Next week (June 19 – 24) is Refugee Week, the world’s largest arts & culture festival celebrating the contributions, creativity and resilience of people seeking sanctuary.
Did you know that since 2018 Julian House has supported 138 refugee families, made up of 339 guests, in Bath and more recently South Gloucestershire. Julian House is Commissioned by BANES council to support people with refugee status under the Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme (VPRS) and by South Gloucestershire Council to support refugees under VPRS, Afghan Relocation and Assistance Policy (ARAP), and UK Resettlement Scheme (UKRS), as well as under “Homes for Ukraine.”
We spoke to Ahmed, a Family Support Worker within the Refugee Resettlement Team in Bath who told us more about his work and the people he supports.
“Our team provides refugee resettlement support for five years through the VPRS scheme. The scheme exists to enable the resettlement of those identified by the United Nations as the most vulnerable people fleeing persecution, violence, and life-threatening challenges in their countries of origin.
Many of the people we support have severe medical conditions and many have suffered trauma through being kidnapped or tortured.
We are currently supporting 7 families, 3 from Afghanistan and 4 from Syria, totalling 28 family members. It begins with intense integration support to help the family settle into their new life in the UK. The support is designed to reduce as each year on the scheme passes, with families developing their independence and managing their own lives with confidence.
Before the families arrive, we need to identify and then prepare their home, ensuring it is suitably decorated, furnished, and equipped. We collect families from the airport on arrival in the UK (following liaison with government and local authority) and take them to their new home. We then assess their specific immediate and long-term needs and develop a plan to assist them.
Starting with their accommodation, we with their tenancy sign-up and make sure that they understand their rights and responsibilities. Julian House pays for and provides Internet access and a TV license for the first year of their stay.
We support families with education, securing school places for the children and sometimes having to help with any appeals processes. We provide school uniforms, for the first year, and make sure that the children have what they need, including applying for free school meals and transport. Also, we apply for grants for things like laptops and mobile phones where needed and constantly communicate with the schools. Often, we need to apply for move on places i.e., moving up from primary to secondary school.
Language is often a barrier, especially for the parents, and we help them to register for formal ESOL (English for Speaker of Other Language) lessons, providing basic textbooks on their arrival, and refer to Bath Welcomes Refugees for qualified free tuition and classes. We also help to enrol them in a twice-weekly conversation club.
Making sure that the parents have opportunities for employment can also be a challenge without support, so we accompany them to initial job centre appointments and then supporting clients to manage these independently. We offer support with volunteering; developing CVs; work placements and employment. We also assist with access to courses and training for adults e.g., food safety qualifications (often in collaboration with Bath College and other providers); First Aid; hair & beauty; employability.
The team provide support with their health and well-being, registering with GP surgeries, dentists and opticians, arranging initial health checks and any repeat prescriptions. Where needed we will support communication with Health Visitors & Midwifes etc. as well as any specialist health referrals such as Trauma Therapy. We also help with applying for blue badge permit or disabled bus pass.
We help with the family’s finances. This could be opening a bank account or applying for any benefits; setting up and managing utility accounts and payments; applying for discount schemes such as Warm Home Discount or WaterSure; supporting budgeting and debt management. We also support with applications to funders like St Johns Foundation for additional costs such as driving lessons that will aid employability prospects.
We act as advocates on the family’s behalf and sometimes need to facilitate Indefinite Leave to Remain applications at end of 5-year scheme and unfortunately sometimes we need to support families with incidents of hate crime and discrimination, including advocacy with the police and landlords, and referrals/signposting to organisations like SARI (Stand Against Racism & Equality).
Making sure that families integrate into their local community is also important, so we support them with leisure and cultural activities.
We often organise workshops, seminars, or cultural orientation sessions for refugee families, providing information about the host country’s culture. This can include: laws, and social norms; working with community organizations to develop programmes that promote integration and facilitate interaction with residents; Building partnerships and collaborating with other service providers, community organizations, and government agencies.
We also give support with gym / library memberships; organising days out such as Bristol Aquarium & London; We work with Bath City Farm who offer weekly gardening/allotment scheme for parents; and free children’s weekend Arabic classes.
Our most recent activity is working with Bath City FC who offer football sessions, once a week for children ages 8-17, which they all thoroughly enjoy.”
If you can help with volunteering at this, or our project in South Glos please contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
With your generous help, we can continue doing the work we do.