In contrast to the obstacles and delays plaguing the UK government program to house Ukrainians fleeing the war with Russia, Refugees at Home, a grantee of The Fore, is rapidly serving more arrivals than ever, and not just from Ukraine. By 2020, the five-year-old charity had placed 2,884 refugees and asylum seekers from 75 different countries into volunteer UK homes as they awaited a refugee status decision and tried to get on their feet. This year already, R@H has found spare rooms for more than 500 Ukrainians, as well as 75 from other war-torn areas such as Afghanistan and Syria.
“We are scaling massively at the moment,” said Co-founder and Trustee Sara Nathan, who has personally hosted 31 refugees and asylum-seekers for stays from one night to two years. “Hosting in a global pandemic and through lockdown is tricky. R@H staff had gone down to just 4.5 people at our lowest. As a result of Ukraine, we have now scaled to an admin team of nearly 10 plus a manager, six placement coordinators, and 1.6 senior placement coordinators. Plus our executive director and someone in IT and a part-time media consultant and intern. We are likely to increase the team further by another four or so people.”
Nathan could not have foreseen expansion on this level when news about Syrian refugees inspired her in early 2015 to start Refugees at Home. She and her husband were recent empty nesters, along with her brother and his wife at the time, and they wanted to host. Because the Nathans’ grandparents had taken in a kinder-transport child, they knew hosting was something people could do and would help. With no such programmes in their respective areas, however, she said, “Someone had to do it, and it turned out to be us.”
They ran a small pilot operation that autumn and by early 2016 were ready to launch. “We had nothing but enthusiasm and grit. My brother created the database and we are risk-averse so found wonderful pro bono lawyers, who kept us on the straight and narrow and still provide both advice and practical help. We didn’t even have a bank account for nine months or more, and charitable status took forever. To begin with, the founders and trustees did all the work, all the placements, media, social media, everything. It was exhausting – but exhilarating.”
In 2018, The Fore stepped in, awarding R@H a £30,000 grant over three years. That sum, added to other funding, was enough to enable R@H to hire a much needed executive director to handle the increasing workload, manage the team of loyal volunteers, and create a process for its development efforts. “The Fore’s support came exactly at the right time, just when we were thinking about transformational change,” Nathan said.
The Fore provided more than a grant. Through its corporate partners program, it served as a conduit for a senior staff member at one of The Fore’s partners to volunteer to host for R@aH. For over a year, they hosted a young Iranian asylum seeker who had been a victim of human trafficking, modern slavery, and domestic abuse and supported her as she tried to gain asylum . Now on her own, she hopes to find employment that makes use of her accountancy qualification and several master’s degrees.
Non-financial contributions like these including pro bono expertise from organisations beyond The Fore, are helping R@H manage its current expansion. Boston Consulting Group helped design its scaling plan and Evolve, working at cost only, consulted on a new database/CRM software suite that will enable the charity to streamline operations.
Fortunately, Nathan said, financial support for R@H has been sufficient to pay for the current ramp-up. But that may not be adequate for very long. “We still host from many other countries, but it’s hard not to be overwhelmed by Ukraine. If hosting is normalised by the government – as the refugees minister suggested it should be – we may be able to sustain at this level. Otherwise, I suspect we may not stay at this size for very long.”
Find out more about Refugees at Home and their vital work here.