Transformations – A community sponsorship of refugees in the UK
In 2017 a Syrian refugee family, having fled the conflict in their homeland, arrived into Gatwick airport from Lebanon. The excited group of people waiting in the arrivals area were from Raynes Park Community Church, a local branch of The Salvation Army, that had been preparing for months to welcome them.
The family had crossed the border into Lebanon as refugees in 2011 and worked hard to make ends meet. Life was extremely challenging, particularly due to the lack of appropriate housing, scarcity of work and the life-threatening health needs of one of the children. They applied to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) to be considered for resettlement. Because of their heightened vulnerability they were offered the opportunity to come to the UK under the Home Office’s Community Sponsorship of Refugees scheme. Launched in June 2016, this particular form of resettlement gave ordinary people from ordinary communities the opportunity to form sponsorship groups that would directly support refugees. Raynes Park Community Church became the second sponsoring group in the UK to receive a family.
This photo exhibition portrays some of the people who have been involved.
‘In London we found a new family waiting for us.’
‘I love going to school. I have so many friends, and I love maths.’
Daughter (aged 9)
‘Praise to God, my daughter is now getting medical help.’
Nick and Kerry
‘When we saw the terrible images of what was happening in Syria we felt compelled to do something and put our prayers into action.’
Kerry Coke, Church Leader
‘I’ve learnt that it takes a community to resettle a family. So many people have played a part in giving a proper welcome. I’ve also learnt that it takes a family to make a community. We’ve made many new friends locally and have all grown closer together because the family came here.’
Nick Coke, Church Leader
Dave and Joan
‘I’ve done various DIY jobs throughout the year. Putting furniture together, fixing curtain rails, getting keys cut – things like that.’
Dave Morgan, Volunteer Maintenance Team, retired
‘The group laugh at me for knowing every bus route in our area – but it’s important for someone to show the family how to get around! I’ve also knitted cardigans for the children, and their extended family members elsewhere.’
Joan Morgan, Volunteer Befriender
Wafa and Mohammed
‘My heart bleeds for the people of Syria. I think anybody would be happy to help. I am retired and have some spare time – what better than helping others?!’
Dr Mohammed Al-Samarrai, Volunteer Interpreter
‘It’s very rewarding to see how the family are settling in and making a home here. I’m so glad that I have been able to use my language skills in this way.’
Wafa Al-Samarrai, Volunteer Interpreter
Tom and Wendy
‘Seeing a family torn away from those they love, I have learned to value my own family and friendships in a deeper way.’
Wendy Wall, Volunteer Well-being Team
‘To start with I helped the family with very practical tasks but now they are part of our lives as friends and part of the community. I’ve learnt that friendship and love can overcome the cultural and language barriers that can seem to separate us.’
Tom Underwood, Volunteer Well-being Team
Children and young people
‘I really enjoy going to the park and playing with my new Syrian friends. They have changed my life!’
Joshua Coles, Volunteer Befriender
Claire, Jill, Val
‘Seeing the family make their own friends, learn to communicate in English and receive the medical support they need has been amazing.’
Jill Grinsted, Volunteer Well-being Team
‘When the girls started school a week after they arrived, they were up and fully dressed in their uniforms at 4.30am! They hadn’t been to school in six years. They are thriving in their education and the school have been incredibly supportive.’
Claire Hayles, Volunteer Schools Support
‘I’ve enjoyed dropping round to the house to give homework support. I always receive a wonderful welcome. We’ve even been swimming together a few times and they have loved that!’
Valerie Freeborn, Volunteer Education Support
‘I remember driving home, smiling to myself about the laughter we had just had. It had not even dawned on us that we didn’t speak the same language.’
Emily Coles, Volunteer Befriender
‘Both parents are making great progress with their English. They text me in almost perfect English between classes if there is anything I need to know. I am very impressed with how hard they both work.’
Juliana Wong, ESOL teacher, Merton Home Tutoring, www.mhts.org.uk
MyRaynesPark Festival Exhibition
This series of photos was originally exhibited as part of the MyRaynesPark Festival – a community arts festival organised by The Salvation Army in Raynes Park, west London. The exhibition was timed to link with Refugee Week 2018, and the images were displayed on boards along the busy Raynes Park high street, sharing the story of community sponsorship in the neighbourhood. Intrigued local residents stopped to read how their community had played a part in welcoming refugees.
Until 23 July 2018, you can view the full exhibition at Gallery 101 at our International Headquarters in London.
'Please look after the children'
When members of The Salvation Army in Ilford, east London, sought to influence their local council to do more to help refugee children, they enlisted the help of Britain’s most-loved ‘refugee child’, Paddington Bear! The children’s favourite played a part in a story that began at a celebration party.
Captain Naomi Clifton – corps officer (Salvation Army minister) at Ilford – says: ‘For a long time I knew about the refugee crisis being played out around the world – and particularly across Europe – but I felt powerless to do anything.’
Find out what happened next!
You can also read reflections from Captain Naomi in an All the World article entitled 'Together, We Can'.
Today, Community Sponsorship is a growing movement, with sponsoring groups emerging in villages, towns and cities across the UK.
If you think this is something you and your group might be interested in doing, there’s a lot of further information, resources and advice available. Please take a look at:
About the photographer
Raynes Park Photographer Claire Wakefield, of Clairelize Photography, has taken this collection of images to capture the incredible journey that the local community have been on in welcoming the family. Each portrait aims to portray the distinct contribution that each person has made whilst conveying the profound effect that meeting the family has had on them personally. It’s because of these faces that the project has been such a wonderful success.
For more information about Clairelize Photography visit: www.clairelize.co.uk