“We’ve had Facebook messages saying ‘we are atheists but we love what you are doing”
St Mark’s Church in Milton Keynes handed the keys to a house to a Syrian refugee family last week after a fundraising campaign to furnish their new home with everything from toothbrushes to a fridge freezer. In a blog written before the fundraising was completed, Rev Paul Oxley, Vicar of St Mark’s, describes how the church ‘crowdsourced’ items through an online ‘wish list’ as well as raising money through coffee mornings and collections. The family was admitted as part of the 2015 pledge by the then Prime Minister David Cameron to resettle 20,000 Syrian refugees, drawn from camps near the conflict zone, in the UK by 2020.
“We are part of the Refugees Welcome group in Milton Keynes, including the Red Cross and we are working in partnership with the Council. Last year three or four refugee families moved to Milton Keynes and we helped with that. This year we were asked if we could take responsibility for one of three houses – a local Baptist Church has taken a house and a firm of solicitors has taken another. We are organising everything from toothbrushes to a sofa and a fridge freezer. We put together a wish list on Amazon and we are fundraising for other items – some people have just donated and some people have held coffee mornings or whip rounds at work. Our aim is that when the family arrive, they will walk in and everything will be there. We have bought children’s books in Arabic that we will put on the book shelf in their bedroom and teddy bears.
We want there to be plants on the window sill and for the house to be as welcoming as possible. Our approach to furnishing the house is if it isn’t good enough for our own families, it isn’t good enough for them. The family will have arrived with nothing having been in a refugee camp for three or four years. We have seen amazing generosity. We’ve had Facebook messages saying ‘we are atheists but we love what you are doing, can we donate towards buying a mattress?’ We’ve also had donations from local businesses and shops.
Some people thought about what their family likes, such as going to the cinema and have bought the family cinema vouchers. We have started to put together a book from the church where people can write down places they can go to, where the best parks are, the best shopping is and where you can find the best bargains. We are told, as you can imagine, that the families feel shell shocked when they arrive. It will be great to have a book that shows them how welcome they are.’