The Greatest Legacy of All

Bridges held its annual stakeholder ad events programme on 27 October. Another wonderful evening celebrating  the achievement sf our clients and our employers and partners working towards meaningful integration for our clients  But it  is worth remembering while we celebrate just what brings people to us. 80% of our clients are forced migrants, people who have fled their homeland through no choice as they face persecution. It is also worth remembering that this is not their fault. They may have opposed a regime; they may have spoken out, they may be articulate and Intelligent and that alone has marked them out or they may just have been in the wrong place at the wrong time a victim of circumstance a victim of someone else’s actions. Compare that to us here, where we still have  the luxury of free speech. I can mouth off about anything I want ( and I do regularly) without fear of persecution. Free speech is something we take for granted, but my god how you would miss it when it’s gone. It is also worthy considering that the actions of sometimes a very few can have ramifications of millions. A decision made, a treaty written. On this the 100 anniversary of the birth of Dylan Thomas he puts that serendipitous meeting  of fate and action very well in his poem The Hand That signed The Paper

“The hand that signed the paper felled a city;
Five sovereign fingers taxed the breath,
Doubled the globe of dead and halved a country;
These five kings did a king to death.

The hand that signed the treaty bred a fever,
And famine grew, and locusts came;
Great is the hand that holds dominion over
Man by a scribbled name.”
But on a slightly more cheerful note, what a  wonderful evening we had, a fitting end to a quite extraordinary year. We began the evening with facts and figures but of course that is only ever half the story and what makes Bridges so special are the people who are involved.
If People make Glasgow then they most certainly make Bridges, all of our people. Our inspirational clients, my exceptionally talented and hard working staff, my ever patient trustees, our  volunteers and interns, our partners and supporters  and our simply wonderful employers,  a fraction of whom we paid tribute to on the night. Without our employers Bridges would just be another agency tinkering around the edges of refugee and asylum integration, you are what make the crucial difference, the relationship between Bridges and employers is what is unique in this sector.
I have spent quite a lot of time this year in various parts of Europe trying to convince agencies that actually working with employers is not so very difficult, if the approach is right, and if the people you are supporting are suitably prepared for the labour market. I’m not saying it’s easy but it is, as we prove everyday,  do-able. We are lucky in Scotland that there is a broad understanding that if we are going to reach our potential  as a country that we need to be a country that celebrates and promotes all of our talents. And talent is something Bridges clients have in abundance, along with a desire to work and provide for their families and to make a difference and a contribution to their new country. Our employers who provide such a wide range of support and who design much of our course content with us, are contributing to that aim of a country of all the talents.
We are fortunate too that our government’s in Scotland have understood the importance of integration from day one, and that those waiting on a determination of their  asylum cases are not excluded from support, and it is more than rhetoric, it translates too into funding for asylum support, in a  way which makes colleagues in other parts of the British Isles somewhat envious. Long may that attitude to integration continue. 
We are grateful in Scotland that we do not send out the message to asylum seekers and refugees that a new poster  campaign in Australia is running which states NO WAY WILL YOU MAKE YOUR HOME HERE
But closer to home we utterly reject the assertion by Michael Fallon Defence Secretary in Westminster that we are being SWAMPED by people from overseas. Such rhetoric was common in the Thatcher era and truly belongs in the history books and to the xenophobic ramblings of the Daily Mail in the 1930’s and has no place in 2014.
To Mr Fallon and all critics of what  Bridges and others do, I say this:
We are not swamped, we are not awash with migrants  we are not overrun with foreign hordes. They are no, repeat no, barbarians  at our gates.
Instead in Scotland in 2014, in this city on this day, and in that room that evening, we were proud that we and others are encouraged and funded to support remarkable women and men with so much to offer, proud that we are part of  building something positive and determined to counteract the scaremongering and the “fear of the other” which experience tells us we will see grow as we approach the UK general election in 2015. For everyone of you that has  contributed and is contributing to that support and that positive view of our new citizens, you too should be proud and deserve a pat on the pack,  for those of you who are are dipping your toe into the Bridges pond…..I have one message…..come on in the water is lovely.
While immigration remains…..for now….the reserve of Westminster, the drivers of integration are mostly already in the hands of the Scottish Government, and we hope for further devolution of powers to make that integration journey complete. Bridges’ submission to the Smith Commission has been wide ranging but in terms of direct benefits to clients we have highlighted   on the complete transfer of welfare and equality legislation. Watch this space.
The theme of this years annual report is LEGACY and I hope that everything Bridges does, every client we help, every partner and employer we work with is contributing to that legacy of good practice and humanitarian support. Which is why we were so pleased to be a warded the LEGACY Award from Glasgow City Council earlier this year.
May next year, 2015 marks the start of our Tenth year as a stand alone charity. On May 1st 2005 we opened the doors to our new offices in Bridgeton (although Bridges had existed as a project within another organisation since 2002). We intend to mark that tenth year with  a range of events, and new projects to extend our legacy, and to catch up with some of our alumni to find out what they are up to now!.
But before we get ahead of ourselves we must recognise that we are in the process of securing funding for the next 3 years, and as ever in a crowded market place of support for people with multiple barriers the pots of money get smaller and the competition harder. But we press on because the work we do is too valuable to be laid aside; the expertise we  have too precious to be absorbed into mainstream agencies; the people we support have too much promise and potential to be overlooked; for the people we support we are a real beacon of hope to the next stage in their journey; the innovations we have introduced and want to develop are too important to  be forgotten or mothballed; our reputation is a mark of quality; we make a difference and we are needed.
Our clients often talk about how much we give them but  they give us much much more back in return, their  good humour, their humility, their determination, their motivation, their successes, their recommendations, and all  the chocolates.
They are what make me and my team feel  it is worth getting out of bed in the morning for.
They are the best legacy we can give to this small country
The Bridges Programmes is funded by the following organisations