Former head teacher Ellie Stacey is one of our pioneering Community Sponsors, having played a key role in building groups in Bude and Falmouth. Here Ellie tells us how volunteering helped her embrace retirement – and how inspired she feels by the power and potential of Community Sponsorship.
“Retirement was a big change. My husband and I had had very busy and all-consuming work lives, so stopping suddenly required a huge adjustment. We moved from Oxford to Bude in Cornwall and I immediately started looking for things to get involved with whilst we settled in.
The refugee crisis was in the news constantly in 2015. There were so many images of people walking across Europe – so much sadness. I saw a poster that said, ‘Are you concerned about the refugee crisis?’ I went along to a meeting in a church and that’s when my involvement in refugee resettlement really began. I joined what became the Bude Refugee Support group.
There were already lots of collections of clothes and blankets, but we wanted to do more. We wanted to find out whether Cornwall would resettle some refugees. Traditionally Cornwall is known for its big welcomes, and we felt it could be a place of sanctuary – we just had to encourage the County Council to take up that mantle.
We had lots of people with lots of ideas – lots of energy that needed harnessing. I was probably too close to my old job at that point because I said, ‘Shall I write a development plan?’ From there we started working out how we’d do things, from where the family might live to where the children might go to school.
When the Home Office started exploring the idea of Community Sponsorship, they asked us to get involved. It was quite fun to be pioneering with it – to say, “Why don’t we try to do it that way?” We were one of the first five groups in the UK to resettle a family, with the first family arriving in summer 2017.
Ironically, after all this work to settle a family in Bude, my husband and I realised we weren’t that settled in Bude! We wanted to live somewhere with better transport links to my family in London and a bit more going on. We ended up in a village near Falmouth and I joined a Community Sponsorship group that was just getting started – Falmouth and Penryn Welcome Refugees. I said, “I’ll help – I’ve done this before!”
There are so many memorable moments when you’re a Community Sponsorship volunteer. When the first family arrived in Falmouth, another volunteer and I went into school with the little boy and his mum. The boy was four and at first he wouldn’t let his mum out of his sight – he’d cry even if she went to the loo. Eventually she was able to leave while we stayed in the classroom with him. I remember a day when he came over and snuggled up next to me as the class sat on the carpet. That was just magic – it really felt like the start of something and that he was going to be all right. He’s nearly six now and he loves school.
Last week I met with other volunteers at the house we’ve got ready for the second family. Just being there and realising the potential that house offers the family made me feel quite giddy. Knowing that they are coming to a place where they can lock the front door and feel safe, where their children can be educated and where they can build a future for themselves – that’s really powerful
My life has been eventful but I’ve never had it terribly tough. I’ve never been in a situation where I’ve had no power and no choices. I’ve never had to flee my home. I’ve never really been frightened. I think it’s quite amazing how the refugee families I’ve met have lived through all that and have learned to recover from it. Their optimism and positivity is extraordinary.
I’ve got a huge amount out of volunteering. Having had my head so firmly stuck in education, I think I needed to reset myself. And when you do good things for others, it really does give you a warm glow. You also get to meet like-minded people from different walks of life that you might not have had the chance to meet otherwise.
I’m quite driven by the concept of doing good. I’m not particularly religious but I think there’s a lot of good in people – and Community Sponsorship is a real opportunity to bring it out.”