At a civic reception held at Leamington Spa Town Hall on 20 February 2017, the town (and wider district) welcomed its newest family of residents who are part of the Syrian Resettlement Scheme and who join 4 families who have been settled in the district over the past 16 months.
The event was hosted by the volunteer group ‘Welcome Here Leamington Spa and Warwick’, who have worked extensively with the 5 families in Leamington, and Chair of Warwick District Council Cllr Alan Boad and was an opportunity to formally welcome the 21 individuals to the district. It was an opportunity for the families to hear a little bit more about the area and also share, in their own words, their gratitude for the opportunity of a new start in the UK.
Penelope Halpin speaking on behalf of Welcome Here Leamington Spa and Warwick, which is made up of 15-20 volunteers from the local Leamington community, said:
“We are a small group of volunteers who have come together to support, and provide a welcome to, the 5 Syrian families who have recently come to live in the town. These families have all left extremely difficult situations in their home country, and are very grateful for the safety in which they can now bring up their children, and send them to school. They often say how friendly everyone has been to them since they have arrived and they are so grateful for that.
“The children, of course, are all making great progress at school and say how appreciative they are of the chance to access education. Welcome Here has also been seeking opportunities for the adults to find volunteering options in the town – two of them are now helping at community centres, one at a community farm, one in a film company, and one in a charity shop. In this way, they have further opportunities to practise their English, to meet other people in the community, and to develop skills as a route into work. Three of the adults have excellent catering skills, a chef, a pastry cook and one a baker. Their dream is that in the future they will be able to open a Syrian restaurant in Leamington. Similar projects have been successful elsewhere in the UK. I hope that we can help them realise their dream here too.”
Cllr Alan Boad, Chair of Warwick District Council, said:
“It was a huge honour to meet the refugee families who have been resettled in Warwick district. I’m delighted to hear that even those who have only been here for a short while have been made to feel very welcome and are settling into the local schools and colleges, learning English and are keen to contribute to the local community by volunteering. I have also learned of the many skills these individuals have to offer local employers. Most of all I am happy to know that thanks to the efforts of both the County and District Councils, the West Midlands Strategic Migration Partnership and the amazing group of volunteers who have provided support these families now feel safe and are looking forward to a bright future.”
All of the families given sanctuary in Warwickshire are amongst those who have suffered the most following the humanitarian disaster in Syria since civil war erupted in 2011. Many have been displaced from their homes or had their homes and livelihoods destroyed in the subsequent conflicts that have ravaged the country they once called home. Within the last month the situation has deteriorated further in Syria leading to humanitarian agencies describing it as ‘beyond imagination’.
Warwickshire County Council has been working very closely with partners in the Warwick District Council, the Health economy and the third sector, to put in place a package of support to meet the needs of these families. This project, which is wholly funded by central government, puts in place a whole package of support that includes private housing, education, health care and emotional support. In addition to this, there has been an overwhelming amount of support from local communities to ensure that the process of resettlement has been as smooth as possible and that these families, after so much uncertainty, now have safe places that they can call home.
Cllr Izzi Seccombe, leader of Warwickshire County Council said:
“The fact that the whole county has come together to provide a safe place for these families to begin to heal and rebuild lives shattered by conflict is a testament to what a fantastic place Warwickshire is to live.
“I am immensely proud that Warwickshire County Council and all our partners have pulled together to provide a comprehensive package of support to these families and that local communities have gone above and beyond to make our newest residents so welcome. These families can now begin their healing in a county that has always celebrated and welcomed diversity; a county that has always offered help to its most vulnerable residents; and a county that has a deep and enduring sense of civil-mindedness at its very heart.”