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

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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.

2008

The Baobab Centre is formed by clinicians from the Medical Foundation (now Freedom from Torture) 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. Our first Art Workshop is held over the holidays.

Nov 2008

Baobab’s first therapeutic retreat also happens that year, in Chestnut – a week outside London where we live, cook, discuss, and examine everyday and long-term difficulties together. Since then, the Centre has conducted similar retreats every year. In that first retreat, led by story therapist Shai Schwartz, we practice “working in displacement” through story-telling — an approach pioneered by Shai and Baobab founder Sheila Melzak and described in their 2005 joint publication in the journal Group Analysis.

2009

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, 1 interpreter and 1 administrator.  About 50 young people attend regularly.

2010

The Centre is established as a charity, and moves to its present address in Manor Gardens. The move allows to propose 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. Our first institutional funder is Sheila Melzak.

2011

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.

2015

As a reflective organisation we launch our first monitoring and evaluation exercise, marking the beginning of our collaboration with Dr 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.

2017

As our team expands to 10 clinicians, 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.

2020

Covid – we move all operations, including 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

2021

Building on years of fighting for better social services and asylum decision-making processes, we hire our first advocacy officer 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.

2023

The Baobab Centre turns 15 – and hires its first social media officer 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.

2024

With four individual art therapy rooms, one group therapy room, 2 rooms dedicated to casework, one dedicated Art room and 2 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 tea or some rose water.

room with colourful chairs and beanbags

Future

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.

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