Birkbeck Blog

July 7, 2019 6:08 pm

Many of our guests have, or are seeking academic qualifications, but holding down a place in higher education when you don’t have a stable place to live is almost impossible.

That’s where our hosts can help, and as this blog post shows that has been an enormous source of assistance at Birkbeck University, London.

You can read the full post, featuring guest Alaa, placement co-ordinator Rachel Davenport, and co-founder Sara Nathan, here, or it is reproduced below…

“How can I learn or study when I don’t know where I will sleep tonight?” It’s not a question many Birkbeck students and alumni have to ask themselves, but for one group, it’s a reality.

Students accepted onto The Compass Project for asylum-seekers and refugees face a real challenge in finding somewhere to stay in London while they attend classes. Many of the students are “dispersed” – sent by the Home Office out of London and they can’t afford to pay for somewhere to sleep.

This is where Refugees At Home plays an important role. This small charity matches asylum-seekers and refugees with generous hosts who provide accommodation at their homes.

Compass Project student Alaa explains:

“I received a scholarship from The Compass Project to study at Birkbeck for a full year. I was extremely glad to have this opportunity to get back into higher education. Unfortunately, after failing to get into Home-Office accommodation in London, I didn’t have anywhere to live. I was very sad and disappointed as I thought I had lost the chance to study again, until I was saved by Refugees At Home.

Naureen, the Compass Project coordinator, introduced me to Refugees At Home who, in a very short period of time, connected me with a lovely lady who was willing to host me in her home. She was very welcoming and understanding, and it was a real pleasure to know her. I am now studying my course whilst feeling safe and confident, thanks to the lovely hosts who are offering their help to people in challenging circumstances.”

Refugees At Home has a particular link with Birkbeck through the longest-serving member of the placement team, Rachel Davenport.  Rachel is a Birkbeck alumna and says:

“To me Birkbeck has always been an institution that has offered people the opportunity to study where they might not otherwise have been able to do so. The students on my course were made up of a wide range of backgrounds, which made discussion insightful and varied – it was one of the best parts of my studies.

Being surrounded by a range of perspectives different from your own is invaluable, and something that drew me to working at Refugees a Home. I think that hosting offers the same potential – it opens up new ways of thinking, while at the same time making a profound difference in someone’s life. The Compass Project is a great reflection of these values and I’m really proud that we are able to contribute to it in some way. Many people would not be able to study without the help of hosting along the way, and to lose those voices at Birkbeck would be a great shame.”

Sara Nathan OBE, who is the Co-founder and trustee of Refugees at Home says:

“I’ve hosted about 15 young men in west London so far – from Syria, Sudan, Ethiopia, Iran, Pakistan, Nigeria, Afghanistan and Libya. It’s a life-enhancing experience. They have shared their lives, their stories, their cooking – and some are very good cooks, the others get coached on-line by sisters in Saudi Arabia or mum in Syria. Hosting brings me at least as much as I contribute to my guests’ lives. It’s never dull.”

The charity is a huge support for Birkbeck’s Compass Project. If you’d like to learn more, or find out about becoming a host, visit their website: