Birmingham Community Hosting Network is a volunteer led charity working to harness the enthusiasm of local people to offer friendship and hospitality to people.
Birch network’s main purpose is to offer support and friendship to people seeking sanctuary, who are on the periphery of society. We focus on three main groups: migrants with no recourse to public funds who are experiencing destitution, young people who arrived in the country as unaccompanied asylum seeking children, and finally newly arrived asylum seeking families living in temporary accommodation.
We are a volunteer led charity that harnesses the hospitality of the local community with a view to making Birmingham become a welcoming city of sanctuary to migrants. Our volunteer network aims to relieve destitution and increase the resilience and well being of our beneficiaries.
We undertake a number of activities to achieve these aims:
- We run a hosting network for vulnerable asylum seekers who are in danger of becoming destitute. We have a network of volunteer hosts who provide a room in their homes and emotional support to the person hosted.
- We run a family befriending project for unaccompanied asylum seeking children/young people. We have a network of volunteer families who meet young people on a regular basis. Each young refugee is matched with a trained volunteer family who offer to meet with them weekly or fortnightly in the family home. Young people benefit from being welcomed into a family environment. They feel included, supported, appreciated and safe in their host family’s home.
- We provide a weekly family fun session for newly arrived asylum seeking families & children where volunteers provide a welcoming space for families in initial accommodation and play activities for children. The sessions aim to reduce isolation, and promote cohesion between the newly arrived refugees and their local communities.
- We offer outreach activities and support to asylum seekers living in initial accommodation hotels across Birmingham. The project aims to offer welcome and support to newly arrived asylum seekers and a range of activities and advocacy support to help reduce isolation and improve their wellbeing.
- We engage with other migrant organisations and networks so we can cross refer and support our beneficiaries in a holistic way.
- We participate in research, policy and lobbying work to try to bring about systemic changes to improve the immigration and asylum system in the UK and the impact it has on migrants who are on their journey through the system. Some of our service users recently participated in report from Asylum Matters highlighting the detrimental impact institutional asylum accommodation has on asylum seekers: In a Place Like Prison. We also are a signatory to the West Midlands pledge opposing the current anti-refugee bill going through Parliament, read the full pledge here.
We have achieved some fantastic outcomes for our beneficiaries in the last 12 months:
Our family support sessions have:
– recorded 673 visits (278 adults / 434 children) to our family fun sessions, this was from 121 individuals (44 adults and 77 children)
– 33 families were new to the service
– secured school/nursery places for 50 children
– sourced school uniforms for 45 children
– referred/signposted over 50 individuals to services for provisions e.g. clothing, toiletries etc
– conducted over 60 pieces of advocacy work, which has included, phone calls to school, emotional support to families, assistance with HC1 forms, referrals to dentists, appointments with legal aid solicitors, information sharing etc
– taken over 30 individuals on well being day trips
Our refugee outreach works has:
– provided volunteer-run English conversation classes to over 25 individuals
– coordinated a welcome event for a new hotel to offer support/assess need to over 100 individuals
– collected over 300 pairs of shoes and distributed them to over 100 individuals at a shoe shop event
– taken over 25 individuals on day trips to local museums, gardens, community events
– coordinated for 30 individuals to start English classes with a local provider
– set up a sewing machine sharing scheme
– referred/signposted over 30 individuals to services for provisions e.g. clothing, toiletries etc
– conducted over 25 pieces of advocacy work, which has included, phone calls to school, emotional support to families, assistance with HC1 forms, referrals to dentists, appointments with legal aid solicitors, information sharing etc
– enabled a young person to access a scholarship for Birmingham university and another young person to gain a scholarship with a gymnastic club
Our family befriending project has:
– supported over fifty separated young refugees
– twenty-five were supported via one-to-one advocacy support and advice from our project coordinator
– ten were matched with volunteer befrienders
– supported over thirty young people with well-being day trips
– referred five people to Breaking Barriers, an organisation helping refugees to find meaningful employment.
– helped three young people to write CV’s.
– enabled eight young people to get on college courses
– provided information and materials for several young refugees to learn English whilst waiting for college courses.
– successfully applied for the right to work for three young people
– supported seven applications for ARC (payment cards) and asylum support.
– supported one young person to get a scholarship for Birmingham University
– provided many with essential clothing.
– supported four young people to get medical help, two with serious health issues that were being left untreated
– support and signposting to alcohol addiction services for two young person
– supported several young people to integrate into youth groups
– enabled several young people to pursue their talents in art and sport
– supported six young people to get legal support with their immigration claim and age disputes
– supported three young people to complete statements for their immigration interviews
– advocated for seven young people in very inadequate and unlawful accommodation
– ran several football coaching sessions for 24 young people living in hotels
Below is a case study of a young man we supported this year:
Last year during the last few months of lockdown, Birch received a message from an unknown person just saying ‘Hello. I’m Ramar’ It is not unusual to receive similar messages and when we respond, we often find someone desperately trying to reach out for support. This was certainly the case for Ramar!
Several messages later and with the help of google translate, we learnt that in his mid-teens, Ramar had fled war and embarked on a long, very dangerous journey where he had
been exploited and left with many physical and mental scars.
(Ramar at the beach with
his befriending family)
The final part of his journey involved battling in freezing conditions across the English Channel and then being confronted by Immigration Officials who dismissed a very important part of Ramar’s identity, his age. Having been deprived of a normal childhood, it soon dawned on Ramar that after arriving on British soil, further years were swiftly snatched from him when he was given a random year of birth several years older than his seventeen years. (Apparently, he was far too tall to be seventeen?)
As a result, he was housed in adult initial accommodation with no support. Traumatised and desperately sad, he spent day after day alone in his room, he eventually got hold of details of several charities and sent out messages with the few English words that he knew … ‘Hello, I’m Ramar’.
After a few failed attempts to meet up, Ramar eventually found the courage to come out of his initial accommodation and meet up with our coordinator. Over the months, trust has built up and together we our coordinator identified support to meet his outstanding needs. This includes medical help, enrolment on college courses, clothes, a good solicitor who is now fighting to get his true age reinstated and most importantly care and emotional support.
As Ramar has grown in confidence, we have been able to introduce him to other young people like himself and he has enjoyed playing games, sharing food and chatting with them. He also has now been matched with family befrienders and gets on well with all members of the family, enjoying days out with them, games, walks and lots of opportunities to learn English and feel welcome and valued.
The process of challenging unlawful age assessments is unfortunately often long and drawn out, but we all believe that is well worth fighting for and in the meantime Birch and are dedicated volunteers are trying to give Ramar some of the support that he has been denied.
Recently he looked so much happier and says, ‘Now I feel there are people who really care about me’
Below is another case study from our family support sessions:
Family X are a family of three, a mum, dad and a four year old son. They are asylum seekers from Iran, having left following all the current upheaval and protests there and the risk to their safety. We first met the son and father in June, when they came on our trip to visit Little Amal in the City Centre. We then stated seeing them regularly at our drop-in sessions. The family were distressed at having to leave Iran but also with the conditions in the hotel. They also felt quite isolated in the hotel as they don’t speak the same language as many of the other residents in the hotel who have formed a small support network based on mutual language and culture. In the five months that they have been in the hotel we have offered them ongoing emotional support and listened to their fears and concerns. We were able to sort out a reception place for the son in a local primary school and he was able to start at the same time as his peers in
September. We also helped them to source school uniforms/equipment etc. We were also able to find them a buggy for their four-year-old as he has a problem with his legs and is not able to walk very far.
The parents were so pleased when we informed them that we had sorted out the school placements, mum messaged us saying: “I am extremely grateful. You made me very happy. With my heart I ask the kindest God for the best and most beautiful wishes for you because you deserve the best. You made my heart happy today, may God keep you healthy and happy always.”
The mother is a regular attendee at our English conversation classes and is one of the most keen students, she is always keen to ask about new words and to check understanding. The father attends occasionally.
A couple of weeks ago, the mother came to the session looking visibly unhappy/stressed. Our session coordinator asked if she was ok and she said no … our coordinator didn’t really have much opportunity to have a proper conversation but she joined in with the English lesson. As everyone was getting ready to leave our coordinator asked again if she was ok (knowing they still didn’t really have time for a proper chat as she had to get to school for home time) and she said: “Yes, I’m OK, now I see you I’m ok. Everything is bad. The hotel is hell. My country is
hell. But I am ok now. I needed your hug today.”