Beth Shalom has for the last five years been involved with a group of churches in supporting homeless people in Cambridge. Following the horrifying invasion of Ukraine by Russia, the synagogue Council decided that we needed to do something to show active support for the Ukraine.
Through our contacts from the winter’s homeless project we first invited a wide range of representatives of other faith groups in Cambridge to join us for an evening service, which was held on Match 14th. We had attendees, prayers and speakers from several different churches along with representatives from the local Muslim and Bahai communities, and from a Ukrainian working in the University within the Slavic languages department.
The support we received encouraged us to find a way to get more involved alongside the other faith groups, to help any Ukrainians who came to our area. A visa scheme for organisation sponsorship was initially mentioned by the government but never launched, so we needed to find another approach.
Members of Beth Shalom have joined the ‘Homes for housing’ scheme and are now providing homes to some refugees, but we wanted to do something extra, working as a whole community. Three of our members, Antoinette Fox, Laurie Coppersmith and Mike Frankl led this project.
Thanks to the generosity of Cambridge Arts & Technical School (CATS) Global Schools and the help of the Cambridge charity “It Takes A City” (ITAC) we have been able to secure the use of a building with twenty bedrooms, each with en-suite shower and toilet. We are working very closely with the Cambridge City Council and are now using the building to provide temporary accommodation for those refugees whose visa housing arrangements have not quite worked out for a variety of different reasons. When these initial arrangements fail, the refugees become the responsibility of the local Council – they are regarded as homeless and some housing provision has to be made for them. Clearly, housing them in hotels is not optimal.
Beth Shalom has raised over £25,000 to fund this project from a combination of individual donations and a brilliant concert organised by our members, including a variety of local musicians and Kol Echad, the Jewish Choir based in Cambridge.
ITAC has provided a senior manager to be in charge of the overall running of the building, and helped us to prepare a complete set of risk assessments, policies and daily procedures that are necessary to enable the smooth and safe running of the house. We are required to have a person of responsibility in the building at all times, and so, in addition to ITAC’s senior manager, we have hired two deputy house managers: a second year Anglia Ruskin University social work student and an English-speaking Ukrainian refugee who is a trained psychotherapist and who has only been in Cambridge for a few weeks. We have also gathered a pool of volunteers to cover the late afternoon and weekend shifts.
We currently have eight guests staying in the house and have helped around twenty people over the course of the project. As well as providing accommodation and some basic food supplies, we have helped our guests in some or all of the following ways:
- Translation and assistance to help guests fill out documents for biometric residence permits, national insurance numbers, universal credit, and setting up bank accounts.
- Accompanying guests to the Job Centre and assisting and translating as required.
- Accompanying to the store to buy groceries.
- Explanation of the basic rules of life and culture in the UK, helping to overcome culture shock and to adapt to their new environment.
- First aid and support for guests.
- Regular information support (events in the city, free lunches, job search sites, etc.).
- Help to get access and obtain supplies from food banks and food hubs.
- Assistance in resolving conflicts between guests, and regulating the rules of residence within the house.
- Help and guidance as to how to find paid employment.
Unfortunately, this arrangement can only last until the end of September, and we are looking for alternative ways to continue to help the refugee community in Cambridge.