CRAVEN supporters of a volunteer support group for asylum seekers and refugees, which has strong links to the area, have welcomed it receiving a Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service.

The highest award a group can receive for service to the community, and the equivalent to the MBE, the award was given to the Bradford Immigration and Asylum Seekers Support and Advice Network (BIASAN).

The organisation, which in 2019 celebrated its 20 anniversary, has strong links with refugee support groups in Skipton and Upper Wharfedale. Asylum seekers have spent weekends in the Dales thanks to the Yorkshire Dales Millennium Trust, while Upper Wharfedale School sent presents at Christmas and has welcomed visitors to give talks.

In addition, during the pandemic, donations of money from Craven helped to provide phone top ups for students’ access to the Zoom English lessons.

Richard Hargreaves, who lives in Hawkswick, and has been a BIASAN volunteer English teacher for 20 years, said the organisation was delighted to be recognised for its work and for the dedication of its many volunteers.

“We feel it is especially significant for BIASAN to be awarded for its help to asylum seekers and refugees at this time,” he added.

“The mood in government and nationally continues to create an environment of increasing hostility towards asylum seekers, people who have had to escape from desperate circumstances in their own country and make a desperately dangerous journey to what they hope will be safety in a welcoming country like ours.

“We are pleased that there are some people in government and in the royal family who recognise in giving us this award that they value not just what BIASAN does to help asylum seekers and immigrants but also the human richness which they bring to us all in society.”

The organisation, which has no paid staff or office, provides lively friendship and a wide range of practical support and help, including regular English lessons, weekly meetings for women and children, a store to receive and distribute donated household items and clothes, and gym sessions for health and fitness.

It also provides free legal advice and counselling, creative and cultural activities, an annual seaside day, day visits and residential stays in the Yorkshire Dales. It also campaigns on asylum issues and runs a weekly social at the Bradford Deaf Centre.

During the pandemic volunteer activity increased dramatically; the live English lessons became 35 online Zoom classes a week delivered by a team of 10 volunteers, the women’s meetings became weekly deliveries to over 50 families with food bought, prepared, packed and delivered by teams of volunteers, and the household goods store was busy receiving and sorting donations, answering requests for help and delivering items for people in need around the city.

The weekly supper had to be reduced to the provision of fresh fruit and personal items to asylum seekers housed in hotels but who were unable to go out and buy things for themselves.

BIASAN was one of 241 organisations to receive a Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service on the anniversary of the Queen’s coronation. It received a crystal, a certificate presented by the Lord Lieutenant of Yorkshire, a QAVS logo to use on its publicity, and two representatives of BIASAN are invited to attend a royal garden party at Buckingham Palace in May 2022.

Mr Hargreaves added: On behalf of BIASAN , we thank the award committee for our award and all those in Bradford and beyond who have contributed to our work in whatever way over the last 21 years.”