A Host's Story
Sarah and her partner Peter hosted Alex* for two years. He’s recently moved to a new place, and they are looking forward to hosting someone else in the coming months.
Sarah and Peter first heard about Bristol Hospitality Network (BHN) after deciding they wanted to do something to help refugees. After looking online at different charities, local and national, they decided to contact BHN. This was because of the charities’ focus on the matching process and their impressive level of support offered to asylum seekers and the hosts themselves. She noted that “we hadn’t done this before, and we didn’t know how it would work. The fact BHN helped members with their asylum claim and also offered things like English classes and a thriving community drop-in meant we felt like we were supported and working together. This was really reassuring. All we needed to do was provide a room, and that was enough”.
Once they contacted BHN, Sarah and Peter were put in contact with an existing host, who talked them through their own experience of hosting. “That encouraged us more” explained Sarah “because it was like ‘Yes that sounds good. We like their story and we can do it’.” After this, they visited BHN’s Welcome Centre in Easton and met with Rachael Bee, the Co-Founder and Director of the charity, who answered all their questions. “We saw how much support was being offered and decided we would like to play a part in that”.
A few weeks later, Sarah and Peter met Alex for the first time, getting to know each other over a cup of coffee in a cafe (a neutral space), discussing how their hosting relationship could work. Sarah recollected the day Alex joined their home. “As soon as he walked in the door, Peter gave him his key. His face was an absolute joy to see because he was really, really happy to be given a key - I think it was because we showed we trusted him. Such a special moment, as it completely counteracted the hostile environment he had been experiencing thus far.” Sarah and Peter showed Alex to his room and gave him some time to get organised, and then they shared a coffee together. “From very early on we felt comfortable with him” Sarah said. “We thought it would be more difficult than it was. We were open to it being a challenge and thought it would be quite tough practically and emotionally. Truth be told, it was emotional to hear about his story, but after that it settled down and was much easier...really, it’s been an absolute privilege.”
Sarah and Peter work long hours, and Alex was quite independent. He had his own bedroom and bathroom, and they all shared the kitchen. “Alex loved being out in the garden, and so do we” said Sarah. “We learnt to be comfortable and just sit, chatting with each other.” Though Sarah and Peter don’t speak the same language as Alex, they said it wasn’t a problem. Sarah remembers ringing BHN a couple of times in the early days, who were able to help with translation and English classes for Alex. BHN was also on hand to answer any questions, “We didn’t have any expertise in this area, so it was really good to feel we could ask BHN anything, and they would be there to help us, whatever the question”.
“I would recommend hosting to anyone with a spare room” said Sarah. “If you’re thinking about hosting but are feeling unsure - asking questions like how will it work? Will we get on? Would we like them? - Then be assured that none of those things will be a problem. Talk to BHN, who have been matching asylum seekers and hosts for over ten years. They will put you in touch with people like me who can communicate the real experience of hosting, which has some amazing moments, but generally, is pretty normal.”
Reflecting on their experience of hosting Alex, Sarah said “It’s a perfect way to help asylum seekers, by offering space to somebody who needs a place to live. It’s not just the physical space of the room, it’s also about showing humanity and compassion...it’s easier than you expect and you get so much from it. You think that you are offering something, but actually you’re getting a lot more than what you offer.”
*name changed to protect identity