Immigration is always a hot topic in the media, but particularly right now with Brexit looming and how it affects EU nationals living in the UK. Tottenham based Victoria Sharkey had been working as an immigration lawyer in her own practice for 15 years before recently leaving to this role to pursue something more community based. She is now heading up a project for The Bridge Renewal Trust, in partnership with Haringey Council, to make sure that the most vulnerable EU nationals in Haringey are aware of the EU Settlement Scheme. Rachel Ho caught up with Victoria to find out more.
Where did you grow up and what did your parents do?
I grew up in Palmers Green, just over the border in Enfield, though my mum was brought up in Tottenham. My mum is from an Anglo-Italian family. She didn’t work when my brother and I were children but she worked as a secretary when we were a little bit older and for the past 20 years or so she has been a senior PA to a Member of Parliament.
Photo supplied: Victoria Sharkey, a local immigration lawyer.
My dad was Irish, born and brought up in Cricklewood, though his dad was from Clare in the West of Ireland. He sadly died last year. He spent most of his life as a sound engineer in the film business but later worked in security. He met a lot of famous actors over both careers, and was especially proud of the bonds he formed with Carrie Fisher and with Anthony Perkins from ‘Psycho’.
Describe your relationship to Tottenham.
My husband and I moved to Bruce Grove in November 2011, not too long after the riots. Lots of our friends thought we were mad at the time but we were adamant we didn’t want to move out of North London, I wanted to stay near my parents, and we already had a friend who lived in Tottenham Hale who persuaded us. I am so glad we listened, we love living here and now a few more of our friends have moved here too!
There is a real community feeling in the area, far more so than anywhere else I have lived. We know our neighbours and keep an eye out for each other. Even though I am an Arsenal fan I feel at home here and really can’t imagine living anywhere else now.
Photo supplied: Victoria and her bestie at the High Cross Pub.
How did you get into immigration law?
It was really a fluke… I took a summer admin job with an immigration law firm after graduation, before going on to a planned Masters, and I stayed at that job for about four years. I set up a branch of the company in Bangalore, South India, and then went on to work for a charity called the Immigration Advisory Service, before setting up my own firm with a friend. I was there for 14 years before deciding to go back into the charity sector at a more strategic level. I think that my interest in this particular sector of law comes from having been brought up in such a multicultural part of London, seeing the positive impact that migration has made on London, and of course being from an Irish / Italian family myself.
Tell us about your the Settled Status Scheme you are working on at The Bridge Renewal trust.
All EU nationals in the UK (apart from the Irish and those with Indefinite Leave to Remain) will have to register on the Settled Status Scheme before the deadline of 31st December 2020 (30th June 2021 if there is a withdrawal agreement).
The Home Office realise that there are lots of vulnerable groups who might not know about the scheme or won’t have the resources or ability to register themselves, so various groups around the country have been given funding to help those who are in danger of slipping through the net.
The Bridge have been given funding to run the project in Haringey.
We are working closely with the council and with voluntary groups to make sure that there is a system in place to make sure everyone can register, and we will be helping with outreach.
Photo supplied: Victoria at The Bridge's first event for EU nationals.
We especially want to reach the homeless, Roma, the Charedi community, single migrant workers, parents of EU children, the elderly, and victims of domestic violence, and make sure that they all have the help they need.
As a woman, how do you think the Tottenham has changed? What would you like to see change?
From a personal point of view, since we moved here everything has changed, mainly for the better. It used to be that we would head to Stoke Newington or Hackney for a night out but now we have everything on our doorstep. In particular pubs have got better and there are more things to do of a weekend. I feel safe here, although I am of course concerned about crime levels I know that there are so many people I could ask for help if needed, and that is very important to me. I do worry that Tottenham will become too gentrified, I don’t want the area to lose its character or alienate those residents who have been here for decades.
Through my work I am seeing that there is a huge amount of poverty in Tottenham and that a lot of people are struggling. But there are so many community groups working hard to support those who need it. I’ve been to visit women’s support groups, refugee support groups, I’ve been working with homeless charities, groups who donate food and toys to those who can’t afford it, groups who work with elderly residents. There are so many fantastic people are working hard to make sure that everyone has the help they need, and it’s really inspiring. I’ve noticed that most of the people who work in this sector seem to be women, and it’s women of all ages and nationalities, often giving back to the communities who supported them when they needed it. I’m really humbled by these fantastic women and it makes me very proud to live here.
Favourite thing to do in Tottenham?
My ideal day probably starts with meeting friends for a cheese toastie from Wine and Rind and a coffee from Prestige Patisserie, both in Holcombe Market, (and probably picking up a slice of red velvet cake for later).
A few beers in the High Cross then back to The Beehive or the Bluecoats for lunch. Sundays to Tottenham Green Market then an afternoon watching football and drinking London’s best pint of Guinness poured by Seamus in The Ship, finished with a pizza in San Marco. The Tottenham Beer revolution has been almost tailor-made for me!
Browsing round Bruce Castle Museum is always interesting, although a bit Spursy, and now the season has started again I hope to be taking my friend Malcolm’s dog Roxy to see Haringey Borough play…Roxy loves non-league football!
Photo supplied: Roxy the dog at the High Cross Pub.
Anything you would like to add?
If anyone reading this feels that they would like to participate in the scheme we are always looking for volunteers to help with spreading the word about the project. Contact details and further information can be found at https://www.bridgerenewaltrust.org.uk/settled-status-scheme