Merton welcomes first refugee family to London through the Community Sponsorship programme
Yvette Stanley, Merton's Director of Children's Services, wrote the following article which was published in a recent edition of the Local Government Chronicle:
In February 2017 the London Borough of Merton became the first Council in London to help welcome a Syrian refugee family under the Government’s Community Sponsorship Programme.
Modelled on a successful Canadian scheme, it is the community that undertake to resettle the family with the support of public agencies rather than the other way around. In our case we have worked closely with The Salvation Army to support their application to resettle a family in Merton. A key factor for us has been that The Salvation Army are housing the family for two years – a major plus for a London borough with high demand for social housing.
We have supported The Salvation Army’s application every step of the way. I’ve been really impressed by their commitment and willingness to anticipate the families needs. The family have been living in a refugee camp in the Lebanon for several years. As well as the trauma of having to flee their home country, the family have significant medical needs and the children have had a sporadic education.
As the Council lead, I have co-ordinated the Council and statutory partners support to The Salvation Army and the family. This has included vetting their accommodation, finding school places for the children, provision of language classes, establishing links with the CCG, sorting out benefits, liaising with the police about any potential community tensions and looking at employment options in the longer term. This has meant that everything has been put in place ahead of the family’s arrival in the UK.
The process for becoming a Community Sponsor has not been an easy one – this is the third family to be welcomed under Community Sponsorship in the country, Lambeth Palace having been the first. The Home Office have carefully vetted The Salvation Army and there has been a detailed application form to complete, including stringent safeguarding policies, and risk assessment. Ultimately, we have agreed to step in if in the unlikely event The Salvation Army could no longer support the family. It should also be borne in mind that The Salvation Army have agreed to provide housing support for two years. It remains to be seen whether by this stage the family will be able to secure their own accommodation without further support.
What has impressed me in particular about the scheme is how The Salvation Army have taken the lead in co-ordinating community support for the family drawing on the expertise and resources within their own congregation ranging from a retired GP to a local builder as well as the wider voluntary sector.
We have found this model has worked well for us. In our borough there is a great deal of good will and practical offers of community support. What the scheme has done is ensure that this is pulled together by a local community organisation, with the Council coordinating a range of public sector services.
Although you might think that this is a lot of effort for one family we think that what we have done can be replicated elsewhere. We are planning a briefing session with our local authority neighbours and with other local voluntary organisations who are interested in the scheme. We think it provides a good blueprint for the public and community sectors working together. It channels the best of what each sector can offer and offers the chance of a new life for a family who have experienced years of uncertainty in a UN camp.
For more information on the Community Sponsorship Programme see the Government webpages: www.gov.uk/government/publications/apply-for-full-community-sponsorship