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Croeso Penarth approved to sponsor a Syrian refugee family… at last!

By Lesley Cox, Croeso Penarth

In June 2017 we enthusiastically began our Community Sponsorship journey, never guessing that more than a year later we still would not have welcomed a refugee family to our town.

In April 2017, a small group of interested individuals met together following a Citizens Cymru Wales event where the Community Sponsorship scheme was described. After talking through the requirements, we unanimously agreed that we wanted to go for it! In June we held our first public meeting and this view was supported by all present, and shared by many in the town in the following months. Croeso Penarth has the active support of all the churches, people of most political persuasions and of many individuals  who  strongly believe that this is something positive that Penarth can do to help one family in need at this time. We love living in Penarth and want to offer a family who has experienced the horror of war and the loss of their home, the opportunity to come and settle in our town. We also have a number of people who have offered time and expertise to help them settle here and to learn the language.

Raising money was not a problem, we held curry nights, quiz nights, concerts, the churches held soup lunches, we were one of our local Tesco’s charities for a month and individuals and organisations were generous too. However, finding an affordable property was much more difficult, until negotiations to rent a church property were eventually successful. We felt on top of the world!

By the end of 2017 our application was ready for the Home Office, but we were struggling to engage and get approval from our Local Authority. Via Citizens Cymru Wales we had begun to engage with local councillors from the very start of our community sponsorship journey, but getting a response from the relevant officers in the council was more difficult.  Eventually after a month of fruitless phone calls, we received a call back discouraging us from continuing our application. This was a definite low point.  The support and encouragement of Citizens Cymru Wales at this point was crucial as without their lead we might possibly have believed the council employee, and given up.

For the next 5 months we did our best, with the guidance of Citizens Cymru Wales, to jump through every hoop that the Local Authority put before us – and there were many, whilst at the same time seeing hard earned money go down the drain as we paid rent for an empty house. We did not keep quiet about it, our situation was even mentioned in parliament by our MP.  Each week our frustration grew, but so did our determination to offer a family a new home.

At last on 31st May 2018 the Local Authority gave us written approval and on 6th July this was followed by approval from the Home Office.

If someone had told us a year ago of the extent of the bureaucracy that we would meet, I don’t think that we would have believed them. It wasn’t even as if our application required many alterations.  We kept thinking of a family struggling in a refugee camp when they could have been in our empty house! Such a waste of time and money. We sincerely hope that any future applications to our Local Authority will not incur the same time wasting and negativity.

Our journey continues as work is done to find the appropriate family for us and to arrange their journey here – we can’t wait! There is much to do in preparation but so good to be able to move forward at last.

So this is a story of waiting, of being persistent and not giving up. Having only recently received approval from the Home Office the frustrations of the past months are at the forefront of our minds. However, I am sure that this will fade into relative insignificance when we know who are family will be and welcome them to our town. To other groups I would say that the experience that Croeso Penarth has had has been unusual. But whatever the situation, it has to be worth it to bring a family to a place of safety and a community waiting to welcome them.

Croeso Penarth is a member institution of Citizens Cymru Wales.  If you have been inspired by Lesley's article and are interested in setting up a Community Sponsorship scheme in your area, please contact olwen.thomas@citizenswales.org.uk or jonathan.cox@citizenswales.org.uk.

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