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How LRMN started

LRN, as the organisation was originally called, started from need. At the end of the 1980s both Lewisham College and Community Education Lewisham were running ESOL classes for the increasing number of refugees and asylum seekers in the Borough. Those refugees who were already established in the community were struggling to help newcomers with the problems they were facing daily, as were their teachers, but it became clear that a local advice organisation was needed and by November 1991, a group of students, their teachers and members of the Blackheath United Nations Association had got together to try to form one.

At the first open meeting more than 70 people attended, from many different communities, a committee was formed consisting of up to three representatives of each country – at the time Afghanistan, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Ivory Coast, Kurdistan, Liberia, Rwanda, and Uganda – and seven .non-refugees from the indigenous community.

Because of the size of the committee, small groups were set up to deal with different aspects of the initial work including a Research Group that worked together with Goldsmith’s College’s Centre for Inner City Studies to produce a report, refugees in the Inner City to prove the necessity of an advice centre and to enable funding applications to be made.

By 1992, it was possible, with the financial help of Lewisham Council, to open a small, one-room office in Lewisham High Street as an information and referral service. It was staffed by a rota of volunteers – refugees and non-refugees working together in pairs to provide what support they could to the steady stream of clients who had arrived seeking help. Refugees were still being housed locally, but with no access to funds for furniture, so this was a common problem and links were set up with groups such as the Salvation Army that could help in these situations.

In March 1994, LRN was able to move into a bigger office in Parker House, Deptford, and in the following November the first paid worker was appointed. By 1996, despite various problems, the organisation had become a Company Limited by Guarantee (to protect its trustees, who were by then all from the refugee communities) and a Registered Charity.

Due to increasing demands from migrant communities, in November 2011 at its AGM, LRN changed its name to LRMN.