Scotland's First Sponsorship

Guest blog written by Erica Brooks

Refugee Sponsorship Edinburgh hit a major milestone this month when we submitted our application to become community sponsors. It was the culmination of two years of slow and steady work, as we pieced together a community from scratch and found a way to fit sponsorship into a Scottish framework. It’s been a long road. But now we’re stepping into the new year ready for all that work to pay off.

We started life as a post in a Facebook group. We had each signed up to volunteer for a local refugee charity, and that was all we had in common. There were eight or nine people at our first meeting, a diverse group of Muslims, Catholics, and atheists – now there are 16 of us, including Protestant and Jewish members, from five different countries.

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The Next Stephen Hawking

Earlier this year, the world lost a great man with the death of the physicist Stephen Hawking.  Hawking has inspired many people, among them a remarkable young man from Syria.

12-year old Mouteb Ajaj arrived in the UK in March when his family was welcomed by the Community Sponsorship group in Muswell Hill, North London. In a short time, he has adapted well to life in London. This is the first time he and his brothers time have ever been able to go to school, and they have grabbed the opportunity with both hands. 

Mouteb is aiming high, as he revealed at the Community Sponsorship Awards in October when he spotted a portrait of Stephen Hawking hanging in the lobby of the Royal Society.  ‘I want to be the next Stephen Hawking’, he exclaimed.

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Fishguard Welcome a Second Family

Guest blog by Catherine Hammond

‘Yes’, the Croeso group in Fishguard said ‘We’ll have a second family’. There was a confidence born of already having settled a lovely family – parents Nasr and Najaha and 4 children - and the knowledge that we had learnt as a group what was or was not helpful. However, as the day of arrival approached, we began to frame the thought that there was no reason to suppose that a second family would settle as well as the first, or be as easy to get on with or enjoy living in West Wales between the sea and the farmland. We could only do the preparation as well as we could and then wait for the day of arrival.

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Meet the volunteers saving thousands of refugees

Written by Julia Rampen, republished from The New Statesman

In April 2016, Nour entered the Birmingham airport arrivals hall. “That experience totally changed my life,” she says. “I will never forget that day, ever.”

Nour came to the UK to study human rights in 2011, the same year that protests in Syria turned into first an uprising, and then a full-blown war. She spent the first years of the conflict feeling helpless: “We were just desperate to do something and we couldn’t.” Her own family remained trapped in Syria. “I would go days, weeks without hearing from them.”

The British government initially tried to focus its money on the swelling refugee camps in Jordan and Lebanon. Then, in 2015, newspapers around the world published the photo of the body of Alan Kurdi, a Syrian Kurdish toddler who drowned when his family attempted the crossing from Turkey to Greece. In the midst of the global outrage, the then-prime minister, David Cameron, announced the Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme, with the goal of relocating 20,000 refugees to Britain by 2020. “When they launched the scheme that was my chance,” says Nour. “I thought ‘I have to do something.’”

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A Taste of Syria in the Heart of Bury

Three years ago the war in Syria forced Ghassan and Siham to leave everything and flee to Bury, Greater Manchester, to start a new life. Bury offered them a place of safety and hope; somewhere they could raise their daughter Katrina in peace and give her a future. They worked hard to learn English and integrate and grew to love Bury and its people. The bustling market in Bury reminded them of markets back home in Hama and slowly a dream began to form. A dream of starting their own business and becoming independent - of making their own way and giving back to the community that had welcomed them.

Meanwhile, Bury resident Heidi Reiss decided to take on the challenge of community sponsorship. She began by making links to Syrians who lived locally. It was here that she met Siham and Ghassan, and learnt of their dream to open a food stall. Without hesitation, Heidi and community partners supported the couple to initiate a fundraising campaign, attend marketing classes, and develop a business plan. Just seven weeks later, "Falafels and more..." was launched last Saturday in Bury Market.

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BREAKING NEWS: Home Office Will Pay Void Costs for Housing

We're delighted to announce that the Home Office will now pay up to 8 weeks of 'void costs' for empty housing.

Many community sponsorship groups have had to pay rent to keep a house empty while they wait for a family to arrive. Without the contribution of Housing Benefits, these costs - sometimes thousands of pounds - have been taken from the generous donations they worked so hard to fund-raise.

This is a fantastic win for Sponsor Refugees, community sponsorship groups, and our partners, who have challenged the government about these costs.

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Latest Welcome - Syrian Family Of Four Come to Camden, London

Hampstead Churches Greet Family at The AirportLatest news from newsletter of Hampstead Churches Together:

After just over a year of hard work, the Hampstead Churches Community Sponsorship Group are overjoyed to announce that on 25th September we welcomed our first refugee family under the government’s Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme.

The process has been long and challenging and has involved at various ways some 200 parishioners have provided expertise or financial support.

Finding suitable property is London was probably the biggest challenge. Early on in the process, two generous landlords agreed to let their central London flat to the Family at the Housing Benefit rate.

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Sponsored Families Thriving Across the Country

The Alamary Family at Community Sponsorship Awards 2018The Alamary Family

How would a family that had fled war torn Syria respond to life in a quiet rural part of England?  In the case of the Alamary family the answer is: amazingly well.

They were warmly welcomed by the group in Georgeham in North Devon, but the key to success is the attitude of the Alamary family themselves.

They have rapidly moved through 3 levels of ESOL training from beginner to advanced.  

Within 4 months of arriving, Mahmoud Alamary secured a job with a building firm who are supporting him through an apprenticeship to become a qualified electrician.

Khadija, who is the most wonderful cook, has not only offered warm and generous hospitality, but has taught others how to cook Syrian dishes and helped with the catering at local events.

The three children have settled into school well.

The family have also thrown themselves into English village life – taking part in everything from bell-ringing to beekeeping.  

On top of all this, the Alamary family have supported other Syrian families who have settled in Devon providing both hospitality, encouragement, advice and support.

They are also exceptional advocates and supporters of the Community Sponsorship Scheme, speaking at local events, encouraging other sponsorship groups and advising prospective sponsors.

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"One of the most rewarding experiences of my whole life"

Guest Blog by Sean Ryan, MBE, National Caritas Community Sponsorship Coordinator

Frank and Barbara McNamara at Community Sponsorship Awards 2018

On 12th June 2018, the Catholic parish of St Mary of the Assumption in Burnley became the second Salford parish to welcome a refugee family through sponsorship.

 St Mary’s achieved this with a considerably smaller Sponsorship Group than most, in a comparatively deprived area, thanks to the leadership of one man, their Project Manager Frank McNamara MBE, a retired civil servant.

Because of Frank, the Group won over an initially circumspect Local Authority, raised all the necessary funds and partnered with Calico Housing Association to secure a lovely home in a quiet suburb of Burnley, all within the space of five months. The many agencies with whom Frank built such positive relationships have been unanimous in their praise for his outstanding qualities. 

Sadly, Frank’s had to step down from the project due to ill-health, less than a month after the family arrived in Burnley.  But this sponsorship is only happening because of the single-handed leadership, dogged determination, boundless stoicism, tireless relationship-building and exemplary conduct of Frank.

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Young Champions Commended for Welcoming Refugees

Guest blog by Bob Goldsmith of Muswell Hill Methodist Church Sponsorship Group

Arun supported the Ajaj family to give testimony at Citizens UK AssemblyAs a member of the community sponsorship group attached to Muswell Hill Methodist Church in North London, I know a lot of remarkable people have made a big contribution to our work, but brothers Arun, 13, and Jasso, 2, have played a special part.

Arun helped paint, decorate and prepare the house for the family. Before the family arrived, he also collected warm clothes, trainers and sportswear for the teenage boys. He then travelled to Gatwick to meet the family and helped them on the way home, giving out water bottles, blankets, snacks and helium balloons.

Later Arun taught the older boys numbers and the names of fruit and vegetables in English, while the older Syrian boys taught him the Arabic equivalents. Most significantly, Arun enabled the Syrian boys to speak at a Citizens' Assembly before a large audience.

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Inspirational Canadians Grace Awards Ceremony

Jim Estill has a strong claim to the single greatest refugee sponsor in the world.

Since 2015, he has sponsored more than 60 refugee families to come to his home town, Guelph in Ontario, Canada, where he is CEO of a major local business, Danby Appliances. Another 26 families are due to arrive in Guelph, thanks to Jim, before Christmas.

As well as devoting an enormous amount of time to this project, he employs many of the sponsored Syrians in his factory. He has also paid $1.5 million Canadian dollars from his own pocket to fund the sponsorships.

Jim is matter-of-fact about his amazing achievements. “I still don’t see what the big deal is. And I’m surprised more people don’t step up and do it”. He prefers private sponsorship to the government programme because, as he puts it, ‘you can’t hire friends’.

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Community Sponsorship Awards 2018: Meet the Winners

Group of the Year - Community Sponsorship Awards 2018

Of course, everybody involved in community sponsorship really deserves an award for the great work they do.  But the event at the Royal Society in London on October 2nd was a chance to celebrate the groups and individuals who the judges of the Community Sponsorship Awards felt deserved special recognition.

The top award, the equivalent of ‘Best Film’ at the Oscars, was for Group of the Year, honouring those groups which have already welcomed a refugee family to their neighbourhood.  The group based around the Pickwell Foundation in Georgeham, North Devon and Croeso Arberth from Narberth in Pembrokeshire were both shortlisted. But the winner was Raynes Park Community Church from Merton in South London. As one of the people who nominated them put it: “This dynamic, pioneering and committed group deserve recognition for all they have done and continue to do for the development of community sponsorship in the UK.” 

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Community Sponsorship Awards Hit the Headlines

The first annual Community Sponsorship Awards have received press coverage from national (The Guardian), local (Carrick Times) and faith-based outlets (Church Times, Premier, The Tablet).

The ceremony, held at The Royal Society in London, brought together 250 people, from 140 groups across the UK and special guests from North America. The awards were an opportunity to recognise the achievement of the quiet heroes of sponsorship who have been working hard in their communities to fund-raise, find homes, create language-learning plans, find all the basic essentials a refugee family would need, and plan to ensure that, when they arrive, there is a welcome committee of organised volunteers.







Community Sponsorship – a journey together

Guest blog by Tom Underwood, Raynes Park Community Church and Sponsor Refugees Ambassador


A year and a half ago Raynes Park Community Church became the second group in the country to welcome a Syrian refugee family through the Community Sponsorship Scheme. 

As a Salvation Army church we have a long history of reaching out to the vulnerable so when our leaders first introduced us to the idea of Community Sponsorship we knew that this was definitely something that we wanted to do! 

Before the family arrived the church worked together to complete the necessary paperwork for the Home Office, took part in safeguarding training, found out about Syrian culture and prepared the house for the refugee family.  We formed a core group of twelve, including different skills from the church; a teacher who knew about school places, a retired couple with knowledge of the local area and parents of young families.  The preparation was the start of a journey that has not only brought us closer together as a church community but has also introduced us to new friends in the wider community. 

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Peckham in the Papers

Peckham Sponsors Refugees has hit the local headlines, with features in Southwark News and South London Press. The group was established by 19 year old Bea Forrester during her 'gap year' after school. Over 100 residents attended their first meeting - a record turn out. The group have now submitted their application, and expect to welcome a family in the coming months.  

Follow their story in:

Southwark News - 25th January 2018. pg. 14

Southwark News - 6th August 2018

South London Press & Mercury - 17th August 2018