An interview with Sue Parsons – the new part-time Community Sponsorship Coordinator at Catholic Care
Who are you?
I’m Sue Parsons and I live in the parish of St Francis of Assissi and the Immaculate Conception, Bradford. I’ve just been appointed Community Sponsorship Coordinator at Catholic Care, so I work across the diocese and at the Catholic Care Office on the Hinsley Hall site.
What are you doing?
Community Sponsorship is the scheme where local communities – perhaps a parish – supports a refugee family to settle in the United Kingdom and rebuild their lives in a safe environment. The group takes responsibility for providing support for the refugee family for a year, from meeting them at the airport to organising language tuition, and supporting access to medical services, social services, education and employment. Before the refugee family arrives, the Group must also source accommodation for the family to rent and raise funds to contribute towards the initial costs that the family will incur when they first arrive (e.g. purchasing school uniforms, the first month of rent). The family will be entitled to apply for benefits so they will not need to rely on donations after this initial period.
My role is to inspire parishes across the diocese to set up Community Sponsorship Groups and then support those groups to achieve Home Office approval to sponsor a refugee family. The aim is to have 6 of these groups set up by the end of this year.
The benefits of the scheme are huge! Obviously, the family benefit as they move from uncertainty in the Middle East to start a new life in safety in the UK. That of course can be very daunting when you’re moving to a strange country, where you may not speak a word of the language and away from your support network of family and friends.This is where the Community Sponsorship Group comes into its own as members support the family and help them settle. And the group also benefits, developing a sense of community, working together and perhaps developing new skills. People who have already welcomed a refugee family under the scheme speak about how it has transformed their lives and communities. What interested you in doing this?
I believe that we all have a responsibility towards others – and that’s not just about acts of charity, it is about helping others to help themselves – it’s about putting my faith into action.
So in 2016, I spent three weeks as a volunteer at the refugee camp in Calais – one of those weeks being the week the French authorities dismantled the camp. It was hard and taught me a lot, not just about the squalor people were having to live in and the horrors that had taken them there, but their dignity and bravery and that what they wanted was a safe life for them and their families and to take responsibility for themselves. And for me, Community Sponsorship is another way of helping people do this.
I think there are times when we see what’s going on in the world and feel overwhelmed by what’s happening and ask ourselves “What can I do? There’s too much to deal with, I can’t make a difference.” The beauty of Community Sponsorship for me is that it does make a difference to a family and a community. I’m reminded of a story I heard about a writer who saw a beach covered with hundreds of starfish which had been washed up and lay dying. A little girl was picking up the starfish one by one and throwing them back into the waves. When the writer challenged her and said that there were so many she couldn’t possibly make a difference, she simply bent down, picked another one up, threw it into the sea and said “I made a difference to that one”!
What has this got to do with being a Catholic?
For me, this has everything to do with being a Catholic! Firstly it’s about helping others and secondly, it’s about responding to Pope Francis’ call to action, that every community should welcome a refugee family into their midst.
Are there ways in which people in the Diocese could help you?
Yes! A parish could decide they would like to welcome a family into their community and set up a Sponsorship Group. There’s lots of help available, so they wouldn’t be on their own. Or, they could offer to help in other parishes, perhaps helping to raise funds or offering their skills to other Groups. If they’d like to find out more, all they need do is get in touch with me and I’ll happily come and talk to their group or their parish to give them more information and answer their questions.
How can people contact you?
Email me – email@example.com or phone me – 07702 255113