From Damascus to Wiltshire

Wiltshire was one of the first rural counties in the UK to assist with re-housing Syrian refugees from camps in the Lebanon and Jordan.

Following a mapping exercise into the availability of housing, school places and medical capacity, Wiltshire Council committed to helping 30 families. To-date eight families have arrived, we are expecting a further eight families in mid-June with the remainder arriving in the autumn.

Wiltshire Council needed help.  Having worked with us before many times, they asked us to manage the funding and set up the homes for the families. 

We had two weeks before the arrival of the refugees to set-up homes for eight families.  We had to organise everything.  We had to decorate the flats, put down carpets, furnish and fit out and provide essential items such as food and clothing. The social housing we had was defined as ‘hard to let’ and had been turned down by local people. This added to our problems, as the two bedroom flats were in a very poor state of repair.   

However, a community foundation comes into its own when faced with a challenge and we used all our contacts, supporters and the charities that we fund to get the job done.  We established a small three person team of volunteers who tirelessly coordinated all the work.  They shopped.  Everything needed to make a house a home was bought.  We bought furniture and white goods from community groups we had previously funded.

We worked with the Salisbury Diocese who set up an appeal on Local Giving to support the refugees.  We worked with the Mothers’ Union who supplied children’s clothes and additional kitchen items.  We pulled out all the stops and with the help from our community we got the job done.  The first eight families were able to move into their new homes on their arrival on 2 December 2015.

After they arrived, I visited each family to see if anything else was needed.  We ended up buying pushchairs, car seats and net curtains after they had arrived.   I met with the women to gather feedback on what they liked and didn’t like about the things we had put in their homes, which has led to a refined shopping list  being drawn up for the next wave of families.

We proved yet again that community foundations are able to respond rapidly, with flexibility, as well as harnessing the wider community. This was demonstrated recently by our rapid responses to national flooding. The UK Community Foundations’ National Flood Relief Fund raised over £14.6 million from local people and businesses, multi-nationals and Government and these funds were quickly distributed to people in real hardship and need.

So, whether it’s welcoming and preparing for refugees or responding to floods, community foundations are the rock at the heart of communities providing support and assistance where it’s needed most.

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