Martha House : A House of Hospitality

Jo Frew and her partner, are residential hosts of Martha House, which offers temporary accommodation for forced migrants. They aim to create a sense of community and connection for their guests, with planned activities and involvement in the local area. Naomi Arburton caught up with Jo to find out more.

Where did you grow up and what did your parents do?

I grew up in a few different towns in Scotland – Alloa, Perth and Carluke. My Mum was a librarian and my Dad was a church minister. They’re both retired now.

Photo supplied: Jo Frew 

What is your relationship to Tottenham?

I moved to Tottenham about three and half years ago. I have lived in London – both Walthamstow and Hackney – for about 13 years prior to the move here, when my partner and I were offered the chance to set up a ‘house of hospitality’ for destitute asylum seekers and other forced migrants. Although we don’t own the house, we had a say in where it would be. We chose Tottenham so the charity, who now own the house, could afford something of a decent size with really good transport links to central London, as that’s important for our guests.

Photo supplied: Martha Hose - Back Garden

What does Martha House do?

The house provides accommodation for eight asylum seekers and other forced migrants. We sometimes have families staying in our living room too, if there’s a weekend emergency, for example. The accommodation is for people who have no other options - be it that they are not allowed to work, are not entitled to benefits, or the Home Office won’t provide, or are slow to provide, support.

We provide a safe and welcoming place, with a sense of community. We try to make sure people have space, but are also involved in activities within the house. So, for example, everyone takes a turn to cook dinner and whoever is around, eats together. One night a week, we have an open house night, where neighbours, friends and some of our former guests come around for a community dinner. We also have a small community gardening project, at Tottenham Quaker Meeting House, on the High Road.

How did it transpire?

My partner and I talked about what we wanted to do together. At the time, he was living at the London Catholic Worker, who run a night shelter/community for 20 homeless men in Harringay. We knew we wanted to live in solidarity with people who are marginalised and to make a long-term commitment to living in this way. We made a proposal to a charity, who said they could invest in a house for us and so we started looking. We moved to Martha House in August 2014.

Photo supplied: First Vegetable Donation from Crop Drop

What sorts of things happen in any given week at Martha House?

There is quite a weekly rhythm. We have our open house meal, a house meeting and the gardening project. Sometimes, we’ll receive a phone call from an organisation about someone who needs a place to stay and if we have any spaces, we’ll take them in. Or we might receive a request about a family, who only need to stay for a few nights, so at times we’ll have kids around for a day or two, which certainly changes the atmosphere!

On a Monday night, we often receive bread donations from Haringey Migrant Support Centre and on a Thursday, we receive a vegetable donation from Crop Drop, Haringey’s local veg bag scheme. Some of those vegetables are then passed on to the Migrant Centre for their Monday drop-in.

How can people access your accommodation?

We take referrals from organisations that are working with people in need, such as: Haringey Migrant Support Centre, North East London Migrant Action (NELMA), Hackney Migrant Centre, Crisis, the British Red Cross.

How can people get involved or learn more?

We have a website, where people can learn more: We welcome everyone to our open house meal and hope that it helps build a sense of community. Donations are always welcome, whether it be financial, food, bedding… even toilet roll!

Photo supplied: Mulberry Tree Community Garden (house gardening project)

What is your vision for the future of Martha House?

We would love to develop a larger community to support the work we do and to expand the work by opening more houses!

In what ways do you think Tottenham has changed since you've lived here and what would you like to see happen?

I’ve only lived here for three and a half years, so I am getting to know Tottenham as it changes. However, it feels like big changes are coming.

I know that the council have big plans via the Haringey Development Vehicle (HDV) and that there is a lot of uncertainty about what that will mean for many residents. I hope that when new buildings become available, the people who currently have tenancies with the council will receive new secure and genuinely affordable tenancies again.

What is your favourite thing to do in Tottenham?

We have a dog, so I love walking in the parks - like Lordship Rec and the Marshes. It’s a really great way to meet people in the neighbourhood as well. Dog owners get to know each other and share local news! I also love The Garden House cafe.

Find out more about Martha House:

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