The Founding of CLEAR: Twenty Years On (Part One)

For CLEAR’S 20th birthday this month, we asked three key players in the organisation’s founding to share some memories of the early days of CLEAR. Read on to find out how it all began, and look out for more posts about CLEAR’s beginnings coming soon.

Paul was CLEAR’S first project manager back in 2001. He is currently leader of City Life church, as well as CLEAR’S interim project manager.

Stella has been working for CLEAR for the last 20 years and is our Refugee Advice and Outreach Worker.

Dan played a key role in setting up CLEAR, particularly in starting the English classes that continue to be very popular.

Paul: In early 2001, we as a church started looking at at delivering a new project to support refugees in Southampton. Bev (the other leader of City Life Church) and I met with the City Council Asylum Seeker Team and with Refugee Action to see whether there were gaps that we could help fill. They talked about providing English lessons and some practical support and so we set about coming up with a project plan and a name – CLEAR – City Life Education and Action for Refugees. In the first year of the project, people would come and ask for Claire – it took us a while to realise Claire was CLEAR!

Soon after this initial meeting, we looked to employ Dan to be a project worker. Before he started, Stella approached us and explained her wish to be involved in the new project. She started in May 2001 as our first employee, with Dan joining later in the year.

Dan: [Before joining CLEAR], I’d been part of a church trip to Thailand where we spent some time working with a project that was supporting some refugees that had come across the border from what was then Burma.  Knowing that the city was to be designated a dispersal centre for asylum seekers entering the country and seeing that as a church we had ‘experience’ working with refugees, the city council asked if we’d start a project to work with asylum seekers and refugees coming to Southampton.


[When] CLEAR began, we were based with the other City Life staff In the dining room of a wonderful family, whose 4-year-old daughter would bring us biscuits at coffee time. We were there for another six months making links with other churches and agencies such as Refugee Action, to assist with gaps in need.

After a few months CLEAR was miraculously given a grant of £10,000 from Social Services to match fund another charity grant. This enabled City Life to rent an office in Latimer Street which was helpfully right next door to Refugee Action, so we could really begin to compliment their work, helping the several hundred people accommodated in the city, mainly single men.

Paul: In August 2001, Southampton became a dispersal city for asylum seekers and before long we had a huge queue of them outside our office, lining up for Refugee Action.

Stella: Refugee Action were only contracted to work with asylum seekers, so once they had a decision on their asylum application, CLEAR had a defined role to look after the needs of all those refugees officially allowed to remain in the UK, assisting them in finding accommodation, applying for benefits and ultimately finding employment


My first role was designing a basic essentials English course which we developed over time, creating differentiated levels of input in order to tailor the course to the needs of the refugees and asylum seekers attending.  

Stella: An informal ‘crèche’ [was also run] for one or two cute toddlers of the ESOL students!

And so, CLEAR was born! Check back soon to read more about the first years of CLEAR, as well as for more anniversary related posts!