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Exploring new forms of community-led welcome: What else can the power of Community Sponsorship enable?

5 January 2021

Community Sponsorship can transform the lives of refugees and volunteers. 

As Rossella Pagliuchi-Lor, UNHCR’s UK representative, says:

“Community sponsorship is transformative. It provides refugee families with a support network to help them adapt, learn and become independent more quickly. But it also has a real effect on local volunteers, binding them together in a common cause and allowing them – in a small way  – to be part of the global solution to forced displacement.”

We believe this is really special, so one question often asked in the Reset (virtual) office is: how can we ensure that other newcomers benefit from community-led welcome?

Community Sponsorship is a programme for welcoming and supporting vulnerable refugees resettled to the UK, and we’re hugely proud to be part of the UK’s strong resettlement sector. Nevertheless, we think there’s huge potential to draw on Community Sponsorship to create new forms of community-led welcome for different cohorts of newcomers. And over the past 18 months we’ve been exploring what might be possible.

What do Community Sponsorship volunteers think?

Understanding the appetite and motivation of communities is central to our thinking about new models of community-led welcome. This summer we carried out a small piece of interview-based volunteer motivation research. We included questions about how interviewees would feel about being involved in community-led welcome of unaccompanied minors, displaced talent candidates arriving into work in the UK with their families, and people seeking asylum (both at the point of being offered refugee status, and before).

Interviewees were universally interested in the ways in which community-led support could be adapted for newcomers beyond the current Community Sponsorship cohort of resettled refugees. They identified potential challenges, such as whether the locations of community-led support would match up with the locations of demand, and whether community groups would be able to draw in the skills needed to support unaccompanied young people.

However, none of the interviewees wanted to walk away from these challenges. Their overriding message was their enthusiasm to help people who had been displaced to to move their lives forward, however they had made their way to the UK.

Neighbours for Newcomers

Buoyed by the enthusiasm of Community Sponsors, we’re excited to be developing a pilot in partnership with Talent Beyond Boundaries (TBB) to test community-led welcome of displaced talent candidates arriving to work in the UK.

The pilot, called Neighbours for Newcomers, will bring together TBB’s work to grow displaced talent mobility pathways with Reset’s knowledge of community welcome of newcomers. It will see us design and test a model of community-led welcome of families where one family member has been identified through TBB’s Talent Catalogue and secured a job and a Tier-2 (General) visa to work in the UK.

We aim to use the pilot to develop a sustainable model whereby community groups will be trained, supported and approved by Reset and funded by the corporate employer.

Community-led supported lodging

In partnership with two fantastic organisations, Social Finance and Home for Good, we’ve also been exploring how to draw more community members into the support of unaccompanied young people arriving in the UK.

Pre-pandemic, Home for Good launched the Families of Refuge project, working to open up new supported-lodging placements for resettled young people. In the meantime, Social Finance scoped and designed a model of community-led supported-lodging hubs for welcoming unaccompanied minors.

According to this model, each hub would involve volunteers setting up and running a local supported-lodging scheme for young people. As part of this, they would recruit local carers and engage the community to provide wraparound support to both young people and carers.

In each case, the Local Authority would act as the corporate parent to unaccompanied minors, and each hub would be supported by a central organisation, like Reset, providing training and support.

We think there’s real potential here but there are also lots of questions still to answer: do community groups have appetite for the level of risk and responsibility involved? Would Local Authorities feel comfortable contracting with a community-led hub? What would the financial flow look like and could it be made efficient?

Sadly, the pandemic put the brakes on this work for a couple of reasons. First, the pause in resettlement flights means that Families of Refuge is not currently able to recruit supported-lodging hosts. Second, Local Authorities are at such stretch that it’s not the right time for Social Finance to test and further develop their model. As a result, we made the difficult decision to bring the project to a close in October this year. We’d like to acknowledge here the generosity of US philanthropists Ed Shapiro and Barrie Landry who made this work possible.

In spite of this set back, the pandemic certainly hasn’t dampened our commitment to exploring ways to extend community-led welcome to more newcomers. We’re just at the start of our journey of exploring what is possible and we would welcome your reflections, connections and ideas.