BLOG: Forth Valley Welcome's
Forth Valley Welcome’s Treasurer Hugh Grant writes about some positive developments in refugee integration into Stirling and Clackmannanshire.
We’ve been encouraged to see positive publicity recently about two new ventures in Alloa, run by Syrian refugees who have resettled here over the last 2-3 years. (Try the vegetarian moussaka in Syriana and then head round the corner for some pistachio baklava from Alwen Cakes!)
Forth Valley Welcome has supported refugees in Stirling and Clackmannanshire since early 2016 when the first Syrian families arrived. These were folks who had seen daily acts of violence in their home towns and the destruction of education and health services, and electricity supplies. Fleeing from that, they ended up as refugees in neighbouring countries.
The UK government decided to accept 20,000 of those over a 5 year period. They created a scheme to help Councils meet resettlement costs. Recently, refugees from South Sudan have arrived under a similar scheme. The number of refugees has continued to increase gradually.
The Councils provide accommodation, English language lessons, access to health services and schools. We’ve developed a range of services to welcome the refugees and help them integrate into the community, supported by a body of around 75 volunteers.
When families arrive we provide an immediate point of contact in the community. We help make their accommodation more homely with toys for children, cheerful curtains, and extra bedding and towels. We take them to our store to choose items for themselves.
Home Visitors visit the families regularly to help them get to know shops, bus routes, and local facilities like libraries and clubs. Our monthly Snack and Chat gatherings provide an opportunity for refugees and volunteers to get together.
We encourage children and adults to get into sporting and other activities in the area. These can also be expensive so we help with the cost of the initial subscriptions, and sometimes with sports gear.
Living in a rural area presents some problems. For families to get around the area by bus is surprisingly expensive. Some have found it better to buy a cheap car and we’ve helped with the cost of driving lessons.
Resettling into a new country takes time. Children make friends easily and quickly learn English. It’s harder for adults. Getting into a job means learning English to a good level. We help them practice conversation through home visits, conversation cafes, and Snack & Chat but it takes time.
Step by step though, as well as the restaurant and cake shop refugees have become involved in house painting, haircutting, and bus driving. And some have taken on voluntary work.
With refugee numbers expected to steadily grow, we set up as a charity in March 2016, with seven trustees. With help from Impact Funding Partners and others we were able to employ a part-time Volunteer and Projects Coordinator. And now a part-time support worker also.
New to the Treasurer role I appreciated Impact Funding Partners’ training day for Charity Treasurers. The trainer had worked for OSCR, the charity regulator, who explained what OSCR looks for in annual reports and accounts. Also useful was IFP’s training day last October on ensuring your charity is sustainable in the longer term.
Not everybody thinks refugees in the area is a good idea. That’s why it was good to see the positive publicity. In a recent Clackmannanshire Council meeting that agreed to continue to bring in refugees gradually, the Council leader commented on what the new businesses added to the town. And members listened to an account from one refugee of the harrowing conditions that caused him and his family to flee. Sadly the need has not gone away.
For more information see our website https://sites.google.com/site/forthvalleywelcome/ and check out our Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/ForthValleyWelcome/. The webpage tells you where to find out more about volunteering roles.
If you would like to make a donation to support our services to refugees, you’ll find a Donate option on the website.