NACCOM’s Network Development Worker, Dave Smith, talks about how our member projects in the North West of England are responding to challenges in the sector by working together to innovate and #EndDestitution.

What role does the North West play in accommodating those seeking asylum?

“The North West dispersal area has the largest number of people seeking asylum in the UK, with 10,582 asylum seekers in Section 95 accommodation at the end of March 2019 – nearly double the number of any other region.

“Traditionally asylum seekers have been accommodated in the major cities. Liverpool hosts over 1,500, partly because it also has the Initial Accommodation Centre for the area. Other historic dispersal areas include Manchester, Wigan, Bolton and Rochdale, all taking around 1,000 each, with Salford, Stoke-on-Trent and Oldham not far behind. Bury, Tameside, Blackburn and Darwen also have significant numbers, and there are around 100 or so in Trafford and Stockport.”

How have things changed in the last few years?

“There has been some very significant change. With the rise of house prices in the major cities, Serco, the asylum accommodation provider, has been forced to look for cheaper properties. This has led to an huge increase in the number of local authorities with asylum accommodation, from 11 to 32. The increase has been fairly gradual in new dispersal towns. Those, like Preston, Lancaster and Skelmersdale that were the first ‘new’ local authorities on board, are now accommodating 217, 147 and 129 respectively, whereas the very newest will just be housing a dozen or so.”

What issues can arise in new dispersal areas?

“New dispersal areas throw up challenging issues, like the lack of local ethnic communities, immigration solicitors and related services. It can also cause friction with the host community, especially in traditionally white areas. However, one result of the ‘refugee crisis’ back in 2015 is that it has made many local communities more aware of refugee issues, and therefore ready to act when the asylum seekers arrive. Drop-ins have sprung up in almost all of the new areas: in at least one case there are more volunteers than asylum seekers!”

What does this mean for NACCOM in the North West?

“Until recently there were only two projects in the North West providing any form of accommodation for refused asylum seekers – Asylum Link in Liverpool and the Boaz Trust in Manchester. It would have been logistically impossible for them to start covering these newer areas as well, so a new strategy was needed. In line with NACCOM’s original plan to have an accommodation project in every town or city where destitution is a problem, we have been looking for partner organisations to work with, who will be willing to start some kind of project where they are. In many cases it has been easy enough to find refugee-friendly people from the new drop-ins: the challenge has been to raise awareness of impending cases of destitution, and to get them ready for it.”

How do NACCOM hubs play a role?

“Progress is never fast or straightforward, but we have developed a really good North West hub, with several new member groups tackling the issue of destitution where they are, and the first fruits of new accommodation beginning to come through. There are two new projects in historic dispersal towns – Bolton City of Sanctuary and RADAR in Rochdale. Lancashire Sanctuary Homes is covering the Blackburn – Preston – Lancaster triangle, and ACAP are looking for property in Ashton-in-Makerfield. A number of projects are looking to work with Refugees at Home, providing support for guests in host families: others are looking to bring empty church properties back into use or find sympathetic housing associations or landlords. Hubs enable us to connect member projects more effectively, and help foster partnership working so that we can respond to these new challenges together.

“The net is widening, and we look forward to seeing a range of accommodation projects developing over the next year or two, so no one who is destitute will need to drift off to the big cities in the vain hope of finding a solution to their problems.”