Refuge, revival and resolution
25 April 2018
Most doors are shut to asylum seekers, but Metropolitan has turned a disused building in Derby into a first of its kind facility for destitute migrants
Pedram is moving out. The young man from Iran is ready to leave Restart Point and start the next phase of his life.
Veronika and Valbone, co-ordinators at Metropolitan’s hostel for destitute migrants in Derby, fuss around him like mums sending their firstborn off to university. Does he have curtains? Did the cooker come? Don’t watch telly without a licence.
The local authority has provided Pedram with a flat, ten minutes away. He’s painted the walls and filled the rooms with donated furniture. New carpets have been laid. It is starting to look homely.
Just a few months ago, the religious convert was homeless, hungry and hopeless. Things changed when he was referred by a local support charity to Restart Point – the first facility of its kind in the UK.
The newly-renovated block down a suburban street offers warm, comfortable, well-equipped and rent free accommodation for up to ten people. Basic food is provided, courtesy of food partnerships with Tesco, Sainsbury’s and a local multicultural greengrocer, as well as travel to essential appointments, everyday guidance and legal advice.
It is currently home to people like Zakaria from Somalia, who has just launched a fresh claim for asylum after three years in the country, one Home Office knockback and a year of rough sleeping.
And Mubark, who came to Britain from war-torn Sudan in 2015.He’s just been granted leave to remain and Restart Point is a temporary “paradise” as he searches for permanent accommodation.
Or Shorab, who has reached the end of his journey. He has volunteered to return to Iran, rather than face deportation.
Without homes, income or food, they had nowhere else to turn.
Restart Point opened in November, giving new life to a vacant building. Metropolitan couldn’t sell it and nobody wanted to rent it.
The hostel is a headline investment by Metropolitan’s Migration Foundation. Now in its tenth year, the foundation continues to be driven by its original aim of helping to alleviate destitution experienced by migrants in Britain.
A decade ago, Metropolitan had a government contract to provide asylum seekers housing and support services. When this ended, Metropolitan sold the property and invested the proceeds in an endowment, which is now producing an annual return of c£0.5m.
“We put capital into the renovation of Restart Point,” says Dominic Briant, Metropolitan’s Head of Migration. “We also pay for the running of the building without any government funding.”
Why Derby? Partly because of the property opportunity and partly because of the scale of the issue in the East Midlands city, where there are more than 800 asylum seekers at any one time. But it’s a model that Dominic hopes to replicate in other parts of the country – most likely in London or Nottingham.
“We want to help resolve issues for migrants and the community, whether that’s going home or establishing the legal right to stay,” says Dominic. “Some of our residents get a month of support and legal advice; others stay for many months.”
Waiting for decisions is dull and customers at Restart Point are encouraged to be part of the community. They all volunteer. Some help out with maintenance at a local school. Others take part in clean-up days at the local park. They all learn English, play computer games and cook – usually dishes from home. They went bowling recently with hostel manager Kevin Robinson, who is now manager and head coach of Restart United – the hostel football team that plays in the local league.
“We want people to be able to hold their heads high,” Dominic explains. “We want our customers to participate and add value to the community. The alternative is to believe there is no point and to wait for negative things to happen and to act that way.”
They are on edge in the Restart Point lounge right now. The postman has delivered a fistful of formal letters and that could mean bad news. But Veronika and Valbone are on hand to translate the routine letters from Metropolitan and reassure the residents.
Beyond the hostel, the Migration Foundation has co-founded a hosting scheme in Derby. Local residents were asked to give a room to a migrant in need for a month at a time. It is early days, but a few hosts have already signed up.
The endowment also funds grants for migrant organisations, cultural integration schemes and research. But Dominic is quick to stress that the Migration Foundation is not trying to change the world.
“We accept reality. We are not activists. We work alongside the aims of the Home Office. We are not campaigning to open the UK’s borders. What we do want is to end destitution and resolve crisis situations.”
And for that, Restart Point’s residents are grateful. “Even my face has changed,” says Zakaria, a few months into his residency. “I don’t look homeless – I have somewhere. Thanks so much, Metropolitan, for helping people like us.”