How we’re helping to find homes for Syrian refugee families

News – 18 June 2021

Since 2011, millions of Syrians have been forced to flee their home in what remains the largest displacement crisis in the world.

They have been forced to seek asylum as refugees in countries across Europe and in the Middle East, and since January 2014 the UK has resettled over 20,000 Syrian refugees through the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme – the Government’s response to the crisis.

As a housing provider, it’s our duty, and our mission, to provide homes that people can call their own, where they can feel safe and put down roots. That’s why we’ve been working with Central Bedfordshire Council (CBC) and the King’s Arms Project, a not-for-profit organisation who have provided housing and support for the homeless since 1989, to find new homes in Bedfordshire for Syrian families fleeing conflict in their home country.

Since 2016, CBC have supported 59 people in 14 families, with 11 of these families moving into Grand Union properties across the county.

Aileen Evans, Grand Union’s Chief Executive, and president of the Chartered Institute of Housing, said: “Everyone deserves a safe place to call their home, and through this partnership we’ve been able to provide that to these families.

“I can’t begin to imagine what some of these families have been through, so I’m proud that as an organisation we’ve been able to play our part.”

Grand Union started working on rehousing the refugees back in 2017 when CBC approached us to support the project.

Cllr Sue Clark, Executive Member for Families, Education and Children, from Central Bedfordshire Council said: “As a local authority, we have an ongoing commitment to resettle an average of three refugee families each year. Since 2016 we’ve resettled 59 people and had the joy of welcoming three new babies since the start of the programme. I am pleased that, through our partnership work, we’ve been able to provide safe homes for families who have already lost so much.”

While finding homes for the families is crucial, so is the support work provided by the King’s Arms Project. Simon Cook, Refugee & Migrant Services Manager there said: “Our role is to ensure the families moving to the region have everything they need to feel at home and to settle into the area. Our aim is to help empower people for independence and integration, we do this by helping people to access; housing, finances, education, training, healthcare and English classes.

“The families we support have had their lives on hold, often for many years,  and our support helps people to finally fully utilise their skills and pursue their dreams.”

And that is exactly what many of the families who have resettled in Bedfordshire have done so far.

Basel and his family (pictured above) live in a Grand Union home and it’s made a massive difference to them. He said: “Frankly, everything is fantastic. We feel safe and we feel very settled now. The house is perfect for our needs. It’s new and clean, and it’s perfect for my family.

“One thing I like is that our neighbours are really nice and we get on well. The area is nice, the people are kind and the area is quiet. We feel very comfortable here. We have started to make friends through my son’s school, meeting other parents. We go to each other houses and see each other.”

“I volunteer at a local park, helping to keep it tidy and with the gardening. I really enjoy doing this as it’s an opportunity to help the local community. The area is very pretty, and I get to meet new people all the time.

“I am very grateful to the King’s Arms Project for helping us and also Grand Union for our home.”

Another Grand Union customer, 27-year-old Dima, came to the UK in 2017 from Syria. Almost 10 years ago she lost her leg when a bomb hit her house and since then she’s overcome enormous personal and physical challenges.

After settling into her new home she set her sights on her dream – to run again. Now, after raising over £11,500 via a gofundme donations page, she’s been able to achieve that dream by buying a specialist running prosthetic.

In a delighted post on her Instagram account, she said: “I’m so thankful for everyone who has been part of this journey. I want to thank everyone for all you have given me, of support and believe in me. All the words of thanks can’t describe my feelings.”

You can read more about Dima’s story here.

There are so many other inspiring stories of that show everyone’s hard work, including the families themselves, is paying off.

Simon Cook added: “We are very proud that one of the young ladies who we helped to resettle in the region in 2017 has learnt English and is now working for us as part of our ESOL Team.

“We’re also working with a gentleman who is looking to start his own business. He dreams of setting up a food truck selling Syrian cuisine.”

It’s not just those seeking work they’re proud of though.

“When one family first arrived, they didn’t know anyone and spoke very little English. They had multiple health needs, both physical and mental. Despite these challenges they engaged with their local community in an amazing way.

“Their support workers assisted with cultural orientation and social integration, and this laid a good foundation from which the family were able to build strong connections with people in the community, including the local church and neighbours.

“They have built deep and meaningful friendships with British families which has enriched their experience of resettlement and has helped them build a local network of support which will be essential for them on their journey to independent living in the UK.”

While the coronavirus pandemic has slowed down the progress of the resettlement programme, the gradual lifting of restrictions means that more refugees are now able to find new homes in the UK.

Aileen added: “Just last week we heard from the Home Office that we’re able to offer another Syrian family one of our homes, so I’m really pleased we can continue this great work that is giving a fresh start to those fleeing the crisis.

“Projects like this are so important in helping to creating and maintain diverse and vibrant communities and hearing stories like Dima’s show you that what we’re doing really is making a difference. It’s nice to know that what we do really does matter to so many people.”

To find out more about the work the Kings Arms Project do, head to their website: www.kingsarmsproject.org