Blink and you may miss it as you pass and be none the wiser, but unknown to many, one small shop in Kirkcaldy’s Postings centre provides a crucial lifeline for countless members of the community across Fife.
Fife Migrants Forum was among those which will benefit from last week’s announcement of £20m funding for equality and inclusion schemes across Scotland.
And as the International Centre was chosen as the base for Scottish Equalities Secretary Angela Constance’s announcement last week, it raised the profile of the work being done in Fife.
The forum deals with around 1500 cases a year, with a limitless number of problems where people need help in overcoming language barriers, cultural differences, and clearing up simple misunderstandings which have significant and life-changing consequences.
“People come to us due to word of mouth mostly,” says Colm Wilson, volunteer co-ordinator.
“There’s no stereotypical case that comes through that door. It could be anything that’s handled in five minutes to something much more long term.’’
Speaking with Colm and chairman Maciej Dokurno, the passion they have for helping those with nowhere else to turn is obvious.
“We recently had a case where a lad from east Europe had died in Fife,” says Colm. “His mother was here. Friends had paid for her to come over. She arrived here in this office, hadn’t got a penny, just the clothes on her back. She had no idea where her son was and no idea what had happened to him, and she had no idea what she was going to do.
“She was in absolute pieces. Our case worker spent most of that day putting things together. Calling her embassy, the police, the procurator fiscal, finding out what had happened and where the body was and so on.
“At the end of that day we’d found out where his body was, that the post mortem had been done, that the body was free to be moved, and the thing that the mother wanted was to take it home.
“We found that it was going to cost £2000 to have the body taken back. Within a few days we’d setup a JustGiving page, and raised roughly £1600. The body is back home now.”
Some people come to Britain, and indeed Scotland, in the hope of a better life, only to see their dreams shattered by the harsh realitles of modern life.
Maciej said: “There was a Polish chap who was sleeping rough in his car, lost his job and his accommodation. He’d recently split with his partner, didn’t have access to his child.
“So he started coming to the forum and our staff managed to get him through the problems behind it, to volunteering, to actually getting full-time work. He then got accommodation and less than a year later he actually had full access to his child again.
“Stories like this, had we not got involved, it could have turned out a lot differently.”
Rim and Mohammed Tahan arrived in Fife in September, having fled the war in Syria, wanting to raise their children safe from the kind of violence tearing the country apart.
“With the war, there’s no future in our country,” said Rim.
“We came out to Fife to start a new life to get a new future for our children and for us also. The government here gave us another chance to start another life after we lost everything.
“We try to get involved here and integrate here with the Scottish community. I try to reach out with the neighbours, we have shared our food and tried to make friendships.
“I have the perfect neighbours. They are really kind and we have all the support here. This helped us as we are new here. We need to know about the society here, about jobs.”
The problems which she and her family might face without the support of FMF and Fife Council can have wide-reaching consequences.
Rim said: “There are practical things, every person has to have bank accounts, open up files in health centres and GP clinics.
‘‘All of these issues, we wouldn’t be able to do it without proper support.”
Nowhere are the ideals of Fife Mirgants Forum encapsulated more than their Conversational Cafes.
The concept is simple; people drop in and simply chat and practice their English in everyday conversations.
But Maciej explained that the meetings provide more than just idle chat.
“By those conversations happening about people’s lives, about their work and their experiences, we very often get information from them that helps us intervene early on things about certain employers for example, whether they are big or small,’’ he said.
“From that we can say ‘it’s not just your individual case, it’s actually something bigger’. We can then approach the relevant service whether it is the council or another agency.”
While a number of Conversational Cafes have been held all over Fife, this week marks the first time one has been held on the group’s own premises, in the Postings.
Maciej said: “We want to tell the local community the stories of where we come from and what we’ve left behind.
‘‘It’s not just about us coming here to our new home in Scotland. Every single one of us has left something behind that’s precious that we are more than happy to share with the local community.
“There are some negative rhetorics demonising migrants in some of the media and by some of the politicians south of the border. Luckily here in Scotland, across all political parties, it’s actually been a very civillised discussion.
“But we know that some people, after reading some of those articles that they will have concerns, and we would very much like them to approach us.
‘‘Come to us, talk to us. If you meet migrants, and speak to us you’ll probably change your mind.”
Colm added: “The money from the Scottish Government was fantastic and makes a tremendous difference. It takes a lot of pressure off us, but the main thing was the recognition that it gives to the work that we’re doing.”
Fife Migrants Forum is always on the lookout for more volunteers, and indeed board members.
>> If you’d like to get involved, email firstname.lastname@example.org