The Phoenix Community Care Story

The Phoenix Community Care Story

It was a sad occasion as Pauline and I visited Alan Pavey in hospital, we knew he was very ill and in fact dying, which he did not long after our visit.  But while there he turned to us both and said, “you need to be helping refugees.”

We both asked, “What do you mean by that?”

 He replied, “You just need to do something about them.” I guess we both saw this as some kind of prophetic word; the problem with prophecy is that you don’t always know how to react or what to do and at that time we didn’t!

A few weeks later we were watching the news together when, and some of you will remember it, a Norwegian boat picked up refugees in the sea off the cost of Australia, and then tried to help them to land, the Norwegians rescued the refugees from drowning. As I watched the news item, I thought how awful to risk your life in such a way just to escape from where you live and go to an unknown land.  The prime minister of Australia refused to allow the refugees to land and I think some of them subsequently died. This story had a major impact on Pauline, she wanted to catch a plane and punch the Australian Prime Minister for his inhumanity and lack of human concern.

As a couple we had fostered children for the local authority for 15 years, giving homes to around 30 children.  We had been wondering what we should do with our experience, the news item became a catalyst. While Pauline was angrily jumping up and down, I was protecting our TV from being attacked and trying to diffuse the situation. I said to her, “Pauline, there are many refugees in the UK, why don’t you start there rather than spend the air fare going to deal with the Australian Prime Minister, who might not see you.  Why don’t you start by phoning social services, they know us and perhaps they have some kind of refugee department?”

I listened to Pauline talking to the social services operator, she asked, “do you have a department that deals with refugees?”   By her smile I assumed they did have such a department, it turned out that the man to whom the call was eventually connected knew Pauline, they had worked together delivering training to the local authority foster carers. 

Once the call was connected he said to her, “we have so much need in this area, I am now managing the authorities’ refugee department, and if there is anything you can do to help we will be more than happy to have you on board.”

What to do? How to help? We did our research and discovered that the Muslim community in our area had already stood up to the plate and were meeting the need with many homes.  We turned to them for help and advice on to how to start and what was needed.  They suggested people who would advise us and we ended up using much of their expertise.  We were somewhat sad that there seemed to be no Christians on the block doing anything to help. For that reason, as we moved into this new arena with our  offer of help, we did not come with a ‘Christian’ agenda, or a church based view, rather we came simply as willing helpers; Phoenix Community Care organisation came into being.

The refugee department was very happy with our suggestions to help, but the programme we envisaged needed to be accommodation based. We were perplexed about how this could be accomplished, our daughter Carla, her husband and three sons said, “We want to help, I tell you what I will do, I will redecorate our house, and then move out and you can use that.” To cut a long story short, that’s exactly what happened and that house became our first property which we housed refugees .  There were months of jumping through fiery bureaucratic hoops and endless   regulations which often make it very hard to help  But we soldiered on and today we have ten houses and can accommodate over thirty  people.

We still remember, and actually are still good friends with our first ever client. The process works like this.  Our company gets a call from Social services saying, ‘we have such and such a person can you help?’  If we have space we usually say, ‘yes.’  We then arrange a collection, usually from a social services office, occasionally a police station.  On this first occasion Pauline went herself. These days one of our key workers would usually go. When Pauline arrived at the office the social worker pointed to a young lady huddled and slumped over   in a chair, on her knee she clutched at a solitary plastic carrier bag, she was pale and drawn, in fact she looked totally drained.   Once introductions had taken place Pauline drove the young lady to the house.  We have a policy of trying to make the accommodation as welcoming as possible, which we define as ‘having the wow factor’.  Pauline She showed the young lady the bedrooms, and the food in the kitchen, and said, ‘as you are our first ever guest you can choose your room from the whole house’.  The young lady chose her room and simply said, ‘may I now sleep?’ She then climbed into bed, coat and all and immediately dropped into a deep sleep.

Pauline drove the car around the corner, parked up, and wept bitterly about the terrible situation of the refugees. She then mopped her face, dried her eyes, pulled her mobile out of her handbag and called me. “Quick!” she said, “Get another house; we need to be helping these people!”

We have expanded since those early days, not only do we accommodate young people who are refugees but we also have our own foster care agency. This was initially conceived because although the refugees we deal with are aged 16 and over, there are in fact those who find their way to the UK who are much younger. Alongside that we formed another company, London Training Consortium, which handles the youngsters’ educational requirements, particularly ESOL, speaking English as a second language.

There is still a great need for people to help in this area, despite the fact that the government is always trying to discourage refugees from entering the UK. As we watch the news and see the wars and dangers that people are in, we can see that people are going to run somewhere, and some will make it to the UK. Often we can tell by the clients who come to us, where the latest ‘hot spot’ or war area is.

Incidentally although we did not announce that underneath it all we have the love of Christ constraining us, nevertheless social services did latch on to the fact that we were people who were ‘followers of the way’ and they often said of Phoenix Community Care and its placements, “you people seem to go the extra mile,” which seems like a good Scriptural principal Matthew 5:41 comes to mind.  We hope we still do.

Adrian Hawkes
For Mari
8th March 2011
W. 1216
Edit: Technicolour Text

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