Thank you Julia Burne for this blog about housing for people seeking sanctuary near Doncaster, first published in the June 2021 issue of – “A View from the Edge” – Doncaster Conversation Club Newsletter.
‘I’m alone in my room. The people in my house don’t speak my language. The people in this village look at me strangely. I feel I’m sitting in my grave’.
– a man in Asylum Support Accommodation in one of the villages outside Doncaster.
In the last 6 months the Housing Provider, Mears, have started to accommodate people seeking asylum in houses in the ex-mining villages surrounding Doncaster. There are now 18 properties (housing more than 70 people) – scattered between Conisbrough, Askern, Woodlands, Bentley, Armthorpe, Rossington, Stainforth, Thorne and Moorends. The houses are located by Mears and then approved for use by Doncaster Council.
The challenge this presents to the people housed in these properties is enormous.
Imagine – four people, often with limited English and no other languages in common, arriving from temporary hostel or hotel accommodation and being left in a smallish town which isn’t ethnically diverse. Where do you find food from ‘home’ or halal meat. How do you connect with others from your community – where is the opportunity for a chance contact with someone who speaks your language? How do you access places of worship – the mosque or the small Christian Denomination which is so important to you? Where is the college to help improve your English so that you can communicate better. Where is the community of other people who are in the same asylum system? Where are the specialist services to signpost you to advice?
The answer to all of the above is that they are a bus ride away in the town centre. This costs £4.70 – which is about 12% of the weekly allowance of £39.63 per week.
People seeking asylum as a whole are resilient – they have already had to overcome huge issues in their own countries and in their journey here. But without a sense of belonging and the opportunity to develop networks of support, even the most resilient find that their mental health is affected.
There have been initiatives to engage people seeking asylum with local community groups. There are a few outstanding successes (well done Stainforth) – but these successes are for a small handful of the 70 or more people who are in these outlying properties. It has been suggested that bikes are the answer – but the roads from outlying villages to Doncaster are often dangerous for people on bikes (without all weather gear, helmets, effective lights) – and not everyone is able to cycle.
It is unclear exactly why this process of locating people in the outskirts of Doncaster has gained such momentum with the housing provider Mears (a private company) and the council.
It certainly doesn’t seem to be in the interests of the people who are the recipients of this approach.