Europia’s Annual Report (April 2020 – March 2021) has highlighted the challenges faced by organisations which supported EU nationals during the pandemic.
Following Brexit in January 2020, the Covid pandemic put a strain on services and face-to-face interactions at Europia had to be halted.
In addition, the EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS) deadline of June 2021 loomed, and Europia was inundated with enquiries from concerned EU nationals.
A further challenge for Europia arose when our collaboration with Citizens Advice Bury & Bolton (CABB) – which began in Aug 2019 – came to an end in September 2020 as a result of a loss of Home Office funding for EUSS activities. Once our partnership with CABB had ended, our advisers no longer fell under the umbrella of CABB’s accreditation from the Office of the Immigration Services Commissioner (OISC).
After the pandemic hit, we took to Zoom to offer consultations online – and widened our offering to include group online activities. We took in calls over the phone and, thanks to our team of staff, volunteers and supporters, were able to process over 600 enquiries during the year. This is nearly three times the number we processed the year before. Almost half of our enquiries were regarding welfare, and we were able to support EU nationals with advice on everything from benefits to food banks.
We quickly launched our Europia Emergency Fund in April 2020 using a grant of just under £3,000 from We Love MCR Charity. This allowed us to offer successful applicants a small grants (from £30-£60) to spend on basic necessities such as food and medical equipment. We distributed our application form into English, Lithuanian, Polish, Romanian and Russian to reduce barriers to accessing the support – and Europia staff assisted clients with applications if IT literacy was an issue. We received further funding from a number of funders to complete COVID-19 activities and to support our service provision. These included The National Lottery Community Fund and the GMCA.
As the only registered charity working exclusively for the benefit of European nationals in Greater Manchester, Europia decided to forge ahead with its own OISC application – and we were successful. From November 2020, our OISC Level 1 accreditation meant Europia advisers could apply to the EUSS on our client’s behalf.
In addition to the above, Europia ran projects around dementia, mental resilience, health & wellbeing, discrimination, exploitation and isolation. Our Women’s Group continued to run online, and our Cancer Champions helped to raise awareness of the disease among EU communities in the Greater Manchester area.
So although 2020-21 was one of the toughest since we began in 2008, we pulled together as a team and faced the challenges head-on.
In future, we plan to expand our services and continue our research into how we can better support EU nationals.
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