January 16, 2023

Hornsey - with Amos Schonfield, founder of Our Second Home

Hornsey-based Amos Schonfield is the founder and CEO of Our Second Home, the UK’s youth movement for refugees and migrants, and a Jewish social justice activist.

What’s something amazing about Hornsey that only the locals know about?

It’s so easy to think of Hornsey as the bit you need to go between to visit Crouch End, Muswell Hill, Finsbury Park or Wood Green, but we’re much bigger than the bus route and the big Sainos. We’ve got a bit of everything here, but make sure you are watching where you’re going. The “chewing gum artist” Ben Wilson has decorated a lot on the ground around here, and it brightens up every walk.

Where’s your favourite local spot for a cheap bite to eat?

I’ve been to Beam in Crouch End more times than I should admit, but as it’s just up the road from Flashback Records, it’s never really a cheap bite to eat for me. Dinner at La Gioconda always hits the spot.

And your top free or cheap local activity?

I love spending a couple of hours walking around Alexandra Palace – it was a lifesaver during lockdown. I recommend starting down at St Mary’s Church Tower, then walking up the New River walk and treking up the hill to the duck pond and onto the Parkland Walk. If you don’t know that the best views of the capital are up there, can you truly call yourself a Londoner?

Are there any small businesses that you’d like to give a shout-out to?

Anyone who spends more than an hour with me will hear about my love of The Goodness Brewery in the Hornsey warehouses. I’ve more recently been introduced to Ludo’s, which is a bar inside a double decker bus. It’s the highlight of Blue House Yard, which has loads of small, artisanal shops in it.

What would your perfect no-spend London day involve?

A bunch of my favourite no-spend days in London have been because of a book of historical walks that my friend Matt got for Christmas. It seems obvious to say so, but London is jam packed with stories that most locals simply don’t know. He’s guided us all over, but a favourite of mine took us through East London, including the Brick Lane Mosque (the only building to have been worshipped in at different times by communities of Muslims, Jews, Protestants and Catholics). It’s also an underappreciated fact that it’s free to be in the audience of BBC Radio and TV shows, so why haven’t more of us made the most of that?

What are you aiming to achieve with Our Second Home (OSH)?

Even though some young refugees and migrants manage to reach safety in the UK each year, that’s never the end of their journey. Many struggle with feelings of trauma and isolation in a brand new country, can lag behind educationally by up to three years compared to their British-born peers, and lack opportunities to express themselves and simply have fun.

OSH is the UK’s youth movement for refugees and migrants, running residential trips for these young people during the school holidays, and giving the graduates of those programmes training to become the leaders of those same trips the year after. The participants we have coming through feel more confident, have improved English, and are part of a strong and resilient community for the rest of their lives. We aspire for OSH to be the start of a new path in the lives of thousands of young people across the country.

What can Londoners do to support OSH and refugees more generally?

To give! Small charities like OSH are only as successful as the community that supports them, so whether it is money, something you have at home, your time, your expertise, an introduction to someone useful, or even just a follow and a share on social media, there is always something someone can do. We have opportunities to volunteer, ranging from being a volunteer leader and cooking at one of our residentials to being a tutor in our online English and Maths classes and providing some one-off careers advice to a young refugee. We also love it when people take part in a fundraising challenge or hold an event for us.

Which other organisations supporting refugees should Londoners know about?

I won’t try to name them all because I hear about inspirational projects every week! I love The Bike Project and Screen Share, which receive donations of used bikes and laptops respectively, and then refurbish and donate them onto refugees in need. They deal with such massive barriers that refugees and people seeking asylum face – getting around and getting online – and give simple solutions to them. The same can be said for Refugees At Home, where people volunteer their spare room for people seeking asylum to stay in for the short term. We saw thousands of Brits open their homes to Ukrainians in 2022, and I believe we can extend that generosity to their fellow refugees in 2023.

I also must give a special shout out for Babylon Project, which was founded by Ali Ghaderi, who joined OSH as a young leader and is now on our staff team as the London Community Coordinator. They run creative workshops for young people to learn about refugees, and all his facilitators come from refugee backgrounds too. 

If you could change one thing about the capital, what would it be?

More free places for people to just be. One reason people say that London is transformed in the summer is because parks immediately become a place that people can stop, socialise, play, or do things they need peace and quiet to do, like breastfeed or change a nappy. Imagine if those kinds of open spaces existed year-round and had some places to charge your phone. The city would immediately be a better place to move through.

In three words, what makes somebody a Londoner?

Welcoming to all.

Amos can be found on Twitter here. When he's not working, he's trying to make time to cook and go to Arsenal Women matches. Follow OSH on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

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