To mark Refugees Week (20-26 June 2022), Wokingham Borough Council is celebrating the efforts of its team and partners to successfully welcome new residents into the area.
Over the last few years, the borough has come together to welcome hundreds of refugees from countries including Syria, Afghanistan, and Ukraine.
Settling safely in the UK
The council has worked in partnership with the Refugee Support Group, previously known as Reading Refugee Support, as well as other organisations across the local voluntary sector to meet government requirements and support new residents to settle safely in the UK. This includes:
- Helping five Syrian families start new lives in the borough as part of the Syrian Resettlement Programme. The council has a voluntary sector group overseeing this work, and it is looking to expand this to all refugees and asylum seekers.
- Committing to supporting three families to settle in the borough as part of the Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme. Two of these families have already settled, and one are awaiting housing. It is also working with partners to support Asylum Seekers currently living at the ‘bridging’ hotel while they await permanent accommodation
- Welcoming nearly 400 refugees to the borough as part of Homes for Ukraine. A huge amount of effort has gone into supporting host families and arrivals from Ukraine, with more details outlined below
Contributing to life in the borough
Cllr Rachel Bishop-Firth, the new executive member for diversity, inclusion and fighting poverty, said: “All refugees have experienced incredible hardship and loss. Many have come to Wokingham Borough with nothing – but they and their children have gone on to make a huge contribution to life here.
"This Refugees Week, we want to recognise the contributions of these individuals and also the hard work and generosity of all those who are welcoming new refugees into the Borough.
“These individuals’ lives and families have been torn apart by war and as a local authority, we have a duty to protect and support them. We aim to do all that we can to ensure those who have been forced to leave their homes are given the best possible start in a new life in Wokingham Borough, working together with our with key partners and the wider community to help them to integrate into life here in the UK.”
The theme of this year’s Refugees Week is ‘healing’; recognising the process that refugees who have lost their homes and are needing to build new lives from scratch will go through. The council is proud to support new residents in many ways, including with housing, benefits, healthcare, employment, education, language skills, and activities that build social connections.
This is not an exhaustive list, but the team effort includes:
- The Adult Education team offer free non-accredited ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) courses to all refugees who want them. These courses are suitable for complete beginners, or those who have basic English skills and want to improve. They’re delivered face to face and online.
- The NEET Prevention team are supporting young people from Ukraine to start ESOL courses.
- The School Improvement team work hard to place children into schools promptly, working with host families and parents directly.
- Working with the health authority to ensure health assessments are undertaken as well providing access to GP services
- Providing translation and interpretation facilities to ensure information and advice on local facilities is accessible to new arrivals
- Supporting the local voluntary sector to organise community events such musical evenings, sports activities
- Working with Private Sector Landlords and Letting agents to find long term affordable, settled and sustainable accommodation for those refugees who are eligible for move on accommodation
- The council is working with partners to help nearly 400 people from Ukraine settle in the borough. This includes Reading Buses to provide free bus passes, Places Leisure to provide free gym memberships, MyJourney Wokingham and re3 to provide free bicycles, The Cowshed to provide hundreds of welcome packs, Citizens Advice Wokingham to resolve nearly 100 issues through the One Front Door, and organisations like Churches Together for free welcome events.
- All host and refugee families have a case worker allocated to them from the council, acting as their point of contact, helping guests with practical issues and maintaining the relationship with hosts.
Refugee Support Group
The Refugee Support Group is running a series of events across Berkshire to mark Refugees Week 2022. It is also encouraging people to take on its Seven Days Challenge to learn, support and celebrate refugees in Berkshire and across the world.
If you want to do more to support our growing communities, please find more information on the Refugee Support Group website.
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