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The Cotton Tree Trust is a newly formed charity for the benefit of asylum seekers and other refugees and their families who are seeking or have obtained the right to remain in England and Wales.

In 1792, a group of freed African-American slaves arrived on the shore of Sierra Leone. They found a giant tree sheltering birds and animals, and held a thanksgiving service beneath it.

Today a huge Cotton Tree stands near the Supreme Court building in Freetown and many Sierra Leonians believe this is the original tree where their ancestors prayed.

The Cotton Tree Trust takes its name from real people, men, women and children, who undertook a terrifying sea journey. Freed slaves from America. They fought with the British, who sent them to Freetown, Sierra Leone.

Our Vision

Who am I? Immigration officials demand a tidy answer. Name? Date of birth? Country of origin? At the end of the interview, you might receive a transcript: me, my life, my totality, neatly summarised in boxes.

But then why am I browsing this website?

Who am I? you ask. Who am I really? One thing is clear: like me, you are a human being. You are vulnerable to catastrophe. So am I. You can find yourself at the mercy of a storm. So can I. You sometimes inspire hatred as well as love. So do I.

In the ancient myth, a man called Odysseus found himself in a wild ocean storm somewhere between Africa and Europe. The wind howled. The giant waves crashed. Odysseus clung to his little raft, clung to life. He was a civilised man, a decent man, a man who loved and was loved. But he was done in; his heart was soaked through. The ocean had claimed him.

Suddenly, the storm drew breath. A seabird appeared and settled on the raft. There was a tremor of feathers, a fine spray of brine. “Odysseus,” said the bird.

It was a moment of stillness; a moment of hope. You are Odysseus and so am I.

We bring hope to refugees and asylum seekers.

The Cotton Tree Trust takes an integrated approach to the telling of personal stories.  We have three principal branches:

1./ LEGAL BRANCH

We assist asylum seekers and other refugees and their families in their efforts to assert their legal rights.

Legal aid doesn’t allow solicitors and other immigration advisers to offer the ‘leisurely schedule’ that asylum seekers and refugees normally need. The Cotton Tree does not give immigration advice, but we provide expert assistance for solicitors and immigration advisers, as well as emotional support in conjunction with the Heal & Grow branch. We help clients tell their stories cogently; we prepare preliminary statements and cross-check statements and expert reports. We also help with non-immigration matters, such as housing and benefits.

2./ HEAL & GROW Branch

We aim to build confidence and resilience for those who are struggling with the law and trying to get their lives together in the UK. In a variety of workshops – writing, philosophy and ‘myth and clay’ – we reflect on what it means to be a human being: who we are and who we want to be. We work with professionals in various areas, including a psychotherapist.

3./ TRAINING BRANCH

We enable asylum seekers and other refugees and their families to acquire skills (e.g. language and IT) that will enhance their prospects in the United Kingdom.

We work with service providers to offer training and skills development to refugees, including language and IT training.  The objective is to enable them to express and communicate of their stories, adapt to life in the United Kingdom and improve their prospects of obtaining work when they are entitled to work here.

SCHOOL TALKS

We also offer talks in schools to educate children and young people about the lived experience of refugees and asylum seekers in the UK. These are targeted to different age groups in primary and secondary schools, or if required, may be offered to teachers without children.

Our talks are given by our team members Arnold and Michael, and they take place in and around London. We always allow plenty of time for Q&A, and aim to create a comfortable atmosphere in which children aren’t afraid to ask difficult questions.

If you would like to host a talk at your school, please contact Kiki Betts-Dean, kiki@cottontreetrust.org.uk

What is it like to be an asylum seeker in the UK?

For asylum seekers the goal is to get refugee status, but this often brings a whole new set of problems. In this video, Cotton Tree team members Arnold and Michael talk about some of the obstacles they encountered after they got leave to remain.

 

Our Trustees


Ruth Cigman

Ruth has taught philosophy in a variety of settings. She uses myths and other stories to help people reflect on who they are and who they want to be.


Michael Mark

A tribunal judge for over 18 years, Michael has extensive legal experience which he is using to benefit the legal branch of the Cotton Tree Trust.

Sohail Jannesari

Sohail works with a wide variety of migrant and refugee organisations and is undertaking a PhD looking at the effects of the asylum process on mental health.

Tatiana Garavito

Tatiana has extensive experience in running migrant-led and racial justice campaign organisations, and is helping the Cotton Tree look at its strategic work from an intersectional approach.

Joel Rose

Joel is charity professional with over 10 years’ experience as both chief executive and trustee for national physical and mental health charities.

Our Team



Kiki Betts-Dean

As Coordinator of the Cotton Tree Trust, Kiki oversees many of the operational aspects of the charity.



Michael Mugishangyezi

A passionate and creative individual, Michael came to the UK as an asylum seeker, and has extensive experience of sharing his story with others.



Arnold Christo-Leigh

Arnold came to the UK as an asylum seeker in 1989 and uses his experience to help people facing similar hardships to his own.


Judith Ahikire

Judith works with a refugee and asylum seeker charity as both an administrator and bookkeeper, and is involved in an array of voluntary work.


Vincent Truter

Vincent is a cross-disciplinary creative director and social entrepreneur. He loves bringing brands that do good to life – like the Cotton Tree Trust.

If you are interested in what we do and would like to get involved, please don’t hesitate to get in touch by emailing info@cottontreetrust.org.uk
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There are various ways in which you can support our work:

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Volunteer / We are always on the lookout for people with skills or experience in the law, therapeutic activities, or adult education, to help us bring our branches to life.

Partnerships / If your organisation works with refugees and asylum seekers and you would like to work together, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Donate / Donating is the easiest and most direct way in which you can support our operations and help us bring hope to refugees and asylum seekers in the UK. You can make a donation via the button below.

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The Cotton Tree Trust is dedicated to the memory of Jack Cigman.

If you would like to find out more about the Cotton Tree Trust, please get in touch at info@cottontreetrust.org.uk.

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The Cotton Tree Trust is registered with the Charity Commission. Charity no. 1172069
Our data protection policy can be found here
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