A guest blog from Tim Finch of our associate partner Citizens UK.
Last November, five people gathered in my front room in Peckham, South East London. Two of them were me and my wife. We met to discuss whether we could sponsor a Syrian refugee family to come to live in Peckham through the government’s Community Sponsorship scheme.
I knew all about the scheme because I am the Director of Sponsor Refugees, which promotes and supports community sponsorship groups around the country. But of course, I couldn’t do a community sponsorship in my neighbourhood on my own.
We will need to build a strong group of committed volunteers – many more than five of us, I told them. Raise a minimum of £9,000. Find a property that a landlord will rent out for two years at housing benefit rates. Do extensive local research, draw up detailed plans and policies. Win the confidence of our Borough and be approved by the Home Office.
And if we do all that, then it will be our responsibility to welcome and support a vulnerable refugee family for at least 12 months, helping to integrate them into the community, learn English and find employment.
Too much for volunteers to take on, surely? But that was not the attitude of our little band.
In the run-up to Christmas, we publicised a community meeting to be held in early January. To our delight, well over a hundred people attended that meeting and working groups were formed. Fast forward to now (July 2018) and we have raised £15,000, found a suitable and affordable house and completed all the rest of the tasks. We can look forward to a refugee family coming to live among us early next year.
So, is there something remarkable about the people of Peckham? Not at all: variations on the story of Peckham Sponsors Refugees are being repeated up and down the country. More than 130 community sponsorship groups have been formed, refugee families are arriving through the scheme on an almost weekly basis, and all the volunteers involved have found the experience immensely rewarding. ‘One of the best things I have done in my entire life’, is a sentiment I’ve heard from many people who’ve embarked on community sponsorship across Britain. And when you think about it, you can see why.
Community Sponsorship allows a group of friends and neighbours to directly transform the lives of a refugee family. But on top of that, the volunteers transform their own lives through being part of such a meaningful and worthwhile activity. Community bonds are strengthened; social capital is enhanced. The notion that British people are not welcoming to outsiders is challenged head-on.
All of these are things this country is crying out for at this difficult time in our history. So, small wonder, that so many people are coming on board. Hopefully, you and your friends will be next. Join us at our workshops at Greenbelt or drop us a line to find out more.
Director at Sponsor Refugees