30 November 2016
By Anne Stewart, SHCJ
The city of Blackpool accepted 56 Syrian Refugees with equal numbers of males and females, and they arrived here at the end of September. They are living in 10 households in 3 streets very near the town centre. They have come pretty much in family groups and are all Suni Muslims. They do not speak any English. They range in age from babies to adults in their sixties. Blackpool Council kept the arrangements for their arrival very quiet in order to avoid any kind of unfortunate adverse reaction. For similar reasons the families have been housed in private rented accommodation and places in schools have been carefully organised. The Home Office is responsible overall for the Syrian Resettlement Project so the council officers involved have had to follow strict guidelines in relation to the whole resettlement process.
In the period running up to the arrival of the families the Council invited members of the Churches and Faith Communities to meet with them to talk about how we could be of support. Initially the council wanted help with things like warm blankets for the journey from Manchester Airport, clothing and items such as toys and games for the children. The Imam and his community offered to provide help with food and hospitality as some of his congregation are also from Syria. The Churches Together group we belong to agreed that each church would donate a sum of money. We raised £1,000 from the churches in our group. We were also asked as churches to find TV’s for the families as that was one thing the Home Office would not provide! We have gathered the TV’s which are now awaiting delivery.
During this first month the families have had intensive work done with them by specially trained support workers. They have also had interpreters working with them every day, helping them to access the services they need and do practical things like attending medical appointments or filling in forms. They will be receiving some benefits initially and there is work going on all the time to help them look at what they will need to get jobs in the longer term. The Faith Forum and the Churches Together groups are hoping to be able to offer more in the future as the intensive government support eases off. We have offered befriending support and some of our churches now have job clubs linked up with their food provision.