Our school is a member of community organising movement Citizens UK, which helps our students to campaign and act on the issues that matter to them.
Last autumn a group of Year 10 students decided that of all the possible issues (housing, jobs, money, or street safety), the refugee crisis was the most important to them. Even as their school chaplain, their compassion caught me unawares.
The Refugees Welcome campaign had been active for a year, so in the following weeks the students worked with our Citizens UK community organiser to develop the idea of Refugees Welcome Schools. They came up with a three-strand commitment which schools can sign up to: teach about refugees, provide a practical welcome for refugees, and take part in public action on refugee resettlement. Schools all over the country are now signing up to the initiative.
In a climate of fear around immigration, it is hugely important for communities to work together to support refugee resettlement. Our students were in a delegation of Christians, Jews and Muslims who went to our local council to discuss and offer support for refugee resettlement. Lambeth Council subsequently promised to resettle 20 families as well as unaccompanied children, and three Syrian families have arrived already. Our local Refugees Welcome team co-ordinates the alliance of community groups to source what the refugees need – anything from a toaster to ESOL classes.
In Refugee Week we are hosting a summit for Refugees Welcome Schools. 100 young people from 25 different schools will come together with their teachers to share their ideas on how to take this initiative forward. There are many schools with long experience of welcoming and supporting refugees, so this will be an exciting opportunity to learn from each other, share good practice and work on next steps for action.
Mother Ellen Eames is Chaplain at Saint Gabriel’s College, a Church of England Secondary School in Lambeth.