Sue Bradley discovers how people in Swindon can make a difference to those seeking sanctuary.

Imagine leaving your home, the people you love and almost all your possessions to escape the threat of violence.

Combine this with long and perilous walks across deserts and hazardous sea crossings before arriving in unfamiliar lands in which outsiders are often met with suspicion.

Seeking asylum often involves a long, hard battle to convince the authorities of the danger faced within a home country.

But even when refugee status is conferred, any sense of relief can often give way to a new battle against homelessness, hunger and the dangers associated with living on the streets.

A new scheme in Swindon is seeking to extend a life line to people who find themselves without a roof over their head after they’ve successfully applied for asylum in the UK.

The Room for All Hosting Scheme, set up by Swindon City of Sanctuary – part of a nationwide movement committed to building a culture of hospitality - matches homeless refugees referred by The Harbour Project – a drop in centre based in the town - with volunteers who are willing to offer a room or annexe in Swindon to help them back onto their feet.

Five people have already offered space in their homes, but the scheme is hoping that Refugee Week will inspire more individuals to consider how they might be able to help.

Volunteer co-ordinator Jane Farr explains that people seeking asylum in the UK are not allowed to get jobs before a decision is made on their futures, and that throughout this period they are provided with accommodation and a small amount of money to live on every week.

Once they’ve been told they can stay, however, they’re given just one month to apply for benefits or secure a job and find a home, which for many amounts to an impossible deadline and often leads to rough sleeping.

“Basically there’s a period of time from the relative security of having accommodation and people falling through the net,” she explains. “They have no money, no home and are out on the streets.

“This is where the Room For All scheme is filling a gap while people get orientated.”

Jane, who moved to Swindon five years ago, began volunteering at The Harbour Project after retiring from paid work in 2015.

Initially she got involved after answering an advert for somebody to put on films to entertain the charity’s ‘visitors’ at weekends and decided to attend a few drop-in sessions to gauge the types of movies that people would like to see.

Her experience of the difference made by the Harbour Project to so many people’s lives led her to become a drop-in centre volunteer, a role that often involves helping with form filling.

“People receive letters they don’t always understand because English is not their first language,” she explains.

Jane says she’s often moved by some of the personal stories she hears from people who have given up everything in order to simply survive.

“Mainly refugees come from countries that are at war, or there’s been a change in government and people who have worked for a previous regime or are related to somebody involved with a regime, find their lives are in danger,” she says.

“I’ve met people with a wide variety of occupations, including teachers, film makers, information technology engineers and government workers.

“Many are coming from areas where they’re being bombed, while those from countries such as Sudan and Eritrea have sought to escape the militias who go through villages raping and killing people and forcing men to join them.

“It’s inevitable that they will do what every any of us would do in the circumstances: survival is first and foremost in their minds. Most of the refugees who come to the Harbour Project are men, because it’s far more difficult for women and children to make that journey.

“They will have left all their possessions behind and made hazardous journeys, such as across the Sahara, over the Mediterranean Sea and through various European countries. Many do not survive the journey.

“When they first come to this country they report to the police as an asylum seeker and then are sent to regional centres – the one for the south west is in Cardiff – before being dispersed to towns in the region while they await a decision on their status. This can take anything from six month to a number of years.”

Jane says the people who make it to the UK have already shown themselves to be resilient, but many are highly stressed as a result of all they’ve been through and vulnerable.

Some who approach ‘Room For All’ for help relish the opportunity to be part of a family set up, while others prefer to have their own space.

At the same time, volunteers offering rooms in their homes will differ in what they can offer.

“We need more people who can offer a room: what we really need is a great pool of people because, understandably, the people who volunteer for us also have their own lives and rooms at their homes aren’t always available,” Jane explains.

“Some are individuals whose families have moved on, or perhaps have an unused living area that was previously used for an elderly person.

“It’s always the host’s decision as to whether they can home somebody during a particular week, and whether they want to provide food or have their guest provide their own.”

Jane says co-ordinating Room For All, and volunteering for the Harbour Project, provides her with a great sense of satisfaction.

“To me it feels like we have so much here in this country,” she says. “My parents were of the generation that went through the Second World War and my grandparents went through the First World War.

“We’re lucky that we have not had to go through this ourselves and I think it’s right that we spread this good fortune around and do what we can.”

• To find out more about the City of Sanctuary visit: For the hosting scheme visit: Click on the on-line sign up form on this site to register an interest in hosting refugees.

 The Harbour Project

The Harbour Project at St Luke’s Hall in Broad Street provides friendship, advice and hope to refugees and asylum seekers in Swindon.

It was founded during the crisis in Kosovo in 2000, became a registered charity in 2003 and now welcomes people from a variety of other countries ravaged by fighting and abuses of human rights, including Syria, Eritrea and Somalia.

Included in the Harbour Project’s services is a week day drop-in centre offering information, advice, support and social contact.

There are classes and courses in art, cookery, computer and the English language, with the organisation hoping to expand into providing music workshops to develop skills and promote personal development, relaxation sessions to help people to overcome mental health issues and trips to cultural events and destinations.

A football team based at the centre is becoming increasingly successful and The Harbour Project puts on a variety of events, including film nights during the winter.