So in 2008 I established Ashley Community Housing (ACH) to support refugees and other vulnerable homeless people by offering them affordable housing, along with training and education, to help them integrate into UK society.
In general, Housing Associations have been good at responding to the refugee crisis, but that goodwill needs to be translated into action.
You cannot integrate tenants by simply offering housing, we need to think beyond simply bricks and mortar. If refugees are to be resettled and integrated into UK society we need to take a more holistic approach.
The existing humanitarian paradigm tends to trap refugees in a system in which they remain dependent.
Whilst there is undoubtedly a humanitarian angle to refugee resettlement, we see refugees as people with talents, skills, and aspirations; assets which will boost our economy and enrich our communities.
To achieve this we work with stakeholders, not only other housing providers and refugee support bodies, but business organisations, local government and the new Combined Authorities.
Increasingly, we are also working directly with individual employers.
Our model stems from almost 10 years of working with refugees.
This holistic model has its heart focused on supporting refugees from arrival to integration through effective employment and enterprise skills. The process comprises 5 key stages: accommodation, support, work skills, enterprising skills, and move on.
ACH provides a diverse range of fully supported housing options to meet the needs of our clients. Our support services are culturally sensitive, available across all tenures and provided as part of our clients occupancy agreement.
We provide an end-to-end, personalised service that is adaptable and designed to empower our tenants to live independently.
We do this by segmenting refugees into 4 categories:
- Skilled and work ready
- Skilled and nearly ready for work
- Open or not yet in business
- Not ready for work
These four broad categories then receive differing levels and types of support, including IAG, personal development and CPD, to enable them to be fast-tracked into employment.
To improve the current way Associations work with refugee tenants, we recommend early language tuition and skills assessment of refugees, developing an individualised integration plan for each individual, and recognition of foreign credentials by employers, including alternative methods of assessing informal learning and work experience.
Although, this all requires investment by the landlord, the cost of non-integration far exceeds the cost of integration.
Enabling refugee tenants to become economically autonomous not only improves their ability to pay their rent, but also enables them to contribute positively to the local economy and community.
You can learn more about what we do at www.ashleyhousing.com, or follow us on Twitter @AshleyCHousing.