THE IDEA BEHIND HOSTNATION
Our idea is simple: to make befriending a refugee as easy as online dating. And to scale it up so many more people can benefit from transformative friendships with people they might otherwise never have met.
“It has enriched my life in ways I didn’t think it would. It has made me see the joy in small things. It’s the simple human connections that matter.” Befriender
“You can be yourself and forget about your traumas. I’ve learned that there’s hope, there’s a future here in London. It’s why I’m still alive.” Refugee
Refugees and asylum seekers arrive here having fled violence, persecution and war. They then face the daunting task of negotiating a different culture, language and system, away from loved ones or any support network. It's not only hard, it's lonely. And on top of that, many are housed in the areas with the highest levels of deprivation and most at risk of Covid-19.
BEFRIENDING CHANGES LIVES
Friendships like these have been a lifeline in lockdown. Here's a recent message from one of our befrienders to her refugee friend (which arrived in the post along with flowers and chocolates):
When she gave us permission to share this, Mimi said:
“Thank you HostNation for my wonderful friend. I really appreciate having her.”
And in the words of another refugee:
"Having someone who cares, makes you feel human again"
Here's a vimeo link of Hanifah talking about being befriended by Helen and how it changed her life.
SO WHAT DO WE DO AND WHERE DO WE DO IT?
- We have a universal proposition based on the altruistic impulse of loving a stranger
(500+ people have registered with us to befriend a lonely refugee)
- We offer a bridge that connects people socially
(600+ Londoners have made new friends)
- We've built a community and a volunteer movement
(we have the the largest online resource of volunteer refugee befrienders in the UK)
- We wish to take our digital proposition to UK cities beyond London
(we want HostNation to become the way to befriend refugees in our cities)
In London we partner with refugee services eg. the Refugee Council, Red Cross, Freedom from Torture, as well as NHS social prescribers, Councils, ESOL colleges and others, to identify socially isolated refugees who might benefit from befriending. They are then referred online.
We find a potential 'friendship' match from the hundreds of screened and checked befrienders on our database. We match based on location (local), age, gender and shared interests. With consent from both sides, we then arrange and often facilitate the face-to-face introductory meeting. We ask both sides to commit to three months - meeting up once or twice a fortnight for a few hours together to explore the city, visit new places, have new experiences, meet new people. The team at HostNation check in on how it's going, provide guidance and online forums, run workshops on best practice, signpost services and send out a fortnightly newsletter with events, ideas and opportunities for our refugee friends.
After 3 months we gather data on the impact of befriending for both befriender and befriendee and to see if a sustained friendship has formed. To our delight more than 80% continue well beyond the initial 3 months and some tell us they're friends for life! We also consistently get scores of over 80% for how rewarding it has been, for how refugees’ English has improved, how they feel better - less lonely, more included and welcome - and participate more.
Here are a couple of friendship pairs messing around in a fancy dress photo booth at our last Christmas party:
Currently we say: London is a much friendlier place with a Londoner by your side.
And with your help we'd like to start saying it about other cities too. We have plans to roll out our programme - in partnership with existing refugee organisations - to Middlesbrough, Gateshead, Liverpool and Greater Manchester - cities with the greatest dispersal of refugees and high levels of Covid.
Small acts of humanity - kindness, hospitality, inclusion - can make such a big difference.
YOUR HELP IS NEEDED NOW
Covid has had a disproportionate impact on refugees, who rely on drop-in centres, crisis services and public transport and are often digitally excluded. The places that provided them with a sense of community and belonging and sometimes paid their fares and offered them free wifi – refugee services, community projects, drop-in centres, ESOL Colleges, libraries, churches and mosques – have had to close their doors. Many have been cooped up in hostels or shared houses for months, (some with young children) and starved of activities and outside contact; fearful of catching the disease, they have stayed cut off in their own rooms and locked out of local community support groups due to barriers of culture, confidence and language.
Lockdown has compounded their social isolation and they are more in need of social connection than ever.
Meanwhile British people have shown their community spirit, capacity for compassion and human connection during this crisis.
Now lockdown is being lifted (gradually) we desperately want to link those with friendship to offer with those in need of a friend.
The restoration of the services refugees rely on won’t happen overnight. Continuing social distancing rules will make gatherings under one roof difficult, if not impossible. A much more feasible way to start reconnecting safely in our cities are one-to-one meet ups out of doors. That's where we come in.
HOW YOU CAN HELP TODAY
Sadly HostNation can't run on friendship alone. We are a lean team with low overheads and digital processes but it still costs £15,000 a quarter to deliver our programme and cover our costs. Just as the need for what we do becomes greater than ever, we face a funding gap. Like many other projects, funding we thought we had in the bag was, understandably, diverted to frontline services. Now we urgently need help for the next line of support, to help those hardest hit to recover.
Our target is £10,000 to cover this gap and to help us make a real difference over these summer months. If we achieve £10,000 then our stretch target is £15,000 to help us also get back on track with our plans to launch HostNation in the NE and NW of England.
And we are hugely grateful to each and every supporter, every donations counts however small. As a gesture of friendship we have commissioned customised HostNation facemasks so our friends can resume face to face (outdoor) contact. We have included them in our rewards and will send them out to everyone kind enough to donate £50 or more.
Huge thanks in advance! The HostNation team.