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The Kelvedon Parish of St Mary Immaculate and the Holy Archangels is working alongside Refugee Support Braintree District and Essex Integration to settle an Afghan refugee family in the area. Parishioners were moved by the scenes of fear and panic that filled our screens last year, when desperate Afghans who had worked for the British Army and Government queued and scrambled to escape Taliban rule and retribution. Seven months on, many of the refugee families lucky enough to make it to the UK are still stranded in hotel rooms with no way of rebuilding their lives.

Marcelle Smith, who is leading Kelvedon Parish’s Afghan Resettlement Support Group, says the parish response was prompted both by their plight and an appeal from Caritas Brentwood. She says it has been a steep learning curve for the group, which had two main priorities: locate philanthropic landlords prepared to rent to refugees at a reasonable rate; and raise funds to supplement the support offered by the UK government. “Supporting a family to resettle is going to take at least two years. It requires training (given by Essex Integration, a charity contracted by Essex County Council to resettle refugees), dedication, cooperation and prayer.”

She adds: “We have had a terrific response from our priest, Monsignor Gordon Read and from the parishioners in our three churches. They have shown compassion and generosity with amazing one-off and monthly donations – and the offer of a house has come from within the parish. Local businesses and parishioners donated superb prizes for our recent raffle which raised over £1,500 and we are planning an ambitious online auction this month which includes Arsenal tickets, a week’s holiday in Norfolk, Ollie Murs merchandise and a lunch at the Ivy Market Grill.”

What is challenging, she says, is being able to retain an available property while getting agreement from ECC and then allocation of a family from the Home Office – which can take months. The group is hoping for assistance from local MP Priti Patel on this, as she has helped in a previous situation.

Marcelle adds: “Once a family is settled, we will act as befrienders who visit and help with a multitude of everyday matters for all members of the family. It’s amazing what you discover about yourself and your church community by doing something like this! Our group has such a variety of talents and skills and we can’t wait to finally meet our Afghan family and our parishioners can’t wait to get updates on how they are settling in.”

For other parishes considering such a project, she says, Caritas Brentwood ([email protected]) has got a lot to offer in terms of how to start and where to go for help. “Google is also good when you feel confused! You could try forming a support group with your parish partners. And Kelvedon Parish would be happy to lend a guiding hand.”

REFUGEE COMMUNITY SUPPORT GROUP: A volunteer group is being set up at St John Payne in Greenstead Parish, in conjunction with the Diocese of Brentwood and Caritas Brentwood, to raise funds and provide practical support for a refugee family, to be housed in Colchester. Anyone interested in becoming involved or finding out more is warmly invited to attend a meeting, chaired by Fr Dominic Howarth, on Saturday 7 May 2022 at 1.30 pm, at St John Payne Catholic Church Hall, Blackthorn Avenue, Colchester CO4 3QD. Please email [email protected] for more information.