Our history

Work started in 2000 on what was billed as Europe’s largest Immigration Detention Centre at a former Ministry of Defence site just north of Bedford.

Officially opened in late 2001 with capacity for up to 900 detainees, Yarl’s Wood Immigration Detention Centre was closed after a huge fire destroyed half the building in 2002. The undamaged half re-opened in 2003, with only women and families being detained since then.

It was the then Bishop of Bedford who took the initiative in setting up Yarl’s Wood Befrienders to provide visitors for those who would be held there. The Befrienders started visiting detainees as soon as Yarl’s Wood opened in 2001. Since then, while the organisation may have grown and developed substantially, our core purpose has not changed. We have concentrated on developing our detainee visiting scheme, trying to address the complex social and emotional needs of the diverse group of people who find themselves detained at Yarl’s Wood.

Now a registered charity, YWB has more than 55 volunteers who visit and befriend detainees or help out in the office. As a group we are becoming increasingly diverse, enriched by several different language-speakers and welcoming members from all faiths and none. This, we hope, is enabling us to give better support to detainees from a wide range of countries and backgrounds.