And we know there to be truth in what we say, because people tell us so. Anecdotally, we know that volunteers in Groups can find real purpose in supporting strangers. Through the stories they tell us, we know that Community Sponsorship can build bonds across communities and change the way people think and feel about refugees.
However, we’re also very aware that until recently, we’ve had little to back this up beyond a strong hunch and some really powerful tales.
That was why, last spring, we began discussions with Professor Jenny Phillimore at the University of Birmingham about commissioning her and her team to carry out research into the impact of Community Sponsorship on communities. Jenny is part of the Institute for Research into Superdiversity and has a long-standing research interest in Community Sponsorship with strong relationships within the movement.
Jenny and her colleague Dr Marisol Reyes developed plans in conversation with us for case study research that would eventually cover five small towns into which refugees have been welcomed through Community Sponsorship. The aim of the research was to explore the impact of Community Sponsorship on communities in general, and changes in the knowledge and attitudes of community members about and towards refugees in particular. Marisol carried out over 30 interviews with community members, including teachers and neighbours, Community Sponsorship volunteers, and the refugees themselves. The research focused on semi-rural communities because Jenny’s broader research suggested it would be more difficult (though that’s not at all to say less interesting) to identify the effects of Community Sponsorship in already-diverse communities.
We’re really excited that the final report from the research (out this week!) indicates that Community Sponsorship “offers potential for transformation of understanding of refugee issues, to reduce fears about others, to change working practices to make them more inclusive for wider diverse populations and to bring new perspectives into relatively homogeneous communities”.
Jenny and Marisol characterise the impact of Community Sponsorship on a community as being like ‘a pebble in a pool’, with the biggest change in attitude and understanding being amongst those with direct contact with refugees, but with the potential for changes to ripple out to the wider community.
Drawing on the research, the report includes a range of recommendations to help Community Sponsorship Groups spread and deepen the ripples of change in their community, including running events and sharing good news stories to raise awareness of the scheme and of the needs of refugees.
At Reset, we’ve got a range of resources to support Community Sponsorship Groups to do this including how to reach out to other organisations and tips for fundraising for your Group. Check out our toolkit for working with local media, including guidance about maintaining the privacy of the refugee family whilst spreading the word about the work of the Group.. Refugee Week (15th-21st June) could be a particularly good time to start raising awareness of Community Sponsorship and we have advice for how to get started in Refugee Week.
We’re really proud to have commissioned and co-funded this research. It’s been a pleasure working with Jenny and Marisol, and we extend a huge thank you to them for their commitment to developing the evidence base for Community Sponsorship. We also recognize that this is just the first step in understanding and evidencing the impact of Community Sponsorship on communities. At Reset we will continue to advocate for and champion the importance of research and evaluation, to connect and encourage researchers in this area, and to carry out and commission small pieces of research to contribute to the growing picture. We’re excited to be working with Dr Leonie Ansems de Vries from King’s College London to commission a new piece of research – more on that soon.