A year has gone by since we last posted on here – we’ve come a long way! We were granted charitable status in September and have now made more than 150 matches across London. We’ve been delighted to see that the majority of people we matched over the last year or so have continued seeing each other after the initial 3-month commitment – our evidence shows the befriending experience has been an enriching one for volunteers as well as befriendees.
Rather than spreading ourselves too thin by trying to go nationwide, we decided some time ago to focus exclusively on strengthening our project across London. We now have over 300 registered befrienders. It’s been heartening that, as word has spread, so many volunteers have signed up to HostNation – people who want to share their city and help refugees and asylum-seekers socialise and experience more of it. But it has meant we have more befrienders than refugee referrals on our database, so some, particularly in more central areas of London where a larger concentration of volunteers live, have had to be patient waiting to be matched. We have worked hard to consolidate our relationships with referrers and be seen as a key resource by service providers; our experience over this past year reflects how overstretched refugee support organisations are. We have become increasingly hands-on, helping the organisations by sometimes registering their clients on their behalf when they haven’t got the time, and frequently brokering introductory meetings ourselves. We have now established some excellent partnerships, particularly with smaller organisations, and we look forward to these growing further in the coming year.
While aiming to get more referrals, we also want to recruit more befrienders in outer zones of London, where refugees and asylum-seekers are often housed, so we can continue to match people by geography and it’s possible for them to meet up without having to travel too far. To do this we need to engage more with diverse communities. So a double challenge!
We are fortunate to have received grants from both Trust for London and Comic Relief; these will help us cover our core costs and enable us to develop and strengthen our outreach programme. As part of our drive to engage new audiences and raise awareness of the work we do, we are excited to be making some short films – first up are Suzy from East London with Hakim from Afghanistan, Sue from North London with Stella from Nigeria and Mark from West London with Mo from Syria. We’ll be posting these films on social media in the new year. So do follow us on FaceBook and keep an eye out for them!
Next year we also plan to run several training and support workshops for volunteers, in different parts of London, on befriending, boundaries and safeguarding. We feel these can help enhance the quality of the social relationships we bring about. We’re also committed to assessing the impact our project has in greater depth. From the very start we have collected feedback from everyone who takes part, to assess HostNation’s work, but in 2019 we want to devote more resources to measurements that can help us evaluate better what contribution we are making to improving social inclusion and integration in these, sadly, rather divisive times.
Thanks for your interest in reading this. Best wishes from us all for a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!