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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.

Our Trustees

Our Trustees are Ruth Cigman, Michael Mark and Sohail Jannesari.  Ruth and Michael are the grandchildren of refugees from Eastern Europe who came here over 100 years ago.  Sohail is the son of Iranian migrants who came here in the early 1980’s.


Ruth Cigman

RUTH is Honorary Senior Lecturer in Philosophy of Education at UCL Institute of Education. She has taught philosophy in a variety of academic and non-academic settings, and currently leads workshops on topics like freedom and justice at the Baobab Centre for Young Survivors in Holloway, North London. In these workshops, young people discover the ‘consolations of philosophy’ and are helped to rebuild their lives.


Michael Mark

MICHAEL was a tribunal judge for over 18 years, sitting for a significant part of that time since 2009 as a Judge of the Upper Tribunal (Administrative Affairs Chamber) and previously as a Deputy Social Security Commissioner.  Since retiring he has worked in a Citizens’ Advice Bureau and has become a trustee of a charity assisting benefits claimants.  He has also helped refugees privately, in conjunction with qualified immigration advisers, to prepare their cases and set out their histories clearly and consistently.  He is concerned about the lack of funding, the corresponding lack of time available for immigration advisers to help their clients, the difficulties which many refugees have in telling their stories fully and accurately in the time available with those advisers, and the resulting flaws in the presentation of their cases when they seek to make claims.

Sohail Jannesari

SOHAIL works on migrant and refugee issues with organisations across London such as the Red Cross, Iranian Welfare Association and NNLS Drop-In. He also organises events on migrant issues with grassroots groups such as Akwaaba and Brick Lane Debates as well as organising a Migrant Welcome Tour of London and the Migrant Connections Festival.  He will be starting a PhD looking at the effects of the asylum process on mental health and is currently studying for a Masters in applied mental health.

Our Team


Arnold Christo-Leigh

Arnold was born in Sierra Leone, and in 1989 he came to the UK from Nigeria as an asylum seeker. He received his status in 2015 and has been working for many years in a voluntary capacity with people facing similar hardships to his own. He is now completing his OISC course in immigration law and is committed to helping others overcome what often seem like insurmountable obstacles to a just process and settlement in the UK.


Michael M
Michael is a passionate and creative human being from the divided and politically chaotic African Great Lake area. As an asylum seeker in this country, he has spoken publicly in a variety of venues and told his story (or directed actors who told his story) at the Young Vic and British Museum. He has faced myriad challenges trying to secure a roof over his head, and is deeply interested in facilitating the healing process for people who face mass migration and the refugee crisis. Like many African philosophers, he believes that one cannot achieve personal liberation without one’s neighbour. “In Africa we say, ‘I am because you are and since you are, therefore I am’.”


Vincent Truter
Vincent Truter is a cross-disciplinary creative director and social entrepreneur. His passion for spaces has seen him design public experiences in the form of museums, travelling exhibitions, heritage sites and most recently the wayfinding and visitor experience design for the Nelson Mandela Children’s Hospital. Design for healing is his next big thing. When he has a moment he loves bringing brands that do good to life- like the Cotton Tree Trust.

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 and other funding is inadequate to enable solicitors and other immigration advisers to spend the necessary time on cases for asylum seekers and other refugees. We cannot give immigration advice, but we can offer additional volunteer assistance for those giving such advice, working in collaboration with solicitors and immigration advisers.  We can prepare preliminary statements and can cross-check statements and expert reports.  We can also advise on other matters not involving immigration advice.

2./ HEAL-&-GROW Branch

We help asylum seekers and other refugees and their families to come to terms with traumatic experiences and build confidence for the future. We work with service providers to offer individual or group therapy, as well as writing and philosophy workshops. We explore questions like ‘who am I really?, ‘what is a human being?’, ‘How can I be free?

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.

We will actively engage our community of support and lobby funders to bring help to asylum seekers and other refugees and their families who are seeking or have obtained the right to remain in England and Wales.

If you are an organisation or immigration adviser working in or near London with refugees and would like to discuss how we may work together, do get in touch on info@cottontreetrust.org.uk.

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1/ In kind / We are an open community and will gladly exchange resources and services in support of our refugees and asylum seekers.

2/ Community support / Above and beyond the core branches of our offering we want to actively engage and create a community of support by and for refugees and asylum seekers.


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3/ Support in donation / While we have raised the initial funds necessary to kick-start our activities, we will
need support in bringing our branches to life.

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4/ Support in skills / We are building a team of collaborators that can contribute their skills to develop our training, legal and heal-and-grow offerings.

If you are an organisation or immigration adviser working in or near London with refugees and would like to discuss how we may work together, do get in touch on info@cottontreetrust.org.uk.

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