Last June seems a distant memory when a packed church hall in Settle heard Sean Ryan, the National Caritas Community Sponsorship Co-ordinator, speak about the success of the Home Office Community Sponsorship Scheme for Syrian refugees. He explained how well the scheme can work in a rural setting and dispelled the belief that Syrians, who have experienced and fled the horrors of war, would need to be in a large town with other Syrians. Their real need is to be caringly supported and accepted. An enthusiastic show of hands meant the follow-up meeting decided to apply for the scheme in Settle and District, believing that the many talents and generosity of the community would make it happen.
Community Sponsorship groups in other parts of the UK report the benefits a new young family have brought to their area. The family will be selected by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) matched to what we can offer in terms of accommodation and support. They will almost certainly have been in a refugee camp for some years, have lost everything, and may have experienced first-hand some unimaginable traumas.
The Group has to prepare everything that might be needed for the family to become self-sufficient members of their new community. This will be laid out in a detailed plan to the Home Office, which will include safeguarding, learning English, applying for relevant benefits, accessing medical help, schools, transport, finding work, Arabic translation, etc. To obtain refugee status they have already been closely vetted, entitling the family to the same help and welfare as anyone else living in the UK. The Community Group will raise at least £9,000 to ensure additional needs are met. We are committed to that support over a minimum of 2 years.
The community group has either to reach charitable status itself, or far better to partner with an existing charity; in our case Catholic Care (Diocese of Leeds). Catholic Care takes ultimate responsibility for the agreement with the Home Office and provides experience, governance and safeguarding training and support.
The Settle project was launched by Catholic members of Settle and District Churches Together which rapidly broadened to encompass the whole community. We have 90 regular supporters of whom at least half are actively involved.
So what have they been doing since last summer? After assessing the feasibility of the project the first priority was to generate publicity through newspaper articles, radio interviews, social media, and talking to councils. Project Lead Paul Kelly says: “It has been amazing and humbling how many people have come forward with offers of help. We have a steering group that are in almost daily contact, each heading sub-groups that have volunteered for the key areas we need to provide. The publicity team have been doing a great job. The distance from any college that might have provided English Language teaching meant we had to go local. But through hard work we now have a team of over 15 teachers with relevant ESOL (English as a Second Language) qualifications and experience, ready to provide each adult with the required 12hrs a week of teaching and practice. It’s a big commitment. And local schools have responded really positively to the possibility of integrating new entrants who have major language and other needs.”
But it’s not all plain sailing. The group still desperately need to secure a suitable house to rent. Just one! And so far all our searching has drawn a blank. Fortunately we can begin our application to the Home Office ahead of finalising the accommodation. And then there’s that £9,000 to raise to cover costs that benefits won’t meet (e.g. furnishing a house, transport to appointments and shopping for familiar food, professional translation, supplementing the shortfall in housing allowance, etc.). We have some generous sponsors and lots of events planned by the fundraising group. This month Chris Beesley ran across the Yorkshire Three Peaks on his 67th Birthday to raise funds. He can still be supported via his JustGiving page here. The local Music Hall has offered a free night for a musical concert; there’s an auction of promises, sale of paintings, and much more.
We haven’t underestimated the scale of the task, but as soon as we remember the likely impact on our new family the hard work feels incredibly worthwhile, truly responding (to use Pope Francis’ phrase) to the cry of the poor. And we’re all meeting people we didn’t know beforehand.
If you would like to know more then visit our Facebook page (Refugee ReSETTLEment Group), or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org