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Interview with BHN Host Mike Orme

I sat down in the sun with BHN Host Mike Orme (on the phone and in separate gardens - stupid COVID-19!) to chat about his experience hosting an asylum seeker over the past year. Get ready to be inspired...

What got you into hosting?

“I knew about Moveable Feast [BHN’s catering social enterprise] through Ari Cantwell, who came to the restaurant I owned at the time to do an event. I got a chance to speak to Laura Chester (Hosting Manager) and also heard one of BHN’s members speak. I was really moved by his story, as he explained how BHN had provided him with stable accommodation, helped him to learn English and understand British culture, and also provided him with a purpose in cooking with Moveable Feast. After that evening, I thought about hosting for about nine months. The trigger came when Laura got back in touch and said she had an asylum seeker called Derek who needed a place to stay.”

When did you start hosting Derek and how were the first few weeks?

“I still felt a little unsure, as it seemed like a really big deal letting someone into our home to live with us without really knowing them. My partner and I were also aware that some of BHN’s members wouldn’t be comfortable with the fact we were gay. Laura encouraged us to meet Derek at Thali restaurant with my partner and it felt so right that he moved in two weeks later (Nov 2019)! Meeting him dispelled a lot of our fears. Laura was really great at discerning that we were ready, but just a little nervous, so encouraged us to jump in and see how it went.

It has been a great experience from the beginning, as we all operated on similar rhythms - early to rise in the morning, cooking meals at the same time etc. Before Covid-19, we actually didn’t see Derek very much, as my partner and I were both pretty busy with work and out of the house a lot. Derek was also engaged in various activities in the city, including BHN’s drop-in, and would often be out of the house before 7am. We told him he could use the house as his space (with a few house rules in place for everyone to abide by) and he has been very comfortable here, but it helps he is very tidy and a really respectful man. The dream housemate really.”

How about during lockdown?

“I sold my restaurant, and then the pandemic hit, so we ended up spending a lot more time together, which really solidified our friendship. We focused a lot on gardening and house tasks. It was so nice to get to know him more. His English has also improved hugely, as he attends English lessons most days. In fact, language barriers was one of my initial concerns before starting hosting, as I wasn’t sure how I could communicate expectations or connect with someone who couldn’t speak English. With Derek, he had some understanding, but it was limited. I had to learn quite quickly that speaking slowly and checking he understood what I was saying wasn’t patronising but was necessary to ensure clarity of communication. We have actually had quite a few funny moments with language. Only recently Derek asked me to explain what ‘irony’ meant! It is so difficult to explain certain concepts and words, so unsurprisingly, I gave up!”

You are moving to Wales, and so Derek is moving on to new accommodation within BHN. Do you think you will stay in contact?

“I will definitely stay in contact yes. At the moment, I help him a lot with appointments, travel, admin and his phone, amongst other things and so I want to continue to be a source of support for him whenever I am able.”

Would you host again?

“Yes I would, but I would need to manage my expectations – I wouldn’t expect it to be as easy as it has been with Derek.”

What have you loved the most about hosting?

“Learning about Uganda from Derek. Hearing about his culture, food and stories from home. I’ve loved listening to him talking and laughing with his family, which he does pretty much every evening. He’s genuinely one of the best people I’ve lived with, period.”

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