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“We tried to make the house into a home”

Ruth’s Community Sponsorship group recently welcomed a refugee family to Ripon. Here she tells us about getting the house ready, stocking the fridge with familiar foods, and organising a tea party with the family’s new neighbours.

Your Community Sponsorship group Ripon City of Sanctuary recently welcomed a Syrian refugee family to Ripon. That’s amazing!

You spoke to us before about finding a property for the family to rent. How did you get the house ready for the family to move in?

We were still getting some bits of furniture into the house right up until a few days before the family arrived, but it all came together! We tried to make the house feel a bit more of a home, so we put some decorations up and put flowers in a vase. We also found toys for the children and left teddy bears on their beds. One of my colleagues put together some welcome packs for the adults with some little treats inside.

Did you have food ready for the family when they arrived?

We made sure the fridge was stocked. I went to a few bigger supermarkets in Leeds to buy some foods that I thought would be familiar to the family, based on one of our volunteer’s previous work with Syrian refugees. Then I did a fresh food shop the day before they arrived. Another Syrian family in Ripon prepared a meal for the family to eat when they arrived home from the airport. They made the meal in advance and left it at the family’s home with a note welcoming them to Ripon.

What about some of the administrative tasks that the family need to do on arrival?

I’d say we prepared pretty well. On the Universal Credit side of things, we had some really good training organised by Reset and Sponsor Refugees. We made sure that we filled out as much of the application as possible in advance so that it was quite simple when the family arrived. We also had other forms for things like the GP ready to be filled out when the family arrived.

How did you balance completing all these important administrative tasks while also being mindful that the family are going through a huge transition?

We were really open with the family that the first few days would be really busy as we get everything set up, but that it would then quiet down. We emphasised to them that they could say when they’d had enough and didn’t want to fill out any more forms!

But they seemed to really understand that there was a lot to get done. I remember apologising to them because I felt like they were having to give a lot of the same information over and over again. But they just said, ‘Oh no, it’s fine. We just want to get it all done as quickly as possible.’

How are things going now that the family has had a couple of months to settle in?

We’re getting into more of a routine now with some of the volunteers doing the same things with the family on certain days each week. This was harder to do in the first month when there were so many urgent tasks. Things ended up a bit more scattered in the first month.

We’re getting to know each other a bit better now. You can see the family and the volunteers growing in confidence with each other and becoming more at ease.

And it’s really nice to see the family settling into the house. They’re doing more to it and making it their own now.

You spoke to us before about how the community were supporting you. Is that community support still there?

Yes definitely. In the area where the family live, we organised a tea party. We designed some invitations and I went round with the little boys from the family to all the houses near them and we invited everyone to a tea party in the garden. All the family were there and around 8 neighbours, plus our volunteers.

The family arrived in the summer just as term was ending so they had a couple of months to settle in before school started. Now the boys are starting school, this will be a good link with the wider community.

You spent a long time preparing to welcome the family. How have the last few months compared to what you expected?

I’d say it’s roughly what I expected, but there are always things that come along that you can’t plan for. The main thing is that you can’t know what the family will be like. You don’t know if they’ll be more shy and want to spend time on their own, or if they’ll want to see you a lot. In our case, the family are just lovely. They couldn’t be a nicer family.

Do you have any advice for other Community Sponsorship groups that are welcoming refugee families?

Do as much of the admin as you can before the family arrives. Make sure you know what forms to fill out and where to find them. If there are sections that you can complete in advance, do that. You’re going to be really busy when the family arrives so it helps to reduce the number of tasks that need to be done.

But don’t worry too much about the small things. Be clear with yourself about what is a priority and what isn’t. You don’t want to be worrying about every tiny little thing because then you’ll forget to treasure this time. That first week with the family is really, really special.