Community sponsorship is powerful
With everything you see on the news about refugees, it can make you feel really powerless. But community sponsorship provides an opportunity, even if it’s only one family, to make a difference. It’s something real, rather than just donating money to a bigger charity. Community sponsorship is a powerful model and we know from how generous people have been that they feel it too.
Forming a group and working together
Early on, we had a meeting to talk about what might be involved and thought we might be able to set up a community sponsorship group here. We put out a call to see who was sympathetic to the idea and had a meal together. Some people have fallen away, but after four years we still have a core group. It has been great working with volunteers. Of course there are risks, people have busy lives, but it’s been great forming a group and working together. Early on we decided to form ourselves as a charity so that it was more scalable.
Becoming a Lead Sponsor
Tyneside Welcomes started out as a community sponsorship group but we’ve developed into the role of being a Lead Sponsor and taking on that coordinating role.
We started out with the intention to just welcome one family. But there has been so much interest and so much good will, we wanted to expand so we could harness all that. There was another local group that formed during the lockdown and so we invited them to join up with us. It has developed from there - a local Amnesty International group joined us and has made rapid progress.
Getting the governance right
We have put a lot of time into developing a project plan and a strategy to grow the support we can offer. Getting the governance right has been critical. We have a board of trustees and policies so this means we can provide infrastructure and support to other groups. Some things have been difficult, like navigating Universal Credit. But Reset have been fantastic and they’ve jumped in to help us when we needed it. They have been very responsive and they always reply straight away.
It helps to have a support network
As the Lead Sponsor we are like the trunk of a tree and each group we support is like one of the tree’s branches. Because the groups are connected in this way, through us as the Lead Sponsor, it means that if there is a problem someone can step across to provide support. We also have support networks across the groups, so for example, the project
manager group shares practice all the time and we can bounce ideas off each other. It really helps to have that support network.
Advice for Lead Sponsors
Activate existing networks and really work on those. In particular, have lots of face-to-face meetings and, if possible, one-to-ones to really understand people’s values and availability in terms of time and existing family commitments. You’ve got to really know people and have a deep relationship with them. Knowing what people are up for is valuable. It’s been enormously important in terms of our existing network.
Having a finance and governance group has been really helpful on the structural side, as has drawing on the expertise of the trustees. We’ve examined the governance to make the volunteer application process much more robust.
Going out and talking to other groups is also important. We gave a short talk at a local Anglican church and they then decided to form a group. It was very significant that we went there.
Develop a good relationship with your Local Authority and make sure you know who the head of housing is.
Give your MP some good news by telling them about what you are doing. We had a situation where a family was not receiving child benefit so we wrote to the MP. Having a prior relationship with her really made a difference.