to get help. 

Inevitably, some people didn’t know that support was available or how to access it. Some people were not getting the help they needed early enough to have any hope of preventing problems arising, or they were left isolated with their issues escalating to crisis point. 

For the sector, this meant there was no physical space where the multiple organisations in the city could configure their delivery. This approach also meant that services were constantly reacting to people’s problems as they presented with them.

What difference has this made?

A total of 930 attendees attended our Drop In since it was launched in May 2019. 88 % attendees come to our Drop In more than once. 1 in 3 service users reported that they often feel lonely.  

People who are waiting for a decision on their asylum claim live with a massive amount of day-to-day anxiety and uncertainty about their futures. The sense of powerlessness in an uncertain situation where it is difficult to know how to access trustworthy information, or how to keep safe, can be overwhelming and very damaging to mental health. Our journey has deepened our understanding of the social connections that our service users are able to benefit from or are excluded from. We have explored many ways to support our service users to gain a sense of control by providing accurate information, practical support and connect them into communities for support.  

“I’ve been able to speak to people which has taken away my loneliness and depression. I’ve got out of the house and met new friends. Here, there is no judgement of my nationality or religion. It is a safe place where people sympathise with me and understand my problems.” 
‘’I found many things for me and my family that is not possible buy it with my own money but they are priority for keeping us in good condition’’ 
‘’They helped me when I had a problem with my ASPEN card and problem with house also and I would like to thank you for everything’’ 

B has lived in the UK for 10 years, trying to keep up with the ever changing immigration rules with uncertainty of his own status.  He arrived in Newcastle just recently.   He came to our services to look for help for GP and dentists registration.  Our team introduced the services that our drop In can provide, including clothes, food bank referrals and other community organizations for support. We aim to ensure A knows he can return to us for information and support throughout his asylum journey.

We helped him fill out the registration forms and he was happy to hand it to the GP, we gave him the address of a surgery near his accommodation.  We supported him for the registration and transport arrangement to see a dentist for his first dental appointment.  He missed this appointment due to traffic delays and another appointment could not be offered on the same day. He was very disappointed and came to our drop In. He told us the dental clinic was very rude to him and unhelpful.  He was very in a low mood.   He also has lost his GP registration forms and he became very upset with his whole experience in the UK. He expressed hopelessly that he would rather go back to his country and be killed.  We also identified that he was using alcohol to cope with his stress and he made comments which we believed were an intention of suicide.  Although it was not a case of an immediate 999 call, the outcome of our assessment indicated attention with his mental state was necessary.  We engaged the Regional Manager and Head of Operations from Mears Housing to take immediate action to ensure the client was safe when he returned home. Migrant Help was also made aware of his situation.

We then informed the client that we hoped to see him again at the next drop In.  We emphasized that we could help him arrange services and support for his current mental stress and provide him with the appropriate support to settle in the city.

Our digital inclusion services provided him with a tablet, he returned to our next drop in to collect it, he was very pleased and thankful.  We saw him happily making friends with other people in his own language.  He became another person.  After that, we worked with him to plan all the help he would require to make him feel supported.  We filled out a new GSM1 registration form, completed the process online and arranged another dentist for him.  We are linking him to other mental health support, engaging him more to attend our drop In regularly for social interaction with others and other community activities. 

What impact has this had for the organisation? 

InterAction enables us to work more ‘up-stream’ and engage as early as possible in a person’s journey towards independence and integration, than we had previously been able to. 

With the best will in the world, some services can be confusing, alienating or erect barriers than mean some people will struggle to engage. Sometimes it takes more than signposting, giving someone a leaflet or telling someone about a project. Being able to make an introduction and have the organisation on hand to tell someone about the support they can provide, or even do a task there and then can make all the difference. It’s more about getting organisations to change how they engage with people, than getting individuals to better engage with organisations.

Through InterAction we are able to introduce people to service providers and organisations, either before they need them or as they need them, but before their problem has reached crisis point. Organisations are more able to ‘be alongside’ someone, preparing them for what they might need and as matters arise. 

Lessons learnt from taking an early action approach to designing InterAction drop-in’s have been applied elsewhere in the organisation and the broader sector, such as the ongoing efforts to create an ESOL Hub for the region. (link to other case study).  

Bringing organisations together to deliver InterAction means there are stronger relationships, better networking and joint working between partners and stakeholders across the city. Action Foundation’s role in doing this has enabled us to influence wider service delivery. This was particularly important as the sector moved to adapt to Covid. 

At the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, we were well placed to convene organisations across Newcastle, Gateshead and Sunderland. We facilitated regular meetings aimed to improve collaboration; coordinate service provision, avoid duplication, strengthen signposting and referral pathways, reduce pressure on individual organisations and join up to be as effective as possible in meeting individuals’ needs. We also explored how to establish information sharing and joint working agreements between organisations. 

How did you know you were taking the right approach? 

We identified the need for a central place where newly arrived asylum seekers could find their feet, socialise and meet others, connect with local services, and find out about opportunities. We discussed this with beneficiaries from our language school and partners and stakeholders who confirmed our analysis of this gap in local service provision.  

The sector and community came together at well attended consultation events to learn more and to hear key partners’ ideas for creating a solution to meet this need collaboratively. We then built upon this initial interest by involving them in planning and ongoing development of the project. Many of these partners went on to join the rota of organisations represented at the drop-ins. 

The collaborative approach we took to designing InterAction means that the project complements and supports existing provision, rather than competing or duplicating. 

We also worked strategically with the LAASLOs (Newcastle City Council Local Authority Asylum Seeker Liaison Officers) and Newcastle City of Sanctuary to ensure the initiative aligned with other efforts to smooth people’s entry into the city and make their experience here as positive as possible, from the beginning. 

In designing the project we visited and took inspiration from the other Early Action partners who have experience running multi-agency drop-in’s. Many drop-in’s are historic and their models have evolved over time and in response to wide-ranging influences. Being able to start from scratch - and having a clean slate to respond to need with a focus on prevention, and the benefit of hindsight and lots of advice was really useful! 

As part of adopting the early action principles - we’ve focused on being agile, flexible and experimenting to find what works. After each drop-in, the team debriefs to reflect and discuss any changes needed. In the initial stages, we also kept a learning log to record our attempts and what we have learned as a result. Feedback from users is also central to our decision making and how the project has been shaped.  

How is this different to what you were doing before?

As an organisation we previously had limited capacity to address presenting/emerging needs of those who were being referred (or self-referring) to us, at a pre-crisis stage. Our two main projects, Action Language (ESOL classes) and Action Housing & Letting (providing accommodation to destitute asylum seekers and new refugees), were stretched and unable to provide further proactive support. Whilst these services played (and continue to play) a crucial role in meeting needs, we had a growing realisation that we needed to work ‘upstream'/earlier and more proactively within a person's asylum 'journey' to help prevent crises in the first place and to build personal resilience and social capital. 

What challenges have you encountered? 

The pandemic, multiple lockdowns and social distancing meant we had to completely overhaul the delivery of a project that was based upon and prioritised face to face connection between people and those working to support them. 

Although our methods of delivery had to change - transitioning to remote working and telephone/digital delivery; running smaller socially distanced drop-in sessions; our overall ambition to provide ‘wrap-around’ support to our clients; to connect them into services, support and learning opportunities, prevent isolation; build resilience and maintain emotional wellbeing; remained the same.

We concentrated on remaining flexible and adaptable in responding to changing beneficiary needs. This included designing new provision to support residents in a newly opened Initial Accommodation, ensuring that there are always staff to help with specific casework issues, bespoke requests and especially problems faced by people arriving into the area during the pandemic, who were at particular risk of isolation and exclusion. 

We maintained our intention to work proactively rather than reactively - but this is easier said than done! We knew that making 'proactive' welfare calls to our registered clients was important, as some people were unlikely or unable to reach out and ask for help despite needing it. However, capacity to meet this need was a real challenge as we had over 1000 clients and not enough staff or trained volunteers to make the calls as frequently as we wanted to. 

What else do you want to achieve? 

We have a large volunteer base who have lived experience of the asylum system.  They are very valuable and assist us in communicating with other new arrivals in the city.  They act as community champions, which makes our project unique in that people can be empowered in terms of having the platform to contribute to their knowledge and experience. We want to formalise how experts by experience can influence the project by creating a steering group to advise on ongoing plans and development.  

What practical advice would you give to others looking to try this approach? 

Co-production has been key to this project’s success. Users, partners and key stakeholders have been involved throughout the design, delivery and ongoing development.