When we first bought our house in Raynes Park we weren’t going to be the ideal neighbours to start with as we had a good 4-5 months of building noise for our neighbours to persevere with. To our surprise, and quite honestly relief, this didn’t seem to be a problem for any of our neighbours at all and we were greeted with was smiles and hospitality. In return we hosted an afternoon and invited some of our immediate neighbours in order to say thank you and get to know them. It was on this afternoon that I learnt about Community Sponsorship of Refugees, an incredible scheme set out to help settle refugee families in the UK.
Speaking very honestly when I thought about refugees I always thought of the stereotypical images of the faces on the boats. Some successfully, and others so tragically not, making it to land and desperately trying to remove their family from harm. In response to the Syrian conflict in 2015 it was announced that the UK would receive 20,000 refugees as part of the Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme. They wanted to help! They saw these families and wanted to provide them with the opportunity to resettle and start a new life. The Home Office and Civil Society organisations co-designed the Community Sponsorship of Refugees scheme, designed to involve local communities and charities in the resettlement process. I’m really proud to say that Raynes Park was one of those communities, and only the second into the UK to do so.
Our neighbour Major Nick Coke, who is a church leader at the Raynes Park Salvation Army, went on to tell me about the varied group of volunteers involved that wanted to help. Whether this be making an Arabic welcome sign for the family when they first arrived in the UK, helping the family translate into English, teaching them English, helping them find a job, knitting them clothes, helping them navigate London buses…the list was endless. And now The Salvation Army wanted to spread the word across the UK to encourage other communities and charities to do the same, and did I want to be involved? I didn’t even have to think about it. Yes.
This has genuinely been one of my favourite projects to work on for so many reasons;
It’s been so much fun! I’ve travelled around my local area photographing people of all ages and from all walks of life who have been involved in the project and I’ve listened to their stories, heard about the family, drank their tea, ate their biscuits and have very genuinely made new friends.
It’s helped me to look at refugees in a different way and understand the importance of the scheme and just how much it means to the family. I photographed a celebration event that was held for the family to mark 1 year of them being in the UK and listening to how much it means to them and their life to be settled here in the UK genuinely brought a tear to my eye.
I have seen the effect that the project has had on the Raynes Park community, in particular The Salvation Army, and how it has brought them together. When I said to the volunteers how lucky the family were to have been resettled, on numerous occasions I was given the response, ‘We’re the lucky ones.’
Finally, it’s made me really thankful that we chose Raynes Park to buy our first house in and raise our family in. A local community where we have been so welcomed and we can even say hello to people on the high street that we know! Something that I don’t think many can do living in London now. I feel like I’ve officially made it!
If you want to read more about how you could potentially help a family resettle in the UK click here or please feel free to get in contact.
You can also read about the project and see a selection of the volunteer portraits taken at the Transformations photography exhibition as part of the Raynes Park Festival (18th June-8th July 2018) on Coombe Lane.
Many thanks and have a great day