Jane Grimshaw is a central figure in the refugee-supporting networks in our town. Jane co-founded Hastings Support Refugees in 2015, and since then has effectively led many initiatives, masterminding huge collections of aid for Calais and Greece to help refugees there; she also helps those in need here, and these collections of food have included large donations to Hastings food bank. 

Hastings Supports Refugees gave rise to both Hastings Community of Sanctuary and the Hastings Buddy Project, in both of which Jane also plays a central role. She is on the Hastings and Rother Buddy Project Organising Committee, as well as the Hastings Community of Sanctuary Steering Group – and is also an active buddy in the Buddy Project. 

Jane has organised many workshops for people seeking refuge here, based around her professional expertise as a costume designer and maker, and other events – including several pop-up boutiques where people can go and find lovely clothes donated with love and accepted with dignity.  

She has represented our Community of Sanctuary at the annual Sanctuary in Parliamentary event and is part of our team who met from time to time with our former MP Amber Rudd to discuss our concerns about different aspects of Home Office policy.

She also organised the vigil held at the Mosque in solidarity with and mourning for the people murdered in the attacks on mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. 300 people came to that vigil at short notice in the middle of the day – a powerful indication of the spirit of solidarity in our town, which Jane herself exemplifies in such an outstanding manner. 

Like all of us involved in these groups Jane contributes all of this on a voluntary basis, in her case alongside running a hectic professional career and a family.

Perhaps it’s churlish to mention quality dining out in connection with the suffering that surrounds us, but we all have to eat as well as relax. We hope Jane will benefit from one of the Albion’s famous pies as a small a token of recognition.

Festival by the Lake

What got you involved with refugees?
In 2015 when the refugee crisis broke, the world mourned after the body of Alan Kurdi was washed up on a beach in Greece and people were shocked to see the squalid conditions within the Calais ‘jungle’. Here in Hastings, a group of like-minded strangers joined a conversation on Facebook. Our main concern was “what can we do to help?”. The result was the forming of Hastings Supports Refugees. 

How did you start?
We set up a dedicated Facebook page for the ten or so of us to exchange ideas and work out ways to help. Within a week we had 150 members and by the end of the month we had 650. That number has steadily grown: we are now over 1,600.

How do you see your main purpose?
Our main aim is to fundraise to help support organisations working on the ground in refugee camps. In the early days we raised money for shelters in the Calais Jungle – before its demolition. We also provided seed money for an embryonic organisation that became the Refugee Youth Service, working with unaccompanied minors in camps across Europe. We regularly support the work of both Care4calais and Refugee Biryani and Bananas, both with monetary and physical donations. 

How has the local community helped?
Each year we organise a food drive for Calais and the Hastings Food bank. The first year we held it outside Debenhams in the town centre with choirs singing and people dancing. We collected one metric ton of food aid that was sent to Calais and over 1,500 meals for the food bank. Hastings is an amazing and generous town and has never ceased to amaze me with its response to a crisis. 

How do you raise money?
Our main fundraising event each year is Festival by the Lake, now in its 4th year. Held at Ashburnham Place during Refugee Week, this year on Sunday 21st June, it’s a time to celebrate our diverse community, with refugees and asylum seekers who are settled locally playing an important role. A day of music, art, food and swimming in the lake. 

How have things developed since setting up?
In 2018 Hastings Supports Refugees was instrumental in our town joining the national City of Sanctuary network and helping set up the Refugee Buddy Scheme. Hastings is a Home Office dispersal area for asylum seekers; this plus the highly successful Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement scheme means high levels of support are needed locally.

And the future?
Since we started, I’ve learnt more than I ever thought I’d need to know about the horrors of conditions in camps the world over. Though it is exhausting, and can feel as though we are putting a sticky plaster on a haemorrhage, we continue to try to help our fellow human beings who through quirks of fate and geography find themselves in situations we can’t even begin to imagine. 

The Government are unsympathetic to the plight of refugees and the cause is no longer as newsworthy as it was. But this does not mean the war in Syria is over, or that the situation in Afghanistan or Iran, Sudan or Eritrea to name but a few is any better. So Hastings Supports Refugees continues its work trying in any small way we can to help alleviate the suffering of our fellow human beings who through quirks of fate and geography find themselves in situations we can’t even begin to imagine. 

For more information visit Hastings Supports Refugees Facebook group: details of this year’s Festival by the Lake can be found on the Facebook events page

• Read our other Community Ledges
Alison Cooper
John Knowles
Claudine Eccleston
Alan Turing
Rachel Holtom
Ruaidhri Guest
Erica Barrett
The Horse & Groom Pub
• And read what it takes to be a Community Ledge here

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