Baobab Centre for Young Survivors in Exile – Surviving violence, creating hope, rebuilding lives


Our History

The Baobab Centre for Young Survivors in Exile is the only specialist charity in the UK offering non-time limited therapeutic support to young refugees who have experienced violence, separation, loss, and many unplanned changes in their lives. Our approach is holistic and focuses on the developmental needs of these young survivors.

Discover Baobab’s history – from our beginnings in 2008 to our plans for the future.


The Baobab Centre is formed by a team of clinicians from the Medical Foundation (now Freedom from Torture) — with support from experienced administrators — who want to offer a specialist focus on the rehabilitation and human rights of children seeking asylum unaccompanied. They believe their approach should be holistic – one place where the internal and external needs of young people would be met and reflected on by a multidisciplinary team. From April on, the three founding clinicians Sheila Melzak, Dick Blackwell and Bitenge Makuka, with interpreter Stephanie, offer weekly individual and group psychotherapy.

May 2008

We run our first therapeutic workshop in May that year – in Cheshunt. This group is faciliated by psychiatrist Jack Piachaud and by Sheila. Since then, the Centre has conducted similar retreats every year, once or twice a year.

Summer 2008

Baobab’s second therapeutic retreat happens that summer in Norfolk, – a few days outside London where we live, cook, discuss, and examine everyday and long-term difficulties together. It is planned and facilitated by Annie, Bitenge and Sheila, together with story therapist Shai Schwartz. We practice “working in displacement” through story-telling — an approach pioneered by Shai and Baobab founder Sheila and described in their 2005 joint publication in the journal Group Analysis.


The Baobab Centre is set up as a company limited by guarantee in the home of one of the founders. The team is then 3 clinicians and 1 interpreter.  About 50 young people, keen to have their own space where their complex needs can be met, attend regularly. Our first institutional funder is the Millennium Awards Trust.


The Centre is established as a charity, and moves to its present address in Manor Gardens. The move allows to develop an alternative to the ‘clinic’ approach (where individuals come just for weekly appointments as a form of ‘treatment’) and focus on building a Therapeutic Community that places “examined living” and the exploration of day-to-day difficulties and opportunities at the centre of our work together. As a result to this move, we can now hold our first ever community meeting, facilitated by Dick. We also hire our first administrator, Annie.


We hire our first Social Caseworker, Jodie, taking us one step closer to realising our integrated and holistic approach by becoming a community where therapeutic work progresses alongside group activities and casework support. Jodie is today head of our casework team.


As a reflective organisation we launch our first monitoring and evaluation exercise, marking the beginning of our collaboration with Dr Saul Hillman and the Anna Freud Centre. This yearly exercise, continuing today, helps us understand how well-being evolves in our population and how to improve our services. Also, in July, we launch our Facebook page.


As our team expands to 10 clinicians (most of them volunteers), 3 admin staff and 1 social caseworker, our funding needs grow. There are now more sponsors generously supporting our community and allowing us to remain free from any government interference. This allows Baobab to grow its voice in championing the interests of young people in the UK asylum system and start focusing on challenging unfair practices or government policies that do not place safeguarding the interests of this vulnerable population first and foremost.


Covid – we move all operations, including individual and group therapeutic support, online, and multiply well-being and safeguarding checks to support our young people feeling increasingly isolated in lockdowns. We also start planning for post‑Covid, with the need for socially-distanced therapy rooms, and more space to reconnect and rebuild community links. We open our first dedicated Art Room.

creative workshop room full of materials and artworks
The Baobab Center’s dedicated Art Room


Building on years of fighting for better social services and asylum decision-making processes, we hire our first advocacy officer, Fabrice, to coordinate and expand our research and influencing work – bringing our therapeutic expertise to debates in Parliament and throughout the sector. Our casework team now has 2 members and continues its work of challenging poor social care practices.


The Baobab Centre turns 15 – and hires its first social media officer, Barbara, to do what so many teenagers do – open its first Instagram account! The team is now 14 therapists, 4 social caseworkers, 6 admin support staff, and 2 music teachers, an art therapist, 8 English tutors, and 3 research assistants – some staff, many volunteers. More than 20 funders support our work, allowing us to remain fiercely independent and tenacious in our fight for rehabilitation and justice for our young community members.


With four individual psychotherapy rooms, one group therapy room, two rooms dedicated to casework, one dedicated Art room and two reception spaces, Baobab is closer than ever to its dream of being a vibrant, supportive community where everyone has a voice and everyone is welcome to drop in anytime, have a chat, use a computer, have a green tea, a coffee with ginger and cardamon, or some rose water.

room with colourful chairs and beanbags


We maintain the dream that one day we will have our own building with a kitchen in which the young people will be able to prepare meals and eat together, and a garden to sit around together on warm days.