“When it came to finding a house for the family, we were in great difficulty. These were the early years of Community Sponsorship, when the Home Office was still setting out rules. We were told that we would have to have a house in place two months before the family arrived, and the rent should be covered by the allowance given to the family. But you cannot cover the rent of a four-bedroom house in Redbridge with the housing allowance, and not many landlords are willing to reduce the rent from the market rent.
We were very lucky in the end. We found a landlord who offered her four-bed house to us at the same price as the allowance. It was unbelievable! This is not just philanthropy – this is taking your income and giving it to somebody else. I find that very touching.
We prepared the house – the bedrooms with small gifts on each bed, the dining area, the lounge with the TV, the kitchen with all the utensils. The family could just step in and take their shoes off and go to bed if they wanted to!
We were all very excited as we waited for the family at the airport. We had been sent their photos and it was lovely to see that they were a young family, with children aged 1, 7, 15 and 17, and their parents. One of the volunteers brought their two children along to the airport so that the Syrian children would feel comfortable. We were standing with our welcome messages and when they saw us, they came running to us and we had embraces. They were all very well dressed - the little boy was wearing a little suit and a bow tie.
When we got to the house, the whole volunteer team was there at the front door to welcome the family. We had arranged a Turkish meal to be delivered so that they didn’t have to worry about food. We showed them around the house and told them about the basic things like fire exits, water, toilets and where things were in the kitchen. They had come from a two-bed flat, so they were very happy with the house. We said, ‘Enjoy yourselves, we'll see you tomorrow once you're relaxed and more comfortable.’
The family are well settled now. At first we arranged dentist and doctor appointments - now they do it themselves. When they first arrived, volunteers took them to the West End – now they are exploring London by themselves. They’ve got used to the tube system and they're making full use of it. They know where to go shopping for Syrian and Arab goods. The parents both go to the school gate to drop and pick up the children, which is great. Initially the lady was shy going out, but now she's more confident and has made some friends at the school gate. It is quite remarkable that they have put their roots in the ground now.
From the family, I have learned about resilience. After all the hardships and bad experiences they have faced, they are still there with a smile. They are building their lives and looking forward to the future, rather than resenting the past. It’s encouraging to see that the whole family is taking up whatever is on offer at the moment. For example, the father has an allotment and he is growing food for the family and to share with others. This shows me the spirit of regeneration.”