Housing Refugees in Newport – bridging the gap

Written by Tai Pawb

Written by Mark Seymour, Project Manager at The Gap Wales

The Gap Wales is a small community-based charity supporting refugees and asylum seekers in Newport. Founded in 2008, it runs a project called The Sanctuary, which provides holistic support to refugees and asylum seekers in Newport and works closely in partnership with other local refugee organisations across South Wales. Refugees and asylum seekers are forced migrants, people that have sought safety in the UK, having fled war or persecution in their own land.

Newly granted refugees are given just 28 days to find accommodation, following their grant of refugee status – which can come at any time. Single refugees routinely struggle to access accommodation, despite a number of excellent schemes in Newport. There is simply a lack of affordable accommodation, with a large waiting list for social housing. Some can end up sofa surfing despite the best efforts of various agencies supporting them.

Many refugees can begin to process their experiences during this time, with their need for safety being met, they are aware of what they have lost but have not yet moved on into what their future will be. Some struggle with poor mental health during this period immediately after being granted refugee status as they come to terms with the difficulties that caused them to have to leave their home country.

The Gap Wales has spent an increasing amount of time working with our partners to source accommodation for newly granted refugees. Having known many of these individuals as asylum seekers through our social activities, it’s helped us understand them as a person and of their individual needs.

In Feb 2020, just prior to the pandemic, the development and project manager, Mark Seymour, attended a NACCOM conference entitled ‘Ending Migrant Homelessness ‘. He learnt that some pioneering and innovative refugee charities around the UK had partnered with local Housing Associations to provide accommodation for refugees, and also to provide accommodation for individuals who found themselves with No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF) Of particular interest to the Gap Wales was the use of rent paying refugees to subsidise the NRPF bedspaces. This financially pragmatic model was one that resonated with Mark as it addressed the housing needs of refugees, but also provided accommodation for NRPF – asylum seekers who are in limbo in the system, having had access to accommodation and finances withdrawn. It also allowed the refugee charity to do what they do best – supporting refugees, whilst the Housing Association focuses on their specialism, the housing aspects of the arrangement.

three men gardening on a side street
Refugee gardening team creating a community garden outside their supported accommodation

Mark chatted to a friend who worked at a local Housing Association. This also coincided with a report being commissioned by Welsh Government into accommodating NRPF, and Tai Pawb’s own report into accommodation for refugees. In addition, The Gap Wales had been supporting some refugees with their tenancy in a cul-de-sac in Newport owned by a local Housing Association and had met their staff. This street had previously experienced some anti-social behaviour and was now subject to a local letting policy. The flats were occupied mainly by single males and had an oddity in the housing stock – a vacant 3-bedroom flat which was proving hard to let.

Rob Milligan, of Tai Pawb was able to facilitate a conversation with the Housing Association, and a further conversation with Newport City Council Housing staff who were supportive of the innovative proposal. Following discussions about how the arrangement would work, the flat was set up as short-term temporary accommodation for newly granted single male refugees, with capacity to accommodate NRPF asylum seekers for periods of time. Our local community generously supported our online fundraiser and the first tenant moved in during December 2020. He has now moved out and on into permanent accommodation, having had some breathing space to complete his studies and make plans for what is next for him. Two further men have moved in whilst they find more permanent accommodation and plan for their next steps in life as they rebuild their life here in the UK. The tenants are on short term licenses and are free to move on with no period of notice when the time is right for them, although we would expect this to be between 3 and 9 months.

The Gap Wales intend to build a small mixed portfolio of properties that provide short term accommodation for newly granted refugees, whilst allowing for capacity for NRPF bed spaces within the portfolio. Currently, the demand for this is low with the current pandemic and the slow movement of Home Office applications thought the system. Discussions have begun about opening second property, a two-bed flat, funded by a philanthropic charity.

We want these properties to be a safe space, a place to heal, for refugees and NRPF asylum seekers to be able to catch their breath, and we are continuing to learn how to be therapeutic in our support of our tenants as they move forward with their lives. Having a secure and safe place to live and to be in control of their future life choices is so vital for us all, but especially for refugees who have had those opportunities denied them back in their country of origin.

It has been great to network, to share our journey with similar but different initiatives in the other asylum dispersal cities of Cardiff and Swansea, and to have the support of Welsh Government as they endeavour to enable Wales to truly become a Nation of Sanctuary.

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