Published Thursday, 23rd June 2022

Refugee Week is a UK-wide festival that celebrates the contributions, creativity and resilience of people seeking sanctuary.

In Reigate & Banstead, the Council’s resettlement team works with partners, community organisations and volunteers to welcome refugees arriving as part of Government-backed schemes.

The Executive Member for Housing and Support, Cllr Caroline Neame says:I am very proud of the warm welcome that Reigate & Banstead has provided to those fleeing desperate situations – most recently from Ukraine but also from Afghanistan and Syria in recent years. Working together as a community to support those in need by volunteering, make donations, signing up to become sponsors, and much more, we’re helping refugees build a new life and, in return, contribute to our borough.”  

To date almost 200 Ukrainians have come to the borough through the Homes for Ukraine scheme. In addition to carrying out housing and safeguarding checks to ensure the safety of those arriving in the UK, the Council is providing advice and support on money and housing issues and offering weekly drop-in sessions for hosts and their guests.

Despite the terrible situation in Ukraine and the challenges refugees face starting to live in a new country, the examples of new friendships and mutual support are inspiring. Anastasiia Oleksienko, from the suburbs of Kyiv, has been supported by the charity girls ALIVE to set up Latin dance classes in the Reigate Methodist Church and is hoping to start more classes soon, with a pilates crossed with yoga theme, for people with mobility issues.

The volunteers who work with the Council’s resettlement team help recently arrived refugees from different countries to navigate the early days of understanding how to live in a new country. For volunteers like Tricia Whyte and Jane and John Manfield, who have been helping Syrian and Afghan families with English language skills, as well as other aspects of English life, such as the Highway Code, it’s clearly not all one way traffic.

Tricia says: “My life has been enriched by the contact I have had with the refugee families”.  John agrees: “We also love seeing and hearing about other cultures and we have made new friends in this process.”

Refugee Week is encouraging people to take part in simple acts that promote healing, such as sharing a meal. In 2019, some of the Syrian vulnerable persons that the Council was supporting through the Global Resettlement Scheme, shared their delicious home-cooked Syrian food at a ‘Syrian Feast’ in Redhill. A second feast followed the success of the first and, when the pandemic hit, the Council published a book of their best-loved Syrian family recipes.

The Council and the Syrian families are now delighted to announce that the next pop-up restaurant will take place at The Harlequin Theatre on 21 October 2022. More details to follow soon.

As well as sharing their food and culture, members of local Syrian families are also sharing their skills through working and volunteering locally. One example is Alaa Arifa who volunteers with Tech Angels to help people get online and access vital services. Alaa has also been sharing his experiences as a refugee with students at Dunottar School.