News

UKRAINE CRISIS

We now have a dedicated page for news of our response to this - see here


Friday 17 June - 'The Syrian Spoon' cook book is now available!

Our new vegetarian cookbook is out now!

The Syrian Spoon is a brand-new cookbook jointly produced by Sevenoaks School working together with Sevenoaks Welcomes Refugees and local refugees Mouna and Khaled. For just £12 you can read their story and try some of their delicious recipes. All profits go towards SWR, helping displaced people settle into our community. The easiest way to give back… Be quick! These are limited edition only!

We hope you enjoy these flavours from our homeland, find your passion for cooking this delicious healthy food and share it with your family and friends, just as we enjoy sharing it with ours!” - Khaled & Mouna

From falafel to stuffed peppers and Syrian cake, there’s something for all tastes. Available at COOK Sevenoaks, The Chocolate Shop, Sevenoaks Bookshop and Deniz in Seal, or you can buy it online here: https://www.empathyaction.org/empathystore/p/syrian-vegetarian-cook-book-standard-edition

(Additional charge for packing, postage and handling for online sales - see the Empathy Action website for details.)

Monday 13 June - World Refugee Day on June 20th

UNHCR World Refugee Day is an international day designated by the United Nations to honour refugees around the globe. It falls each year on June 20 and celebrates the strength and courage of people who have been forced to flee their home country to escape conflict or persecution.

If you disagree with the UK Government's policies towards refugees - for example the forcible deportation of asylum seekers to Rwanda, the lack of safe and legal routes available for vulnerable people still in Afghanistan to reach the UK, the fact that around 12,000 Afghan refugees, including children, are stuck living in hotels across the UK waiting for permanent housing more than seven months since they were evacuated from Kabul, the apparent loss of interest in resettling additional vulnerable Syrian refugees in the UK, the unwillingness to make Local Housing Allowance available to refugees from Ukraine – you could mark UNHCR World Refugee Day by writing to the MP for Sevenoaks Mrs Trott MP to let her know your views.

You can contact Mrs Trott via email at laura.trott.mp@parliament.uk and by post at House of Commons, London SW1A 0AA. Please include your postcode, so that Mrs Trott's office know that you live in the Sevenoaks constituency.

Monday 13 June - Short update on the current situation

We are very appreciative of the tremendously compassionate and generous outpouring of support being provided to the resettlement of refugees in the Sevenoaks District Council area at this time. All the various contributions are making a real difference: volunteers giving their time, financial donations, hosts taking refugees into their own homes, and landlords making rented property available to the schemes.

On Ukraine, we are currently liaising with 37 hosts, and this could rise to 45 over the next few weeks, giving shelter to 110 refugees from Ukraine. Other local organisations, such as Care For Our Community Ukraine, Sevenoaks In Support of Ukraine and many churches are also liaising with hosts.

On Syria and Afghanistan, there are currently 8 families living in our area, resettling here under the official Government schemes. A further 2 families from Afghanistan are in transit to rented properties that have recently been made available to the schemes and will be arriving in the next few weeks. That will take the number of refugees from Syria and Afghanistan resettling in our area to 60.

Sunday 12 June - Sevenoaks Philharmonic Choir with Sevenoaks Philharmonic Orchestra concert for Ukraine on Sunday 19 June at the Stag Theatre, Sevenoaks

On Sunday 19 June at 7.30pm Sevenoaks Philharmonic Choir and Sevenoaks Philharmonic Orchestra perform Karl Jenkins’ "The Armed Man - A Mass for Peace" at the Stag Theatre, Sevenoaks. This is an exciting and impassioned plea for peace. Written at the time of the Kosovo conflict it is as relevant today and this performance is dedicated to the people of Ukraine.

The organisers have added to the concert two short pieces with a Ukrainian theme and there will be a collection at the end of the concert in aid of UNICEF's work with children and families on the ground in Ukraine.

The organisers have agreed to make 25 tickets available free of charge to Ukrainian refugees who may wish to attend this fantastic concert on 19 June which is being dedicated to the people of Ukraine. The organisers have also agreed that hosts may have one ticket free of charge per household. These tickets will be provided on a first come first served basis.

If you would like to reserve tickets, then please email us at sevenoakswelcomesrefugees@gmail.com. Arrangements for collection of the tickets will be sorted out in the next few days. More details are on the Stag website https://stagsevenoaks.co.uk/film/sevenoaks-philharmonic-society-choral-concert-the-armed-man/


Sunday 12 June - West Kent MIND Mental Health Awareness Workshop, in Sevenoaks on Monday 4 July

There are still places available on the workshop being held at the SDC council offices in Sevenoaks on Monday 4 July, 4:00 – 7:00 pm. Other dates are available on Zoom. We encourage all hosts to attend this workshop.

SWR volunteer Guy has attended the course and told us: "I went on the mental health awareness course being run by West Kent Mind trainers. It was for three hours and insightful to recognising when people may be displaying mental health symptoms. There was a good range of attendees with different life skills. I took away two things: firstly the importance of connection; and secondly that whatever pressures we are under we must look after ourselves to reduce possible mental health in ourselves".

See here for more details and to sign up: https://westkentmind.org.uk/i-want-to-learn/training-courses/mh-awareness-supporting-ukrainian-refugees/


Tuesday 24 May - Job & training fair coming to Sevenoaks, June 14th.

Tuesday 19 April - Sevenoaks Town Council and the Queen's Platinum Jubilee Beacon Trail, 30 April to 12 June

We are delighted to have been chosen by Sevenoaks Town Council to be the supported charity in this free, family outdoor adventure initiative that they are running as part of celebrations for the Queen's Platinum Jubilee.

The website for the trail describes the initiative: “The trail is an experience where players visit 7 characters that have come to life from Buckingham Palace and are visiting your location on a day out. As you spot each of the 7 characters around your location, you can scan unique QR codes to engage with the story and answer questions to choose how it progresses. You’ll also get to learn about a different decade in Her Majesty’s 70-year reign from each character. Finally, you’ll also be able to engage with the characters as they come to life in AR. Once you’ve collected all 7 stamps you’ll be rewarded with the conclusion to the adventure and be able to take selfies with digital prize badges ‘pinned’ to yourself.”

For more information visit highstreetsafari.com/platinumjubilee

Many thanks to Sevenoaks Town Council for this opportunity to raise awareness for Sevenoaks Welcomes Refugees and the refugee resettlement programmes in our area.


Sunday 17 April - New properties for refugees from Syria and Afghanistan


Discussions are making progress on two additional properties, generously offered by landlords for rental by refugee families. We understand that these will be allocated to families from Afghanistan [allocation decisions are made by KCC and SDC]. We hope to finalise these discussions soon. A further property is expected to be available by the end of June. Should all proceed as is expected, this will bring the total number of houses in the Government’s resettlement schemes to 11.

The generous support of local landlords and volunteers is enabling a growing number of refugee families to resettle in the Sevenoaks district area. But we are deeply concerned about refugees from Syria and Afghanistan (and so many other places), who risk being forgotten in the Ukrainian crisis. There are still enormous numbers of vulnerable people displaced by the war in Syria – see this UNHCR link - living in miserable conditions in neighbouring countries, and it is unclear to us how the government plans to help them. The Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme for the most vulnerable and at-risk people from Afghanistan – not those who benefited from the initial airlift - was due to start in "the spring"; we are keen to learn what this scheme will be.

If you can assist by offering a house for rental to a family, please do get in touch with us to discuss - the need remains acute. For more information please visit the Landlords page of our website here.

Sunday 17 April - Thank you to Waitrose


We have recently received a very generous donation of £500 from Waitrose Sevenoaks. We are extremely grateful for this gift and will ensure that the money is put to good use in support of refugees resettling in our area. Many thanks to all the team at Waitrose Sevenoaks!

Thursday 7 April - DONATIONS

We are very grateful for the many donations that we continue to receive, large and small, as regular, occasional or one-off gifts. The graphic below shows how we have spent the money and what a difference this has made to the refugee families in our area:

The number of families from Syria and Afghanistan that we are helping to support in our area has doubled in the last few months, and we are now preparing to help families from Ukraine. Regular donations would give us a consistent, predictable income, so we can plan and budget better and therefore be more efficient.

If you can, please consider setting up a monthly standing order to Sevenoaks Welcomes Refugees - details here. Thank you.

Friday 1 April - SPRING NEWSLETTER 2022


Thank you for coming to the Spring Meeting


Firstly, a big ‘thank you’ to all who were able to come to our Spring Meeting on Wednesday 23 March. With about 90 people in the room and about 20 attending by Zoom it was our largest attendance so far for one of our quarterly meetings. Our thoughts are very much on the Ukraine crisis and our emerging plans, but we had a fascinating presentation and panel discussion on Afghanistan, with key contributions from members of families recently arrived from Afghanistan.

And in the fundraising update we heard about the soon-to-be-launched vegetarian cookbook ‘The Syrian Spoon: Syrian Vegetarian Recipes From Our New Home in Sevenoaks’, produced together by a Syrian family and students from Sevenoaks School. We will continue to do our best to help all refugees and asylum seekers in our area, wherever they have come from. A short summary of the meeting will be published in the next few days.

Ukraine – what is Sevenoaks Welcomes Refugees doing, and how can you help?


Sevenoaks Welcomes Refugees (SWR) is working closely with other community groups, Kent County Council (KCC), Sevenoaks District Council (SDC) and Mrs Laura Trott MP on how best to support refugees from Ukraine. There is an enormous amount of compassion and energy in our area, with so many keen to help. Given the scale of the crisis, SWR is urgently looking for more volunteers to get involved in the support programme: please contact us at sevenoakswelcomesrefugees@gmail.com or fill in the volunteer sign-up form at https://www.sevenoakswelcomesrefugees.org/get-involved/volunteers


Many thanks to all the new people who have recently got in touch offering to help (we are processing your applications as quickly as we can), to work alongside our amazing team of active volunteers.

And many thanks also to all the people who have let us know that they are offering accommodation to refugees, and have registered these offers on the Government’s Homes For Ukraine website.

Two of the biggest challenges with the Ukraine response right now are matchmaking and the visa application process. The Government has said that it will pair people offering accommodation with refugees seeking accommodation, but Government matchmaking is not yet happening. And we have heard from supporters of the great difficulties and delays they – and their contacts – are experiencing with the visa application process.

We have agreed a joined-up approach with Sevenoaks District Council (SDC) and Care for our Community (CFOC) to ensure maximum coordination. We are keen to work with other organisations and networks – if you can help, please get in touch.


SWR will develop whatever systems and processes we need to coordinate support in our area. We endeavour to extend our support to all hosts and refugees who request it of us. We will need to significantly grow our resources in order to do this.


We will engage with hosts to establish what level of support they are able to offer to the refugees they accommodate, and will strive to fill any gaps. In cooperation with KCC, SDC, CFOC and other groups, we will provide signposting so that the refugees can be registered for the services such as schools, benefits and healthcare.


On 18 March we registered Sevenoaks Welcomes Refugees’ interest in becoming a sponsor, to help connect people offering accommodation with people seeking accommodation. We are now waiting for the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) to invite us to apply to be a sponsor. Once our application has been accepted (we have no idea how long this will take) we understand we will be connected to people needing accommodation.


The UK Government has said that the Homes for Ukraine website will connect people offering accommodation with people seeking accommodation. So because we are a small team with limited resources we do not propose to try and make these connections ourselves – we would be duplicating what the Government says it is doing, and we are worried about receiving a volume of requests that we could not handle efficiently. We will go on trying to connect those refugees whose details we already have, and from now on encourage everyone who has details of refugees needing accommodation to enter them on the Government’s Homes For Ukraine website. Some connections between accommodation-givers and accommodation-seekers are being made on the Sevenoaks Welcomes Refugees Facebook group, unfacilitated by SWR volunteers: we welcome and support this, but we do not have the resources to coordinate it.


Kent County Council has set up a useful website on the Ukraine response here.


Within all of this, it’s also important to realise that refugees are very vulnerable people. They have had a very traumatic experience, especially the children, and need to adapt to a different way of life rapidly. All of which means that they need a lot of sensitive care and support.


We need more volunteers


With the Ukrainian scheme we are calling out for more volunteers as the number of refugees increase. And for those long-serving volunteers who have been with us for some time, thank you; could you spare a bit more of your time? We need volunteers to help us in all aspects of our work from supporting refugee families to a host of new initiatives we want to do. Currently we are constrained as do not have the resources to do many important things. Some areas where we need more help are: providing general befriending and English-teaching support to refugee families; fundraising projects e.g. launching a vegetarian cookbook ‘The Syrian Spoon: Syrian Vegetarian Recipes From Our New Home in Sevenoaks’, produced together by a Syrian family and students from Sevenoaks School; and establishing links with local partners such as Churches and local businesses. If you can help, please get in touch.


Nationality and Borders Bill


We are deeply concerned that the House of Lords amendments to the Nationality and Borders Bill were rejected in the Commons last week (week ending Friday 25 March). This would mean for example that a Ukrainian asylum seeker arriving in the UK through an unofficial route would be criminalised. It also provides no safe routes for unaccompanied child refugees to reach the UK. Pressing ahead with the harsh provisions in this bill seems totally at odds with the wishes of so many people in the UK to provide a welcome to vulnerable people. Clauses to allow refugees to be sent offshore and detained indefinitely seem to us both inhumane and questionable under international law. We would urge the government to think again on this.


Syria and Afghanistan


We are also deeply concerned about refugees from Syria and Afghanistan (and so many other places), who risk being forgotten in the Ukrainian crisis. There are still enormous numbers of vulnerable people displaced by the war in Syria, and it is unclear to us how the government plans to help them. And the scheme for Afghans beyond those who benefited from the initial airlift was due to start in "the spring"; we are keen to learn what this scheme will be. And there are nearly 6 million refugees from Syria – including many highly vulnerable people - who, having fled the fighting in Syria, are living in miserable conditions in some of the surrounding countries. You see the numbers in this UNHCR website.


Vacancy Announcement – Chair, Sevenoaks Welcomes Refugees


We are looking to appoint a new Chair to serve for 2-3 years and lead the next stage of the development of Sevenoaks Welcomes Refugees. The current Chair, Simon Evans, wishes to continue as a Trustee but to focus on the operational challenges we face as the charity has grown rapidly in the last 6 months – and now face the challenge of responding to the Ukraine crisis. Ukraine aside, the number of refugee families we are helping to support has doubled, from 4 to 8, and we expect that more families from Syria, Afghanistan and Ukraine will arrive in the next 12 months. We will continue to do our best to help all refugees and asylum seekers in our area, wherever they have come from.

The role description is here and also below and the closing date for applications is the end of Friday 29 April. If you are interested, please get in touch for an informal discussion with one of the Trustees via sevenoakswelcomesrefugees@gmail.com


Fundraising – please set up a regular monthly standing order


We are very grateful indeed for all the many donations that we continue to receive, large and small, as regular, occasional or one-off gifts. And we receive fantastic support for our major fundraising initiatives, such as our concert fundraisers and the Syrian recipe cookbook. And volunteers donate an amazing amount of their time to the refugee resettlement programme every day.

The number of families that we are helping to support has doubled from 4 to 8 in the last few months, and we are hoping and planning for more families to arrive. And now we face the great challenge of responding to the Ukraine crisis. Regular donations would give us a consistent, predictable income, so we can plan and budget better and therefore be more efficient. To help us support a growing number of refugee families in our area, we ask that all volunteers and supporters who haven't done this yet think seriously about setting up a regular monthly standing order payment of £10 per month (or whatever you can afford) to Sevenoaks Welcomes Refugees, and complete and return to us a Gift Aid form which you can find here. Donating through Gift Aid means we can claim an extra 25p for every £1 you give. It will not cost you any extra.

Our bank details are:

Bank: Santander Bank

Account name: Sevenoaks Welcomes Refugees

Sort code: 09-01-29

Account number: 14272967

Registered Charity Number 1184120


RECRUITMENT NOTICE – CHAIR, SEVENOAKS WELCOMES REFUGEES

Background


We are looking to appoint a new Chair to serve for 2-3 years and lead the next stage of the development of the charity. The current Chair, Simon Evans, wishes to continue as a Trustee but to focus on the operational challenges we face as the charity has grown rapidly in the last 6 months – and we now face the challenge of responding to the Ukraine crisis. Ukraine aside, the number of refugee families we are helping to support has doubled, from 4 to 8, and we expect that more families from Syria, Afghanistan and Ukraine will arrive in the next 12 months. We will continue to do our best to help all refugees and asylum seekers in our area, wherever they have come from.

A short profile of the charity is at Annex A to this note.

You can read more on our website at www.sevenoakswelcomesrefugees.org

Sevenoaks Welcomes Refugees currently has 9 Trustees (including the Chair). Since starting in March 2017, Sevenoaks Welcomes Refugees has had 4 Chairs/Co-Chairs, with people typically serving for 18-24 months and then stepping down for a variety of reasons, including lack of time due to changing family circumstances, leaving the country, and a preference to focus on a particular aspect of SWR’s work.

Chairs March 2017 - September 2018

Co-chairs Nina O’Farrell and Humphrey Pring [19 months] September 2018 - September 2020

Chair Humphrey Pring [24 months] September 2020 - November 2021

Co-chairs Jude Thompson and Simon Evans [15 months] November 2021 - present

Chair Simon Evans and Jude Thompson are continuing as Trustees, and Humphrey Pring is standing for election as a Trustee for another term. We are open to joint applications from two people as Co-chairs.


Role Description Chair, Sevenoaks Welcomes Refugees (SWR)


Remuneration: All Trustee positions, including the role of Chair, are voluntary and not accompanied by any financial remuneration. Expenses are payable.

Location: Sevenoaks and the surrounding area, within the boundary of Sevenoaks District Council.

Time commitment: The Chair will chair meetings of the Trustee Board, usually monthly, and quarterly open meetings for our volunteers, supporters and beneficiaries. The Chair will also have regular liaison (meetings, phone calls, emails) with the other members of the Trustee Board between meetings and represent SWR at various events and discussions/meetings with key stakeholders, supporters and new volunteers. Total expected to average up to 12-16 hours per week.

Reporting to: The Chair reports to the Trustee Board.



Objective


The Chair will lead, support, and hold to account the Trustee Board for the delivery of SWR’s agreed objectives. S/he will ensure that the Trustee Board functions effectively as a team and works closely with the wider volunteer and supporter membership of the charity. S/he will act as an ambassador and the public face of SWR in partnership with the Trustees.



Core competencies that the Chair will need

● Strategic leadership; sets the direction and plans for the future

● Impact and influence; leads by example and persuasion

● Partnership and relationship building; works effectively with stakeholders

● Integrity and ethics; sets the tone for Trustees and volunteers

● Governance; ensuring that SWR is well run and complies with regulations and guidance

● Managing for results: ensuring that SWR works to deliver its objectives



Principal responsibilities of the Chair


Leadership

● Provide leadership to SWR, the Trustee Board and the wider group, ensuring that SWR has maximum impact for its beneficiaries

● Ensure that Trustee Board fulfils its duties and responsibilities for the effective governance of SWR

● Ensure that the Trustee Board operates within its agreed objectives, and provides a clear strategic direction for SWR

● Ensure that the Trustee Board regularly reviews major risks and associated opportunities, and satisfies itself that systems are in place to take advantage of opportunities, and manage and mitigate the risks

● Ensure that the Trustee Board fulfils its duties to ensure sound financial health of SWR, with systems in place to ensure financial accountability


Governance

● Ensure that the governance arrangements are working in the most effective way for SWR

● Ensure that the SWR Constitution is adhered to, and that SWR complies with the requirements of the Charity Commission

● Develop the knowledge and capability of the Trustee Board

● Encourage positive change where appropriate

● Address and resolve any conflicts within the Trustee Board

● Ensure that the Trustee Board is regularly refreshed and incorporates the right balance of skills, knowledge and experience needed to govern and lead SWR effectively, and which also reflects the wider population

● Work within the policies of SWR


External Relations

● Act as an ambassador for SWR and for the cause of refugees and asylum seekers more widely

● Maintain close relationships with key members of Kent County Council, Sevenoaks District Council, Clarion Housing, MP, other local refugee support groups, other relevant local authorities, and other key influencers

● Act as a spokesperson for the organisation when appropriate

● Represent SWR at external functions, meetings and events

● Facilitate change and address any potential conflict with external stakeholders


Efficiency and effectiveness

● Chair meetings of the Trustee Board effectively and efficiently, bringing impartiality and objectivity to the decision-making process

● Ensure that Trustee Board members are fully engaged, that decisions are taken in the best, long-term interests of SWR and its target beneficiaries, and that the Trustee Board takes collective ownership

● Foster and maintain constructive relationships with and among the Trustee Board members

● Monitor that those decisions taken at meetings are implemented.



Additional information


The above list is indicative only and not exhaustive. The Chair will be expected to perform, or delegate, all such additional duties as are reasonably commensurate with the role, with a clear focus on leadership rather than operational delivery.



Application process and deadline for applications


Please submit a short personal profile, and statement of why you are applying, by the end of Friday 29 April to sevenoakswelcomesrefugees@gmail.com


The personal profile should be in the style of the Trustee profiles on the About Us page of the SWR website here.

Shortlisted candidates will be invited to an interview in May.



Annex A Sevenoaks Welcomes Refugees


Sevenoaks Welcomes Refugees is a local charity formed in 2017 – originally to help support refugees from Syria resettling in the Sevenoaks district, as part of the UK Government's Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme (SVPRS). That scheme has now evolved into the Government's global UK Resettlement Scheme, and we are also involved in helping refugees from Afghanistan to resettle in our area.


We are already planning to help the resettlement in our area of refugees and asylum seekers from Ukraine.


Our 3 key needs are properties that can be rented to the scheme, active volunteers that can give us some hours of their time every now and then, and money (we make welfare grants to the families in our area).


We are a small and growing organisation, with about 100 active volunteers. We are currently supporting the resettlement of 8 refugee families in the Sevenoaks district area and are hoping to find accommodation for further refugee families this year. We work in close partnership with Sevenoaks District Council, Kent County Council and the support agency Clarion Housing, who are commissioned by KCC.


The Government resettlement schemes involve bringing particularly vulnerable refugees from the zone of conflict directly to resettle in the UK. We provide local practical support to refugee families in our area - welcoming, help with learning English, finding jobs, providing lifts, sourcing necessary household items, making small grants - and finding private-sector landlords willing to take part in the government-funded rent payment scheme.


Funds raised to date have been spent on, for example, laptops, tablets, printers, Flash Academy licences for online learning, additional tutoring in mathematics and English, professional accountancy exams, assistance with rent deposit for one individual, travel costs for finding work, furniture, swimming lessons, a sewing machine, additional food expenditure at Eid and Christmas festivals, and other welfare grants. These small grants are helping all the families to thrive in a new country.


We have made grants of £60,614 (to 31 March 2022) on family expenditure, educational support, social activities, housing improvements, fundraising and administration.