We talk to the new volunteer coordinator at Elmbridge CAN

Elmbridge CAN is a small charity supporting the resettlement of refugees and building a culture of welcome within the communities of Elmbridge.

Due to a recent increase in demand for their services, the charity’s core team of volunteers were keen to get support with the day-to-day administration tasks. Our community grant will fund Sarah’s post as a volunteer coordinator for the first year. We talked to Sarah about her new role.

Q. Tell us about a typical day in your role?

I start each day by checking the various emails for new enquiries, volunteers or requests for help. I carry out the basic checks for all new volunteers, making sure that all data is looked after safely, and information updated. I also coordinate volunteer availability for our digital classes for Afghan women living in the hotel, many of whom had not used a computer before arriving here. I coordinate the furnishing for new accommodation, doing all we can as a community to make their new homes comfortable and welcoming. Where I can, I go to our newly set up hubs so I can support the volunteers and hub leaders and meet some of the people we are supporting. I also prepare newsletters for volunteers and supporters and arrange training. It’s very varied!

Q. How many people do Elmbridge CAN currently support?

We are supporting about 220 Afghans who have been in temporary hotel accommodation for several months, in addition to supporting 25 other families with refugee backgrounds in the community who are from all over the globe.

Q. Are you currently helping any Ukrainian refugees?

We have two full-time Ukrainian-speaking support workers who support approximately 500 Ukrainian refugees here in Elmbridge. These posts are funded by Elmbridge Borough Council. Our fantastic volunteers very quickly set up four regular local hubs to support these refugees and they provide a warm welcome, refreshments, and practical help with matters such as understanding paperwork and job searching.

Q. What are the biggest challenges facing families settling in a new area?

There are many challenges. Language limitations are often one of the biggest issues – speaking good English is key to so much. Cultural differences need to be navigated, and there is a lot of loss, anxiety, and uncertainty to deal with. We try to support emotionally as well as practically, but in a way that keeps to appropriate boundaries.

Q. What sort of ongoing support do you offer?

We offer help with small grants, job searching, navigation of systems and paperwork, one-to-one English language tuition and homework help for children, social activities to help with integration, provision of bikes to help with independence and mobility, and much more.

Q. What is your favourite part of the job?

Seeing settled families thriving is a joy. When we’ve got a new flat assigned to a family, we don’t get long to get it ready for them, and things can get very hectic gathering the furniture and other welcome items together. I like it when I can see the flat becoming a home, knowing that the family will be happy there. It’s a good feeling!

Q. What can our local community do to help?

We do our work by harnessing the skills, talents, and generosity of the local community – and in Elmbridge, there is a lot of all of these! We are always looking for volunteers – now we particularly need someone to help us with our website and people who are happy to help look after small children at the Afghan hotel on Monday and Friday mornings in term time. Financial donations are always very helpful – for example we recently gave some money to a Ukrainian mother with a disabled son so that they could afford disability-friendly travel from their host’s house to local activities which has resulted in them no longer feeling isolated.

Helping with housing needs is always our biggest challenge and everyone can help by spreading the word about the need for affordable rental property of all sizes – there is more information on our website.

Finally, everyone can help by reading up on the ‘bigger picture’ situation regarding refugee-related matters – there is a lot happening nationally, and much of it concerns us greatly.

We would love more people from our local community to get in touch and help. Click here to find out more: Get Involved - Elmbridge CAN refugee volunteer support

Janette ButlerComment