What is your background? And how will you use your skills to progress the work of Bermondsey Welcomes Refugees?
I am a Canadian who has been living in London for over 30 years. I spent 25 years working for Reuters Foundation (later Thomson Reuters Foundation) where I was the Director of Journalism Training and Media Development Projects. Although my position was global, I often focused on the Arab world. I worked with Iraqi journalists to set up an independent news agency and with Egyptian journalists to set up a news and information service immediately after the revolution.
I travelled frequently throughout the Middle East including Iraq and Syria where I have many friends and former colleagues.
I hope that my understanding of their country and culture will be useful to a family moving to Bermondsey.
A couple of years ago in Canada, I was cycling and came across a large group of Syrians who were having a picnic. I stopped to talk to them and many of them had immigrated through the Canadian sponsorship scheme which the UK scheme is based on. When I told them that I had often visited Syria, they were happy and sort of relieved that I understood what a beautiful country and strong culture they belong to. It made me think how difficult it must be for immigrants to be in a country that knows so little about their country other than war.
I also did quite a bit of fundraising over the years and I have been concentrating on raising the required funds for Bermondsey Welcomes Refugees. Although it is a different kind of fundraising, I have relied heavily on my networks from work for support. The pandemic has made it even more difficult and we have had to be innovative with virtual events.
What is your favourite thing about Community Sponsorship?
I love that it gives the family a support network of people who can help with the transition of moving to a new country and different language and culture. It’s hard moving to a new place and having a support network waiting for you can make such a positive difference.
I have also truly enjoyed meeting the other group members. We have an interesting and diverse team who are eager to make an impact in society.
Does your everyday work/past work have anything to do with Refugees?
Some areas of my work have involved Refugees. For example, I worked on a guide for journalists on how to cover immigration and refugees.
What would you say to anyone thinking about volunteering with a Community Sponsorship group?
Do it! You won’t regret it. A friend of mine who did it in Muswell Hill talked me into it, and I am very happy he did.
What are the biggest challenges Community Sponsorship groups face?
The pandemic has been difficult for our group. Both on the fundraising front and because the government has currently had to stop refugees from entering the UK. But also, because it stops our group from being able to meet in person and this can sometimes make it difficult for us to maintain enthusiasm. Hopefully, this will be resolved soon.
The next biggest challenge we face is housing. It’s hard to find landlords in the local area who are willing to take on a Refugee family as tenants. Even though in some ways they are more stable, as the government will always cover their rent through their benefits scheme, there are a lot of things people associate with Refugees and also the rent may have to be lower than they could get out of another private tenant. Finding a house is key to us being able to relocate a family and so we hope we can find a landlord who wants to make a difference in the lives of these people.