Guest blog: We still have capacity to help refugees

In this guest blog, John Delahunty, CEO at Innisfree, argues that there is much social housing organisations can do to help those fleeing conflict and persecution overseas.

I started to write this piece on the day Russia invaded Ukraine. The voice that is coming through in these first words is full of emotion – it’s much louder than my professional/technical work head.

From news coverage, the clip of a father settling his small daughter’s hair under her hat as he puts her on a bus to safety – he’s staying behind to fight – brought tears to my eyes. The intimacy of that simple, everyday act brings up visceral memories of me with our own children: Joel, Isaac, Grace and Martha.

And I’ve experienced feelings like this before. In August last year, watching the desperate attempts of families trying to leave Afghanistan, I felt frightened just imagining if that were our family.

Remembering the image of the three-year old Syrian boy, Alan Kurdi, whose body washed up on a beach in Turkey in 2015, still makes me feel desperately sad and also angry. We’ve a photo of Isaac at that age, in shorts and t-shirt, deep in sleep – just as Alan should have been.

The ‘good’ that we/you/I do through social housing

It is unarguable that as housing professionals we do things that tackle a whole range of social injustices, whether it be homelessness, race inequality, poverty, domestic abuse – the list goes on. And the list includes support for refugees.

I often spot the ‘somebody’ driving these activities in organisations, sometimes a practitioner or a board member or a chief executive; sometimes still doing it now (the Homes for Cathy crew spring to mind!) or sometimes in the history of an organisation – a founder or first staff member.

Image: iStock

Like I do now, I think they felt the need to help another person, another family, another community to have a better life. And yes, we have converted those feelings into mission and strategy and delivery plans – but it doesn’t take away that basic human connection to want to help another.

So, if you have strong feelings about what’s going on in the world now, I have three ideas to share that show that we do have the bandwidth in social housing to do more to help refugees.

1. Campaigning

We don’t need to reinvent any wheels here – we could support an existing campaign. The Together with Refugees campaign is a coalition founded by Asylum Matters, British Red Cross, Freedom from Torture, Rainbow Migration, Refugee Action, Refugee Council and Scottish Refugee Council.

It is calling for a kinder, fairer and more effective approach to supporting refugees. (They had me at “kinder and fairer”.)

Having spoken to the campaign, there’s a natural priority for them in working with the government and the Home Office in particular, but they would welcome the knowledge and expertise of our social housing sector as accommodation issues will always be significant for refugees, whatever the tenure.

Room for a few of our policy bods? An outlet for some of our Comms colleagues too?

2. Community Sponsorship

Community Sponsorship is a resettlement programme with local people at its heart. Originally from Canada, the scheme was launched in the UK by the Home Office and groups have sprung up across the UK. In the first five years of the programme more than 100 groups welcomed more than 500 refugees.

Like some other housing providers, Innisfree provided a house for a Syrian family under the scheme and that experience inspired me to develop a group in my hometown of Northampton.

Could you help with: advice about accommodation in your area for a group? A meeting space? Making a property available? Find out more from Reset the UK’s community sponsorship learning hub.

3. Contracting

The Home Office contracts for Asylum Accommodation and Support Services valued at £4 billion over 10 years only involve private sector providers like Serco and Mears.

Could there be another way? Shouldn’t there be another way? Can we get some of our big housing brains on this one?

It’s all about the welcome

For Innisfree, our Irish roots mean that we have an understanding of what it’s like to be from another place – and sometimes not be so welcome.

As social housing organisations let’s all give a kinder and compassionate welcome to refugees.


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Disclaimer: We welcome guest blogs and articles for our website and CT Brief. The views, opinions and positions expressed in such blogs and articles represent those of the authors and do not represent those of Campbell Tickell.

Guest blog: We still have capacity to help refugees

In this guest blog, John Delahunty, CEO at Innisfree, argues that there is much social housing organisations can do to help those fleeing conflict and persecution overseas.

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