In 2015, Pope Francis’ called for every parish in the world to welcome a refugee family, a call that was heard by many parish groups across the country. One such group is Sidmouth Companions, based in Sidmouth, Diocese of Plymouth.
The group wished to support those fleeing the Syrian conflict but were unsure of how to do so outside of the traditional mode of donations. A Caritas Plymouth event allowed them to learn about Community Sponsorship directly from those with experience as a sponsorship group. With support from the Parish of The Most Precious Blood Sidmouth, Sidmouth Companions began their sponsorship journey.
Community Sponsorship is a government scheme and the Home Office provide detailed information on what is required of groups. Sidmouth Companions dove into the research, learning the process of sponsorship and what is required of sponsors. To effectively support the sponsored family, they researched access to GP services, school admissions and English language classes, as well as accommodation options.
“So, we researched all that information and benefits – how families would have access to benefits. We put it all in one place; documented it, and said actually this is something that we can do. We were now sure that we could provide what was needed for a family.”
The Catholic Church in Sidmouth provided them with the initial £9000 required by the Home Office to sponsor a family, and with Caritas Plymouth as their Lead Sponsor, they were supported throughout the process. They also received overwhelming support from the local community.
“The whole community in Sidmouth has been so generous, not just financially: with their time and with their welcome. It’s been absolutely amazing. Groups are self-funding. There are grants available for some groups. We have been able to rely on donations and fundraising events.”
Sidmouth Companions secured accommodation for a period of 2 years and provided one year of support to the resettled Syrian family. They are now coming to the end of their Community Sponsorship journey but there are many such community sponsorship groups across the country, with many more needed as the community sponsorship scheme grows to include other nationalities.
“These families are a blessing to the community and if anyone is inspired or feels passionate about helping, this is a real tangible way to be able to help those in most need.”
“We are called to love everyone – our neighbour. Our neighbour may be the person next door. It may be someone in this country. I think it is also anywhere in the world. We are given wonderful opportunities in life. If we become passionate about something, I really think that’s where we can help. With Community Sponsorship we are helping people in most need. Many people in Community Sponsorship Groups are also helping locally. We don’t not want to help people in our communities and in our own country. We do both. We do the best we can with what we’ve got. I would encourage everyone to do that.”Brigid McEleney-Smith, Group leader of Sidmouth Companions
Brigid McEleney-Smith is a group leader of Sidmouth Companions and interviewed with East Devon Radio to discuss the group’s journey and the hospitality of the wider community in Sidmouth, as well as the importance of the Community Sponsorship scheme. The transcript of the interview can be found on the Diocese of Plymouth webpage: https://www.plymouth-diocese.org.uk/sidmouthcs/.