Global Link – Building a future for refugees

This is the inspirational story of Global Link, their determined leader, and the thousands of people who have been touched by the essential work they do every day.

Gisella, Executive Director of Global Link, truly embodies that great Henry Ford quote:

“If you believe you can, or you believe you can’t, then you’re probably right.”

Gisella believes she can, and it’s that mindset that has helped an Education Centre in the heart of Lancaster have a global impact.

For us to be a small part of Global Link’s story is our reason for being at Ecology, and if you’re considering taking on a similar project, or in the middle of one, know that you’re not alone.

Like Gisella says, “Attending the Ecology AGM each year is really inspiring and motivational because delivering these kinds of projects is challenging, meeting and sharing stories with so many people on a similar journey to myself always brings me back to my ‘why’.”

This is Gisella and Global Link’s story in her own words.

What is Global Link?

It’s a Development Education Centre, formed in 1993, originally focussing on global citizenship education and community heritage projects with schools and the wider community, relating to issues of human rights, sustainability, diversity, global interdependence and conflict resolution. But everything changed in 2015 when Lancaster became a dispersal area for asylum seekers and refugees in the UK.

At that time there wasn’t any local support available for people arriving into the country.  So a network of individuals and organisations wanting to help got together to do something about it.

And from that, Global Link’s refugee support work was born.

What did the early days of Global Link look like?

In the early days of 2015, the support started small with lunch drop-ins for asylum seekers arriving in Lancaster. The great thing about the drop-ins was that more local people than refugees were turning up, and that sense of community spirit was like a big, warm, welcoming hug to people who were in a new country.

From the lunches, we then started to run English classes and activities to help people integrate into the community. It was all about cohesion and bringing people together.

Over time, the need for our service grew, and it became really apparent to us that our current set-up wasn’t sustainable. More refugees were arriving, we were still renting space from the YMCA each week and, in the end, we made the decision to find a permanent home.

How did Global Link fund its new home?

It was a combination of crowdfunding, where we raised £200k over a two-year period, and a mortgage from Ecology Building Society of £75k.

I was so amazed by the crowdfunding effort, especially the support from the local community. And both Global Link and myself have been a member of Ecology for around 30 years, so I knew that you would be able to help me with a project like this.

The big challenge we faced wasn’t the funding, but finding the right building.

After two years of searching and being outbid, we were giving up hope. Then one day, the person who runs our sewing circle for refugees told us that Kathy Barton was selling her building, and she really doesn’t want to sell it to a student housing developer with no interest in sustainability.

Kathy is a climate change activist who believes in the power of community.

So we approached her, and the rest is history, as the saying goes.

How has Global Link transformed the building into an Education Centre?

Well, I did the classic thing where you think it won’t take as long as it will take. In my head, I thought two months, but the reality is that it’s taken a lot longer.

We started the renovation work in January this year and we’re finally having the big opening day launch this October.

There have been real challenges in getting the building to this point, especially with it being Grade II Listed. In fact, we find ourselves in a Kafkaesque situation at the moment, with the Planning Department taking enforcement action against us because we replaced the existing doors with fire doors, and plaster boarded all the unremarkable ceilings, as required to meet building and fire regulations.

What I would say is that without the Ecology Building Society mortgage, we would never have been able to complete this project. That extra cash boost helped us to get the building renovated into the working education centre you see today.

What’s been the highlight of the project?

There have been so many, from Kathy Barton selling us the building, to the property lawyer (who worked pro bono with us to buy the building) that arrived in the UK with his whole family in 1999 as a refugee.

What’s been so beautiful about the building process is the amount of people who have volunteered their time and money to support it.

You know, we haven’t calculated that yet, the support from the community and the many refugees and asylum seekers we’ve helped over the years.

They’re all still involved with us. They continue to support the work we’re doing because we support them.

And I guess that’s what being a Global Citizen is all about.

We’re all human beings, and we’re all connected to this wonderful place we call Earth.