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Former chairman of defunct Watford Muslim Community Project hits out at lack of access to advice services for ethnic minorities
People from ethnic minorities desperately in need of welfare advice have nobody to turn to after the closure of two projects in recent months.
That is according to Mohammad Yaqoob, former chairman of the now-defunct Watford Muslim Community Project (WMCP), which shut down in March and was followed by the closure of the Citizens Advice Bureau’s ‘culturally sensitive’ outreach scheme in June.
Mr Yaqoob, who helped over 5,000 people a year through his role at WMCP, said he is still being approached by people in need of help as they now have nobody else to turn to following the organisations’ closures.
He even says that a homeless woman turned up at his front door in tears after being told by Watford Borough Council to speak to the CAB advisor based at Westfield Children’s Centre. When she got there and found it closed, she visited WMCP’s former premises which were also permanently shut, and eventually she was sent to Mr Yaqoob who helpfully directed her back to the council.
Mr Yaqoob said: "She was homeless, she was crying and she didn’t speak English. I had to tell her to go to the council, as WMCP was finished.
"Our community is suffering. They’re being dumped in the street and don’t know where to go.
"When the council decided to stop funding WMCP, something similar was set up at Westfield - but people went there and there was nobody there.
"We used to serve everyone, including Hindus and Sikhs, thousands of people. It was sad when we closed because the project was providing a service to the community for 30 years. I feel really sorry, especially for the elderly people."
In an Overview and Scrutiny Committee council report from July 25 it said Vicarage ward councillors’ casework, which includes visa enquiries and translation, had increased since the closure of WMCP, and that there had been ‘little uptake’ of the CAB’s service before it closed.
The CAB service started in September 2012, but the new advisor left in January 2013.
The report added: ‘CAB then had difficulty in recruiting to that post. However, the CAB ensured that the service continued and allocated one of its trained advisers to carry out the work. The advisor had access to a translation service as required.’
It also said that ‘reasons the CAB may have had difficulties in recruiting to the (advisor) role were that the person had to be CAB qualified and that the project was for a limited time period finishing at the end of June 2013’.
In the report it added, ‘if a further outreach programme was set up that the organisation and the council learnt from this experience’.
Mr Yaqoob, who never received a penny during his 14 years as chairman of WMCP which received £58,000 a year from Watford Borough Council, officially handed over the keys on August 2, giving back the furniture, desks, computer, shredders which had been paid for using council funding.
Mr Yaqoob said: "The council has to do something. Where else can people go? It’s a local authority - it should help people out.
"People are very confused. We warned the council so many times to think again before they pulled the funding in March 2012. We had a surplus but that only lasted a year.
"I still thank the council for the support they gave to the project, for the funding, as well as Hertfordshire County Council, the PCT, the staff at the project and community members.
"But we have to find a solution, working with the council - otherwise where are people going to find the services they need? It’s very upsetting."
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