Category Archives: Blog post

My first experience as a guest

This is the second instalment in the “Journeys” series! This entry is from a current guest living with a host family.

“In the end, though, maybe we must all give up trying to pay back the people in this world who sustain our lives. In the end, maybe it’s wiser to surrender before the miraculous scope of human generosity and to just keep saying thank you, forever and sincerely, for as long as we have voices.” – Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat, Pray, Love)

I don’t think I really understood it… I mean, maybe I understood it but I hadn’t really internalised it. I think experiences like this change you… From being a guest in someone’s home, then that home becoming your home and then the people in that home becoming like… family. Even if it’s for a short period of time, you change.                                                                                    Why would you let complete strangers into your home?                                                                                                                 We’ve been through worse, how much worse could this be?

I got used to the idea of ‘home’ being wherever I lay my head at night. Temporary accommodation after temporary accommodation, I think we’d moved about 11 times by the time I was 18 years old. You learn to adapt but the world seems harsher and harsher. You hear stories about people migrating for years seeking refuge in unmerciful countries; being refused asylum over and over again, waiting for – Of course I had thought about going back. We have some family over there and the weather’s better. But it’s never that easy.  So the world is harsh and my spirits were broken.  I remember being tired because I had taken my suitcases with me on two bus trips to get to their house. It’s funny how I hadn’t got used to carrying my suitcases across long distances by now, I had done it countless times before. The area was familiar, I was certain I had taken the bus past it a couple of times. Walking up to the hosts’ house, I don’t think I would describe them as nerves, although I had been prone to bad anxiety. But I wasn’t exactly scared. I tried my best to keep an open mind, to not have any prejudgment – just neutral thoughts. We’ve been through worse, how much worse could this be?                                                 

I think it took awhile for me to really settle, I found myself confused at first by the eating times and when my host would say “help yourself to anything”. Honestly, I hadn’t seen a fridge that full in a long time. And it continued to be full, so were the cupboards and the pantry. Help yourself to anything I think after a year with my host and her family I still hadn’t really grasped at the sheer peak of human generosity that had been bestowed upon me. At the beginning I don’t think I spent much time at the house; I remember feeling quite shy around everyone. I was sceptical of where to be around the house at times, whether or not I was just subject to my room. It’s funny because I don’t consider myself to be a shy a person at all.  The children reminded me of my nieces, but more well-behaved than my nieces; their excitement and energy always uplifted my mood. I think from the beginning I was always bound to get along with my host. We have similar views about the world and she was a vegetarian (like myself) attempting to be a vegan in a house full of keen carnivores. We’d discuss her sneaky attempts to gradually convert the family to herbivores and find humour in her failed attempts. She began to encourage me to start cooking and baking. I was finding my confidence again. During religious holidays and fasting the family were completely respectful and cautious of my well-being. They’re not particularly religious but aim to acknowledge the beauty and value of all backgrounds. I’ll always be grateful for them and grateful they allowed me into their home.

Looking for volunteers!


Photo of Helen

I have just started working for BIRCH on their Family Befriending Project and we are currently looking for volunteers to join our scheme. Would you or someone you know be willing to host a young refugee (aged 16-25) in your home once a week or fortnight to help them feel welcome in Birmingham? Most of the young refugees we work with have no family in the UK and can be quite isolated, befriending is a way to reduce their isolation and also introduce them to new areas and activities, as well as introducing volunteers to new cultures and experiences.

One of our current volunteers had this to say:
Grace has been coming about twice a month since October. She comes for food and we have practiced reading, written Christmas cards and played badminton. She loves playing games particularly Rumicub. We play the radio whilst playing games and she is a big Lionel Richie fan. She cooked for us some traditional Angolan food one evening and it was lovely to see how relaxed she was. She is a bright young lady with much potential.” (names have been changed)

To find our more contact me on or fill in an Family Befriending Application Form 2018


Helen Hibberd

BIRCH community Hosting at NACCOM – July 2017

We recently attended an informative and inspiring NACCOM event in Newcastle. Its aim was to support the growth and development of hosting schemes across the UK. We were a team of 2 hosts, 4 hosted people, a volunteer and support worker.

Hearing the introduction talk, presentation from Action Hosting, part of Action Foundation in Newcastle, and later speakers allowed us to learn about other projects and initiatives. This helps us to have ideas on what we can improve and develop in our region. We also had the chance to discuss issues and share our approaches.

With so many of us attending we engaged with almost all the workshops, discussing how to recruit hosts, how to have a positive placement, support hosts, how to involve guests, move-on, confidentiality and safeguarding. These points, and others will be followed up at our local quarterly scheduled host meetings.

They talked about the new toolkit, a NACCOM / Homeless Link how to guide helping members of the public provide spare rooms to migrants experiencing destitution.

Interviews were completed with a hosts and guests by Lucy at NACCOM, these give insight into what hosting is about, and how hosts and guests feel.

Why people Host:

I think hosting is part of our social responsibility to help when there is a need. And this is a time of need.

When people first move in:

“She was my first host. That was the first time, it was too difficult because I didn’t know her and she didn’t know me and I was a little bit scared.

I was feeling sad because I don’t have family here. I want to stay with people who will be like my mother and my father.

As soon as I stay with her I know she is a nice person. She showed me love every time I need help.

 When we met our first guest we knew everything would be fine. We knew Lazarus was an ordinary person waiting out the time he has to wait out while he gets his application in.

 When I first came here I didn’t know what to expect. I’ve got experience with other countries, other cultures but not with British. I was asked if I would like to stay with a British family and I thought this would be a good experience, I could learn English and that would be a good connection. If it didn’t work out I could change my mind.

When I went to the house on the first day, he came to pick me up and help me with my bag, but his wife was not well and was in hospital and so he said ‘I want to go and visit my wife- make yourself at home’. Then he went.

Immediately I think to myself, how is it possible that this person from another culture, another country, trusts me? It is difficult for me to trust my family- my close friends sometimes. Then I promise myself that because of this, because he trusts me, I will never lose their trust. They were kind to me and they give me happiness”.

Being together:

“I cook for myself and sometimes I cook food from my country and she eats it. Sometimes she cooks food for England people and then I try it. It is not what I am used to but it is nice.

 I can enjoy my stay with them, I am doing my best, now we are happy and friends. We went to football, we went on a walk, we go to church, I help them at home with some jobs.”

On the Home Office and Solicitors:

“Sometimes the Home Office say they don’t believe you. I said everything true but they didn’t believe me. I didn’t have a good solicitor or interpreter.

My solicitor said I was her son, she would do everything for me…but when I signed she would never do anything for me. She just wanted my money. I lose my time, my life, for one solicitor. That’s not fair. I didn’t have experience, I was new.

 If people need help, the government needs to help them. My life is true, I don’t have time to lie. They need to help me, if they help me then I will have what I need, I can work. But now it is too difficult. They need to show people love. We are not the same colour but we have the same blood.”

On preparing a new case:

“He has been 6 months into preparing a fresh claim and we could see some depression setting in. He wasn’t eating and was sleeping until midday. He shared a little bit and this was enough to know that he was anxious. He felt as though his life was in limbo. He wants to work – he wants to be an electrician- and move on and have a family.”


“I would say thank you to BIRCH. When I needed help they helped me. They give me a place to stay that was safe.

 BIRCH have been good, they come round regularly to meet with us. We are all able to speak freely I think. We have a bit of banter!”


“Today I have met some new people, I have learnt something new, it is a good memory for me.”

Staying in touch:

“Now I have moved to Derby. I will miss her. She was a kind person, she showed me the love that I was missing from my parents.

I am keeping in touch. She will come to visit me. She wants to know that I am good. She showed me this love and that make a difference. When I was missing my parents, she was there.

 I know that in the end his Section 4 might take him to another part of the country, but we have said to him that maybe we can be a buddy for him. He likes talking to us and values the chats we have. He is also a person of faith and he is keen to ask lots of questions and gain more insight.”

 On becoming a new host:

“I always encourage people to give hosting a try, and say it is something you can be in control of.

The agency are there to help with anything that comes up, if we needed to we could call them up and they would make other arrangements.

People feel they might be taking on too much and people don’t need to feel that.”

Destitution is used as a took by the government to force refused asylum seeking people to live in desperate and exploitative circumstances, essentially to encourage them to leave the UK voluntarily. We provide a safe, stable space for those who cannot return, helping them engage with the system to re-present their case, with the hope they can move onto a more positive life. Or helping them understand what protection is, and what avenues are available in their particular circumstances.

There are many resources on destitution, two recent ones are Refugee Action, Slipping through the cracks, and Red Cross, Can’t Stay, Can’t go.