Rugby club raffle to help Syrian refugee family move to Forest

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Ringwood rugby
Rugby Sevens is a fast-paced version of the game (Photo: stock image)

A ONCE-in-a-lifetime trip to the Hong Kong Rugby Sevens tournament is being offered in a raffle aiming to raise £10,000 to help a Syrian refugee family settle in the Ringwood area.

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The project has been launched by Ringwood and Ellingham Rugby Club and includes flights, accommodation and tickets for two to the premier event in the world sevens series in April.

It is part of the government’s community refugee sponsorship initiative, which was officially launched in Hampshire late last year.

It has been led by the club’s director of rugby Mark Johnson, who was inspired to bring the initiative to Ringwood after attending the launch of a similar project in Basingstoke.

He said: “When David Cameron was Prime Minister he made a pledge that the UK would resettle 20,000 Syrian refugees through the Syrian Vulnerable Person Resettlement Programme.

“Initially refugees were farmed out to local authorities to house and support – but the process was not always welcome. The refugees were moved to an area, given a house and basically told to keep their heads down.”

However, refugee families struggled to integrate into their communities because of a lack of practical and emotional support, which led the Home Office to launch the Community Refugee Sponsorship initiative in July 2016 based on a model successfully used in Canada since 1979.

Under that scheme a community group, which is either a church or religious organisation, pledges to support a family of refugees to settle in their local area with financial, emotional and practical support.

Mark said: “So far around 400 people – or about 80 refugee families – have been supported to resettle in various parts of UK. Virtually all these sponsorship initiatives have been led by faith groups.”

However, after finding out more about the initiative Mark became convinced that the rugby club should become involved and began speaking to fellow members about launching a fundraising drive.

Mark said: “We understand we are the first sports club, potentially globally, to have stepped forward to apply to resettle a refugee family.

“There are many reasons rugby should embrace community sponsorship, based both on pragmatism and principles. The practical side is embodied by the simple fact that every rugby club is a broad church.

“Doctors, farmers, teachers, builders, scientists, policeman and businessmen take the field together every week, not bound by schooling or background, but by a common bond – the simple pleasure of transporting an egg-shaped ball up the pitch and placing it behind their opposition’s line.

“The principals that enable a brutally combative sport to be played fairly should be applied to help this cause.”

As the club is not a charity it has partnered with Caritas Portsmouth Diocese, which has previously been involved in community refugee sponsorship initiatives elsewhere, to begin making the applications.

Mark said: “The scheme is very new to Hampshire – it was only approved by the county council last November and so far I think there are two initiatives under way in Basingstoke and Gosport.”

To apply for the scheme, the community group must raise at least £9,000 which will provide a backstop for the refugee family when they arrive.

“Because of the terms of the resettlement agreement, the family of refugees will be entitled to apply for Universal Credit but that doesn’t begin immediately so we need to raise enough to cover initial rent, to buy furniture, stock the fridge and potentially renovate a property that can be their home,” Mark explained.

“The Home Office advice is that there are all sorts of individual expenses and these add up, so that is why we are required to raise £9,000 in order to apply.”

Once the club has reached its fundraising goal and submitted an application, the Home Office will contact the UN to identify a suitable family currently living in a refugee camp overseas that will be resettled to Ringwood by around July.

Mark said: “We have no idea who the family will be – but it is very likely they will be Syrian refugees who are currently living in a camp somewhere.

“The forms are difficult but the thought of a family living in a camp that we could be helping is a good focus for me – it keeps me focused and striving forward.

“All you have to do is think about your own family in a refugee camp.”

As well as fundraising, members of the rugby club have also committed to offer practical help to the family when they arrive. Mark said: “When they get here they will need a lot of support because they will be completely new to the country – we will be that support.”

Volunteers have already been lined up to help the family with applying for Universal Credit, showing them around the area, registering any children with local schools, registering with doctors and dentists, opening bank accounts, applying for jobs, enrolling on English language courses and dozens of other tasks.

Mark said: “Imagine if you and your family arrived in Syria and knew no one – it will be the same for these refugees. They will need help to do all these basic tasks which we take for granted.”

The club will also hold an ‘action day’ when members will decorate and furnish the property and undertake any other work needed before the family moves in.

Mark continued: “I have already started tentatively looking at properties and I feel confident that we will find something suitable.

“The rent has to be at a guaranteed level for two years and set at the right level – but for the right property we would be willing to do some work to perhaps do it up so it could be a good opportunity for a private landlord.”

Having seen first-hand how successful the project has been in other parts of the UK, Mark has also become a strong advocate for the scheme, talking to rugby clubs around the world about how they can support refugees to resettle.

He has registered the domain name www.rugby4refugees.com and through a conservation with associates at the Yokohama Rugby Club in Japan, he was offered the prize of a trip for two to the Hong Kong Sevens, from 3rd to 5th April, including flights, accommodation and tickets.

The club is selling just 1,000 raffle tickets at £10 each for a chance to win the prize. The draw will take place at Ellingham and Ringwood Rugby Club at 5pm on Saturday 15th February.

Mark said: “It is such an amazing prize – it could be won by someone from our club but equally there are lots of other rugby clubs and supporters in the New Forest that would love to win this incredible prize.

“The Hong Kong Sevens is a great family event so it could be a parent and child that went – and because we are only selling a maximum of 1,000 tickets everyone has a real chance of winning.”

For more information or to purchase raffle tickets contact Mark on 07775 556898 or email info@rugby4refugees.com.

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