Thanks for speaking to us again today Ruth! When we last spoke to you, you were fundraising. Now you’ve submitted your application and found a house – congratulations!
The Community Sponsorship application form gets you to set out how you’ll support a refugee family. Can you tell us how you approached the application form?
We delegated responsibility for researching different areas to different people. Our Community Sponsorship group is organised into sub-groups that are focused on different core areas. Each sub-group has a leader, so we’ve got a housing lead, a schools lead and so forth. We decided that each of the group leads would take responsibility for researching their key area, and we created a google doc where everyone could share their research - for example, our Schools Lead has been in contact with all the schools in Ripon to find out who has spaces in which year groups. This gave us the key content that we needed for the application form.
After the research stage, I met up with the Chair of Ripon City of Sanctuary for a long session – 3 or 4 hours – where we went through the google doc to write it up formally!
How did you find the application process?
I’m definitely relieved to have it finished. It does take a lot of research and preparation. But I also felt that writing the application was actually a really good exercise for me as the group lead. It was really useful to go through all the information and see if I had a strong enough grasp of the content to write it up properly.
What support did you have through the application process?
Back when we were getting started, we attended Reset’s Planning Your Application training, which put the whole process into context. I also had to email the Reset team quite often with a few odd questions and they were always really useful and helpful.
We’ve also had great support from our Lead Sponsor, Catholic Care. We did a full day of in-person training with them recently which mainly focused on safeguarding and expectations of us as volunteers. We learnt so much, and we also really enjoyed the opportunity to come together as a whole group in person and share how we were feeling about the prospect of welcoming a family in the near future. There’s a lot of excitement, but some anxieties and concerns as well, so it’s important to share these as a group.
What advice do you have for other groups?
I think it’s important to talk to your group members about their skills and how they want to be involved. In our group, there are some people who are really confident with writing formal English, and there are others who aren’t as confident in this area, but they have loads of really practical skills. It makes sense to play to people’s strengths.
The next step after you submit your application is your Pre-Approval Meeting with the Home Office. How was this?
I was expecting the representative from the Home Office to be very unreadable, very unapproachable, and quite intimidating. But it wasn’t like that at all. They said our application was practically perfect which was nice to hear after we’d put in so much effort! The whole thing only took around half an hour on Zoom.
The aim of the meeting was to check that we’d really done the research and we’d thought about all the different scenarios that could come about, so she asked us a few questions about different safeguarding situations. She also asked us to make a few minor changes. For example, since we submitted the form, it’s become clear that people’s energy bills are going to increase massively, so she asked us to emphasise in our form that we’ll talk to the family about managing their bills as soon as possible.
You’ve also found a house! Can you tell us how you found the property?
In the end we found the house on Facebook. We posted in a local group asking if there were any landlords who have a two or three bedroom house that was coming up for rent. Very quickly, a woman contacted our Housing Lead saying that she’d like to help.
Our Housing Lead then met with the landlord and explained what Community Sponsorship is. She was really supportive and agreed straight away to lower the rent below market rates in line with the local housing allowance so that the family will be able to afford it.
You told us previously how blown away you were with the support you’d received from the community in Ripon. Are they still supporting you?
Definitely! We’ve been using Facebook marketplace a lot to furnish the house, and if we mention that it’s for refugees and explain what we’re doing, the sellers often say ‘oh don’t bother paying us’, or they’ll reduce the price. Often they’re selling other bits as well so they tell us to take more!
It’s so amazing because these aren’t people who are on our mailing list. They’re not existing supporters of Ripon City of Sanctuary. They’re just a random cross section of people from Ripon and the surrounding areas who happen to be selling some furniture on Facebook, and they’re all so supportive.
We were moving a few bigger items the other day and we’d hired a man with a van. When we explained what we were doing, he said he’d do the whole job for free!
Although it’s completely tragic, the crisis in Ukraine has brought refugee issues so much into the public consciousness and has made us more confident sharing with people what the project is about, rather than being worried about having a negative response. It’s reminding us that most people are compassionate and caring and will do what they can to help someone in need.