In the summer of 2015, as the third sector struggled with how to best respond to the refugee crisis, one of the few positive stories to emerge was the surge in volunteers keen to help. But it was also clear that the mainly small and under resourced organisations working with new refugees and asylum seekers lacked capacity to meet the increase in people needing support, and to properly manage the many local people offering assistance.
We at Pears were therefore delighted to join funders with particular expertise in this area in setting up the New Beginnings Fund, which offered grants to community groups across the UK to welcome and integrate refugees and asylum seekers in to the local community. In the first round of funding, released in June 2016, a total of £506,000 was awarded to local groups.
One of the projects which received a grant was former JHub resident The Bike Project. Asylum seekers are not allowed to gain employment, and the cost of travel in London makes it difficult to access services such as solicitors and food banks. The Bike Project repairs donated bikes to give to refugees and asylum seekers, allowing them a degree of independence and a cost effective way of getting around London. “It’s like I have new wings,” said Maizer Ramadan, an asylum seeker from Sudan.
Following the success of the first round, new funders including BBC Children in Need contributed to a second round of New Beginnings, this time with a particular focus on groups welcoming refugee and asylum seeking children, including unaccompanied children. Again managed by UK Community Foundations and disbursed through community foundations across the UK, round two grants were made this spring to communities that didn’t have access to the first round, so that all areas of the UK have had a chance to apply to the New Beginnings Fund.
Projects funded range from counselling and advice services, to opportunities for refugees to share their skills with the local community and events which enable the wider community and refugees and asylum seekers to spend time together, encouraging community-based volunteering and potentially widening support networks.
The New Beginnings Fund has been a genuinely collaborative effort and is a great example of sector partners meeting new challenges by pooling not only funding but also expertise.