Having seen the devastating news reports of families struggling to flee their desperate situations in Syria, Angela Bowdery, like many others, felt helpless. When she heard about a sponsorship scheme being set up in her area, the opportunity to make a difference presented itself.
As a member of St Bart’s and Friends Community Sponsorship Scheme, a Home Office backed scheme to welcome and support a Syrian refugee family into the UK, Angela, along with 30 other volunteers, are taking on the full responsibility for the resettlement and wellbeing of a family. She explains a very logical reason for taking part:
“We may only be helping one family but if every local community did that, the effect would be considerable.”
Preparing for a family to resettle into a community takes a great deal of planning and the volunteers are responsible for developing a plan to detail all aspects of the resettlement. They have divided themselves into groups to deal with the many practical aspects involved such as accommodation, welfare, education, benefits, employment and fundraising. Angela is able to apply her many years of experience in finance to support the scheme in her position as head of the finance group. Catherine Fairhurst, also a lecturer in the Liverpool Business School, leads on the accommodation group.
Making sure everything is in place before the family arrives means the transition will be as smooth as possible, as Angela explains:
“The families have suffered great trauma and loss. They are now faced with the daunting experience of coming into a new country and effectively starting a completely new life. Having the practical and emotional support of a community will make this process easier to navigate. The hope is that they will be able to move to independence as quickly as possible.”
One of the main issues is sorting out accommodation and the group is raising funds to ensure the family can settle into their new home with ease.
“They will have very little in terms of possessions so basically we need to provide a home that’s good to go. We’re raising funds through donations, crowd funding and by putting on events such as concerts, car washes and cake sales – lots of cakes have been consumed during the last nine months!”
But it’s not just the big concerns like sorting out accommodation and helping the family to find employment, the group is also preparing for some of the little things that we so often take for granted.
“Members of the group will be available to accompany the family to formal appointments, teach them about the local shops and help children with their homework. We’ll also be available just to be a friendly face to have a chat with and on hand to deal with any worries or concerns.”
A refugee resettlement education day provided an opportunity for the community to listen to talks by those working with asylum seekers as well as to meet with refugees who had already made the journey to the UK.
Not only will this scheme greatly benefit the new family, but Angela is seeing first-hand the coming together of people and the benefits that community spirit brings.
“Prior to this most of the members did not know each other. Since embarking on the project new friendships have emerged through working on a common goal. As time elapses more and more people are coming forward whom, although not able to be active members of the scheme, want to help in some way – donating furniture, attending events, things like that.”
Angela is looking forward to when the family finally arrive, despite feeling anxious at times during the process.
“At times it is actually terrifying being part of the scheme! There are times when we all worry that we won’t be able to cope and fully support the family. However, this is outweighed by the sense of actually trying to do something. When things feel daunting we just remember that our fears are nothing compared to the fears faced by the refugee families.”
Interested in how you can help with the scheme?
In a diverse community like LJMU, Angela is hoping there may be people that can help the family acquire language skills and adjust to a new culture while still maintaining their own cultural identity. If you feel you could offer this type of support, please get in touch.
If you think your community could support a Syrian family, take a look at the Home Office website to find out more about the scheme and feel free to contact Angela who can point you to local guidance.