The Homeless Link’s Excellence Awards were held on the 3rd of July, and The Salvation Army walked away a winner in the promoting diversity category. This is in recognition of the organisation’s work in helping refugees from Syria settle and become self-sufficient across the UK.
One of the projects contributing to The Salvation Army’s success is the Community Sponsorship of Refugees programme, which the organisation co-designed with the Home Office. The initiative allows locally based volunteer groups to resettle refugee families into communities. For example, church volunteers integrated a Syrian family into South London’s community. Furthermore, The Salvation Army and the Syrian Resettlement Programme successfully settled six Syrian refugee families in the North West.
Volunteers at the heart of The Salvation Army’s success
The Salvation Army’s success is largely due to the compassion and dedication of its volunteers. As Mitch Menagh, Director of Homelessness Services, said, “So much of this work is done by people who seek no reward other than helping people whose homelessness has been caused by devastating civil war – so you can imagine, not only how humbling it is to be recognised by our peers at Homeless Link, but also how thrilling it is to be recognised for every single person who’s committed their time and their hearts to these projects.”
Volunteer (and staff) efforts, which included cleaning, fixing, painting, and coordination furniture deliveries, were deemed ‘exceptional.’ Community-orientated activities include spurring people to donate clothes, toys, and household essentials, as well as securing appointments with health workers, council services, and schools, and identifying local mosques. Translation services and English language classes are also provided.
Helping families find their feet
This is the inaugural year of Homeless Link’s Excellence Awards and Rick Henderson, Chief Executive of Homeless Link and award judge, stated that the high quality of the entries was a delight, and praised the good practices of all entrants.
“The Awards are an important opportunity to showcase the innovative and effective work that our members are doing around the country to support those experiencing homelessness,” said Henderson.
He added, “I would like to congratulate The Salvation Army for winning this award. They impressed the judges with their fantastic project to welcome and help resettle Syrian refugees in local communities, showing how important it is to reflect and cater to the diverse range of people who are seeking homelessness support.”
Volunteers are tasked with a range of tasks, including providing access to medical healthcare, and acquiring properties that will become home. The approach is personal; there is no one-size-fits-all programme. Each family has its own Personal Integration Plan that takes into consideration work experience, skills and education.
Mitch Menagh said, “For the best chance at integration, each family is encouraged to be self-sufficient as quickly as possible. But by bringing our communities together and assembling expertise and resources, we try to give them the best starting place so they can make that happen.”
The Salvation Army uses various methods to encourage communities to get behind and support refugees that move into their neighbourhoods. Methods include a film, a volunteer training package, and informational documents in English and Arabic.
To ensure the success of the initiatives, The Salvation Army consulted with an Islamic Community Centre and a Mosque and the Syrian Pantry so that families have access to the appropriate food. To further their understanding of the Syrian culture, groups took into account reports from the Migration Policy Institute (Educational and Mental Health Needs of Syrian Refugee Children), Refugee Action (Gateway Good Practice Guide), and the Home Office (Indicators of Integration), and other relevant reports. In addition, volunteers and staff attended cultural training events, as well as a Refugee Conference to consult with refugees who have successfully been integrated into communities.
The fruits of a year’s hard work
The Salvation Army in South London celebrated one of its success stories in February 2018. It was the one year anniversary of the successful integration of a Syrian family of five, thanks partly to the Community Sponsorships of Refugees scheme. Guests included befrienders, teachers, health professionals, friends, neighbours, employers, interpreters, and fundraisers.
Some of the guests had this to say:
Ghassan, father of the Syrian family, said, “I want to thank you for welcoming me into this great country. You have helped me, my wife, and children. You have become our family.”
Befriender Tom said, “I’ve learnt that friendship and love can overcome the cultural and language barriers that can seem to separate us.”
Arabic interpreter Wafa said, “I have made a whole new set of friends through supporting this family. It has been life-changing in how I see my own neighbourhood.”
Nick Coke, Refugee Coordinator for The Salvation Army, said, “What everyone discovered was not only did it take a community to welcome a family, but it took a family to make a community.”