shorter-term hosting: Kathryn’s experience

Kathryn has hosted refugees through Refugees at Home since 2021.  She’s hosted four guests in her Manchester home, for relatively short times.   We asked her about her hosting experience and why she would recommend short-term hosting to others.

What drew you to hosting refugees?

It was two things really, I work with refugees already, through my work at Freedom from Torture, so I know there is a need for help.  Also, we have a family home, and our three sons have sort of left home – they aren’t quite settled yet – and still come home.  This means we aren’t ready to downsize just yet, and we have these spare rooms just sitting empty.  Before we started hosting, a friend came to stay with us for six months as an emergency, and we found it such a positive experience we thought we would look to find some way to provide the rooms on a short term basis to someone who needed them.

Why did you choose to approach Refugees at Home?

You’re the obvious organisation I turned to – as you help refugees find short term accommodation.  I actually heard about you because Gary Lineker mentioned something about offering his own home through you and the R@H name just sort of stuck! Is that embarrassing? Social media really helps to spread the word about this kind of thing.

Did anyone in your household express concerns about what hosting would be like?

My partner doesn’t have my experience with working with refugees or asylum seekers, so he was a little anxious at first.  We had lots of conversations which helped him to understand a little more about the situations people may be in.  It was unclear to him initially that we would just provide short term accommodation, and we might never know how or why they came to the UK.   What really helped him want to host was understanding that this was a short term commitment, so if things didn’t work out or our circumstances changed, that would work well for us.

We never had any concerns about hosting single men, or whether our guests are female.  In fact, the only strong preference my husband had was not to have a baby in the house; we’ve been there and done that!

Did you have any concerns before your first R@H guest arrived?

I guess we had some concerns; our first guest was a smoker and we wanted to be sure he would only smoke outside – stick to the rules.  Something which felt small, but is really important to us is that we don’t eat meat, so we were anxious that they could still feel comfortable and that we respected what they wanted to eat.  We didn’t know whether our guest would feel relaxed enough to be able to eat with us. This did resolve as we got to know one another well.

We also had a weekend away whilst hosting, and initially we were a bit worried about whether we would feel comfortable with someone we didn’t know very well being in the house whilst we were away.  But actually, once you’ve met your guest, you very quickly get a sense of them and that it’s ok for them to be there on their own.

Can you tell us about the guests you’ve hosted?

We don’t ask guests about how they came to be in the UK, but you do get to know people.  We hosted one guest, a young man who was originally from Iran.  He wants to become a professional wrestler, and so he went to training every single night; and he so wanted to be in Manchester as this is where the British Wrestling team are based.  He is so serious about entering the sport.  We are sports fans, but didn’t know anything about wrestling before he stayed with us.

It was wonderful to talk to him and learn from him about the wrestling world, something he is so passionate about.  It’s something that really helped us to form a bond.  It was a joy to see his positivity, energy and having joy in his life.

I previously told you about how we’d been a little anxious about whether our guests would be comfortable to eat with us. In fact with him, we rarely ate together as he got home later than we did! Thinking back, I know it’s in your Host Guide, but it’s really true that actually it’s a lot to ask of a guest to sit down and share your life, your meals with them – it’s such a big thing to do.  Since then, we’ve always said to guests “you’re welcome to eat with us, we can leave food for you, but it’s up to you”.  This guest tended to get home at around 10pm and he preferred to eat with friends in café’s but he knew he was always welcome to cook for himself or share with us.   He always wanted his own breakfast things; which were different to what we usually eat.   He was very insistent about buying his own food and having his own meals – it was an important lesson for us to learn.

What has been challenging about hosting?

We hosted one guest where her daughter had just gone to university, and I think in retrospect she was in quite a fragile state.  I think I might have misread her, as she showed a lot of enthusiasm for doing things. She joined us for meals and was interested in volunteering locally so I helped her arrange things to do.  Looking back, this was so overwhelming for her, and I had not been sure about this approach.  After I arranged things for her, I think she felt unable to say that she didn’t feel able to take part.  Rather than saying this, she just didn’t turn up to things.  She did go on to move to be near her daughter, which felt right to her.  It was difficult to work through this, and looking back, I think that it was all just too much for her.

Each time I host, I’m learning more and more. Humans are complicated, even before you consider our experiences; we don’t always say what we mean and this is the reality we’ve faced in hosting.

What’s been the best thing about hosting?

It’s hard to say, but I think connecting with someone in the way that hosting allows you to has been the best thing.  In my working life, I connect with refugees and asylum seekers on a professional level; you might be a GP with patients who are seeking asylum.  However, hosting is a completely different experience.

I’ve been able to connect in such a different way with the people I hosted; talking about football to people who love football and that being all our conversation is about has been joyful.

Would you recommend hosting through Refugees at Home?

I would! When we had our Home Visit, we had a really honest conversation with the Home Visitor, and got some brilliant advice from the start, from accepting that guests might not just slip into your family, that you going to have to be clear on your house rules.  I really appreciate that we get the information you have about the guest up front and we can decide whether they feel like a good fit for what we can offer.

The support I’ve received from R@H is great – there’s always someone I can speak to, and knowing that someone will check in with us has been a comfort too.  Knowing that someone is checking in with our guest too; that they are given a chance to say things to R@H or the referrer that can be helpful to our hosting too has been so helpful.