To mark Here for Good’s 5th anniversary this year, Bella Mosselmans – co-founder and current senior legal & strategy adviser – reflects on her experience of setting up and developing the organisation together with Tahmid Chowdhury.
Here for Good Turns Five Years Old
When we first set up the charity, I don’t think we expected the organization to ever turn 5 years old. This was partially a result of us over-estimating the Government’s ability to secure the status of European nationals and their family members in under five years. It was also partially a result of us underestimating our and our future team’s ability to create the organization we have today – one that continues to meaningfully and intentionally respond to the issues caused by Brexit and new emerging immigration crises facing the UK.
Today, Here for Good is working across the UK to empower migrants and tackle systemic issues related to the EU Settlement Scheme; Ukraine Advice Scheme and Afghan Assistance Relocation and Resettlement Scheme.
Recognizing these five years, I wanted to write a blog post covering the two questions people always ask Tahmid and I:
- Why did you co-found Here for Good?
- How did you manage to grow Here for Good as two 20-something-year-olds in full-time jobs?
In short, the answers are: (1) Brexit and (2) We were surrounded by a growing team of exceptional and driven leaders – both staff and volunteers – and developed an extremely effective and unique legal model.
Founding Here for Good
In April 2017, I had a break between jobs and was about to start work at Wesley Gryk Solicitors, an immigration and asylum law firm. Tahmid – who knew both my feelings on Brexit and my inability to ‘relax’ between jobs – suggested I research how many legal advice centres were providing free immigration advice to European nationals and their non-European family members post-Brexit. After an extensive amount of desk research and phone calls, we worked out that there was only approximately one centre or law firm providing some form of free legal advice for every 75,000 European citizens, and these figures did not incorporate the many non-European family members with rights under European law.
These figures told us that there was about to be a vast gap in legal advice provision for millions of European nationals and their family members. As it became clear that the UK Government was not going to provide people with the security they needed, Tahmid and I decided to set up an organization to address what we saw as the emerging immigration crisis arising as a result of Brexit. With the support of partners at Bindmans LLP and Wesley Gryk Solicitors LLP, we developed the idea and name in the summer of 2017. The charity was both here to do good and here to help those that called the UK their home stay ‘Here for Good’.
Partners at Bindmans LLP and Wesley Gryk helped us to write a comprehensive self-help guide called ‘Act Now’ advising European nationals and their family members on how to secure their post-Brexit rights. With their support and that of our trustee board, Here for Good was then officially founded in February 2018 to provide free and high-quality legal advice to Europeans and their family members to secure their immigration status in the UK.
In addition to distributing the guide, we began to grow a network of volunteer lawyers to start providing free immigration advice to those who could not afford it or were in need of particular assistance. This volunteer network initially consisted mainly of excellent colleagues and friends at Wesley Gryk LLP – but later grew to include a number of other law firms. Here for Good’s advice was initially provided via an email advice line, until we took on our first complex case, referred to us by a disability rights organization. It was through this case and a number of other grassroots support organizations’ referrals that the pressing need for free, high quality 1-2-1 support with more complex applications became very apparent.
I dug out our very first in-person client’s feedback:
“Here for Good were most kind and very helpful. They understood my anxieties and helped me navigate through a very complex process. It would have been extremely challenging for me without their support and I think I may have been rejected. I hope more people like me who need extra support and time can get advice from such a useful organization.”
Creating our unique legal model
Noticing the need for more capacity, we then decided to set up a unique legal model where experienced Here for Good immigration lawyers would be based at other partner law firms and NGOs. They would therefore receive the supervision, expertise and support from such partner organizations but work full-time on Here for Good cases.
Using this legal model, and with support from the Transitional Advice Fund, we hired our first lawyer and Volunteer Coordinator based at Bindmans, Carla Mirallas.
Here for Good then set up a formal telephone advice line, email advice line, grew the volunteer network and started to take on an extensive number of 1-2-1 cases prioritizing those EEA nationals and their non-EEA family members with the most complex cases and those most in need. We started to develop networks with and receive an extensive number of 1-2-1 referrals from a wide-range of support organizations. Our legal staff and volunteer lawyers primarily supported those facing homelessness, children in care, domestic violence and trafficking survivors, the elderly, those facing financial hardship and those with complex needs.
Carla was an exceptional driving force for Here for Good. With her support, as well as that of our network of over 75 volunteer lawyers, we conducted a huge number of outreach events in connection with the Mayor of London’s efforts to reach European Londoners with information and advice about the EU Settlement Scheme ahead of the application deadline and also delivered a series of training sessions on complex cases under the EU Settlement Scheme for the GLA .
Here for Good reached thousands of EU citizens and their families with the Mayor of London outreach and over 420 lawyers & support workers signed up to attend our complex case training. We further conducted successful strategic litigation on the EU Settlement Scheme which positively impacted 10,000s. In the run up to the EUSS deadline, our volunteer lawyers – including a new network of volunteer barristers – and legal team worked around the clock to support 367 vulnerable individuals to apply in time. Following the deadline, they continue to support and fight for those who were unable to apply in time and/or have been left in a very precarious position. We recently secured long-term funding to conduct serious strategic legal work challenging the shortcomings of the EU Settlement Scheme together with two hard hitting partners – Seraphus Law and Wilson LLP.
Expanding our support
Over the years, we’ve grown from one full-time lawyer to have a much larger legal team supporting people across the UK. Here for Good is also now using its unique legal model to address other immigration crises and plug gaps in support.
When the Ukraine Advice Scheme opened, we were able to use our model and partnership at Wilsons to assemble a team of lawyers to run our Ukraine Project, providing legal support to those who needed it and conducting strategic work to ensure that the scheme worked fairly for unaccompanied minors.
Recognising the transparent disparity between those using the Ukraine Scheme and those trying to reach safety in the UK from Afghanistan, we have also now set up a strategic Afghan Project at Wilson to address the issues with the Afghan Relocation and Assistance Policy (ARAP) Scheme.
Currently, the UK Government is completely failing to provide a route to safety and protection to those who are at direct risk from the Taliban in Afghanistan as a result of their support to the UK’s mission there. A Here for Good project at Wilson is therefore conducting a series of strategic cases – that legal aid cannot cover – with the ambition to create wider positive change for many Afghans and challenge the unjust and unfair policy that currently exists.
I imagine that, particularly with the current Government and its abhorrent policies, Here for Good will continue to address further injustices as they emerge.
A team of leaders
So returning to that second question – how did we manage to grow Here for Good to become the strategic legal charity it is today? Yes, it was a lot of work and partially due to a very strong and special friendship driven by anger about Brexit. However, I really think what was key is the combination of (1) our unique legal model and more importantly (2) because Here for Good is and always has been supported and run by a team of leaders.
All our partners, all our volunteer lawyers and all our past & current staff – Anais, Bianca, Carla, Cecilia, Elliott, Faith, George, Hannah, Isobel, Leonie, Libby, Mala, Nina, Rosa, Stefan, Unkha, just to name a few – as well as all their amazing supervisors at Bindmans, Paragon Law, Wilson, SWLLC and the AIRE Centre – have all driven the organization forward with dedication, determination, resilience and enthusiasm. Here for Good has grown from a very small project set up by two recent law graduates to over 100 volunteer lawyers and a core team of exceptionally talented lawyers supporting in-need clients and challenging unjust and unlawful policies through strategic litigation and legal advocacy.
These leaders are the core reason for the success of the organization, together with our new CEO, Bella Kosmala, who has been absolutely key in Here for Good’s expansion and growth over the past year and a half; and whose commitment and drive makes me sure that Here for Good really is here for good.
In what is a particularly grim and disheartening time for the immigration sector in the UK at the moment, I am confident that over the next five years and more, Here for Good will continue to use our innovative partnerships and the strength of our team to respond to emerging crises, challenge unjust policies and support and empower migrants.
Co-Founder and Senior Legal & Strategy Advisor
Here for Good