The Founding of CLEAR: Twenty Years On (Part Two)
We left off after CLEAR had made it into its first office in 2001, but there was much more still to happen before it could become the organisation it is today. Read on to find out about what took place over the next few years, from bike repairs to bomb scares…
Paul: So, it continued, with a few successful grant applications leading to a large lottery grant award in 2003. Grants to refugee support charities were largely frowned upon by the media and our grant led to headlines in the Mail, the Sun and the Star – all deploring the waste of lottery money. The negative headlines were accompanied by some bomb threats to our office and at one point, we were frequently receiving suspicious packages. A low point was when we interviewed for a new Project Manager and had to move the interview because bomb squad were busy at our place!
Dan: There was quite a lot of controversy around the city welcoming refugees and having become a dispersal centre. Receiving hate mail to the office was not uncommon, but fortunately having to alert the police to suspicious packages wasn’t overly common – although the concrete basement did come in handy to place such post in while waiting for them to arrive and confirm no explosives were involved.
Stella: One need recognised was asylum seekers’ lack of money for transport, so the idea to run a bike renovation scheme was proposed. We made it to the front page of the local free paper advertising for people to give us their old bikes, and offers came pouring in. We were offered the use of a room by social services so the project could take off. Each week Dan would work with a couple of our clients to do up a bike to make it safe, which they could then take away with them. However, we needed more expertise and by an amazing coincidence, whilst dumping some bike parts a chap asked me what I was doing. It turned out he was retired and a bike enthusiast who then came to volunteer and bring his vast knowledge and parts for the bikes. Over the next several years 350 bikes were given out.
Paul: Our new Project Manager, Nicola, stayed just a short while before being succeeded by Martin. The project ideas grew quickly with bicycle recycling, multicultural café, employment support, mentoring and befriending all happening, to name but a few. Although there was negativity in the press, many more had a contrary view and as well as the staff team growing, volunteers were added quickly too. When Martin left, I did another stint as Project Manager before handing over to Paul L for a more stable period of project growth.
Over the years, we moved offices from Latimer Street and onto the YMCA, then Queensway, before heading to our current offices in James Street. We always seemed to work out quickly where the best lunch options were in the area!
Keep an eye on the CLEAR blog for more anniversary themed posts, coming soon!