The Guardian – ‘Living with a refugee gives you a real understanding of what is important’

July 7, 2019 6:00 pm

Refugees at Home host, and voluntary trustee, Rachel Mantell, spoke to the Guardian about the practicalities of providing a safe place for a refugee.

Rachel talks through why she started hosting, the challenges of catering for an extra person in the house, and the lessons she has learned from a variety of refugees from around the world.

You can read the whole article below, or click here to find it on the Guardian website.

Name: Rachel Mantell
Age: 40
Income: More than £100,000
Occupation: Self-employed management consultant

I began opening up my home to refugees three years ago. I had been volunteering in Calais, while working as a management consultant. I’m the mother of a five-year-old boy and when I saw children in the camp that were my son’s age, it would get me in the gut. My partner Chris and I have a spare bedroom and it occurred to me that inviting a refugee to stay with us could make a real, tangible difference to someone’s life as so many refugees in the UK end up homeless.

I got in touch with the charity Refugees at Home and the next thing we knew, we had a 28-year-old Syrian documentary film-maker living in our spare room for a year. When he moved out, a couple with a newborn baby moved in. We’re now getting ready to welcome our next refugee, who will be our eighth. All of them are vetted by the charity – I would never allow anyone in my home if I thought they posed any sort of risk to my son. I’ve also become a voluntary trustee of Refugees at Home, and in my free time I help them to fulfil their aim of connecting homeowners with refugees and asylum seekers.

I suppose I could have simply donated money to Refugees at Home instead – and I do donate about £200 a month to charities. But you can end up feeling like you’re throwing money endlessly into this kind of pit, as charities will always need more money. The spare room was something we had through good luck – we had bought a wreck in Brixton before it became fashionable and extended up into the loft.

We’re incredibly lucky because we earn enough not have to worry about having a couple of extra mouths to feed or slightly higher bills, so hosting refugees hasn’t made much difference to us financially. I’m a walking cliche, though, and only buy fair trade, organic and free-range food – which made it harder to find halal meat I would purchase.

I am the higher earner in our household but my partner Chris also earns a good salary doing operational research for the NHS. We have both worked hard to be in the financial position we are in, but from a position of advantage. We had free university education and a secure home, and now we have what everyone deserves: a safe place to sleep and enough money to do some fun things and enjoy life.

Chris and I share the joint expenses between us. Our biggest monthly expense is childcare – in total, that comes to £3,000 a month. Our mortgage is about £1,000 a month, and our utility bills £600 to £700. We spend £800 a month on groceries and another £200 eating out. We also spend £6,000 a year on holidays and excursions.

Living with a refugee gives you a real understanding about what is more important than money. It takes actually having a conversation with someone who has lost everything to really bring that home. It makes you realise how lucky you are to even do something like pay your taxes. Every single refugee who has stayed with me, when they got a job, they were thrilled to get their first HMRC letter. To witness someone being excited to be able to contribute to society – that gives you a different perspective on money, and on life in general.

I don’t see myself as a particularly good person. For me, it’s about doing what’s right. I don’t think I could live with myself knowing that there was something really easy I could do to help, and I didn’t do it. Meeting refugees has really brought to me that this could happen to any of us. It sounds cheesy, but I want to be the person my son would meet if, God forbid, he ever had to run away from this country. I want to be the mother who gives him a home.

As told to Donna Ferguson