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Refugees welcome

Lyndon Puddy reflects on Torfaen’s experience of the Syrian Resettlement Programme.

Torfaen council and the people of the Eastern Valley have a long and proud tradition of welcoming and supporting refugees and other vulnerable people in times of need.

When the council was invited to participate in the Syrian Resettlement Programme (SRP) it agreed and with our partners started urgent preparations to receive our first families before Christmas 2015. Support for this programme was unanimously received across the council and over the duration of this programme we are planning to receive up to six families.

Early preparation was the key to successful planning as is having a diverse range of dedicated partners and voluntary sector support to help prepare the groundwork.

Initial planning included setting up a number of working groups to consider the practical delivery and decision making of the programme including the identification of suitable housing; the commissioning of appropriate support and translation services; liaison around community cohesion with partners and local resident engagement; a clear communication strategy; and consideration to education and health requirements.

In addition, a community group was established to be the focal point to offers of community support. This group also helped engagement with wider specialist support and integration agencies and existing Syrian communities. They also provided signposts to places of worship and advice and advocacy provision.

Suitable homes are paramount to a successful resettlement scheme and working in partnership with our Strategic Housing Service and registered social landlords we set out to identify two family homes to accommodate our first arrivals.

The two homes for our first arrivals were provided by Bron Afon Community Housing and from the private rented sector. Joining all the necessary housing strands together was undertaken by the Strategic Housing Service who negotiated repairs, terms and conditions, fitments and fittings and ensured all the services and necessary contractual arrangements were in place and on time.

Bron Afon was first class in its support and in providing the capacity to undertake and resolve urgent repairs to ensure the properties were available to accommodate the families upon their arrival in the UK.

In addition, key roles were played by the police and our officers who manage community cohesion ensuring the locations were suitable and partners in education and health made preparations for school placements and access to local GP surgeries.

The voluntary sector also played a significant part in sourcing quality furnishings to fully furnish both homes and prepare welcome parcels upon arrival. It really is a team effort to ensure everything is ready upon arrival.

Our families have now been in their new homes since December and have settled in well. The children are in school, happy and progressing very well and their parents are attending English for speakers of other Languages (ESOL) classes to support them learning a new language. In addition, the provision of quality support and translation services has had a significant impact ensuring the families are not isolated within the Torfaen community and have access to places of worship and the nearby local Syrian community in Newport.

The residents of Torfaen have welcomed their new neighbours and are involving them in various community ventures, for example, both families now attend community classes which allow the children to play while the parents learn English and have the opportunity to learn more about the culture of Wales. A local charity also hosted a community Christmas lunch with all the trimmings, which was a new experience and was particularly enjoyed by the children.

Planning and the involvement of all partners and agencies that bring different skills and expertise is the key to delivering a successful resettlement programme. We are now planning Phase 2, where we expect to welcome a further two families over the next few months.

Lyndon Puddy is head of the Public Services Support Unit at Torfaen County Borough Council. Lyndon.puddy@torfaen.gov.uk

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