It’s been said before that Leadership is not about position or title, but about action and example. As such, it was incredible to spend time with a truly inspiring group of leaders from housing associations up and down the country yesterday, as we gathered online to hear stories, and explore new ideas of how we can better welcome refugees into the UK.
We got off to the best start, as we heard from the PlaceShapers CEO, Rachael Orr, who reminded us that opening our hearts and opening our homes to those most in need is just part of who we are. Then it was my turn to share some of the things I’d learned whilst heading up the Refugee, Asylum Seeker and Migrant Support Services in Stoke on Trent and the main thing I wanted to remind us all of is the importance of pressing pause and fact-checking the narrative that we are constantly being fed, as misinformation about refugees can lead to misconception about refugees.
For example, how often does the media imply that asylum seekers are coming across to our shores illegally? And yet in reality claiming asylum is a legal human right for us all – which means there’s no such thing as an illegal asylum seeker. Or how often do we get the impression that our nation is completely overrun with asylum seekers and refugees, when in actual fact according to national statistics by the end of 2021, refugees and asylum seekers made up just 4% of our population.
But it wasn’t just an occasion for statistics and myth busting, we also got to hear some incredible real life stories from panelists. Kim Brundell from Ongo told us of their efforts to support Afghan refugees with not just accommodation but food in the fridge and support towards complete independence. We heard from Yvonne Pinner and Jude McCaffrey as they talked about the incredible partnership that exists between Oxfordshire Homeless Movement and Soha Housing. This pioneering partnership is literally changing lives.
Presentations were concluded as we heard from the Calico Group - Stacey Garvin shared some super practical insights into how they’ve supported refugees in Lancashire, but one of the highlights of the event was hearing from Jason Tomey (one of the front line workers from the Calico group) who told us about a refugee who was so keen to bring a positive contribution to the country who’d welcomed him, that he built a house for someone else to live in – talk about challenging the ill-informed narrative that we can often hear, about refugees taking our money and taking our homes!
This was a monumental event but it also felt like the beginning of a more comprehensive nationwide discussion within the social housing sector. You can read about these stories and others from PlaceShapers members here.
And PlaceShapers members - keep your eyes and ears open for the next time PlaceShapers host an event, because truth be told, the only thing missing today was you.