Housing for asylum seekers is primarily driven by cost, so areas of the country with cheaper housing, such as the North West, have seen far greater numbers seeking asylum than other parts of the UK. People already living in these areas are not consulted, and asylum seekers have no choice where they are sent, so both groups can be left feeling disempowered and anxious.
The aim of this project is to bring these two groups together, to build a greater understanding of each other by sharing what they have in common, to form social networks and to build a stronger sense of community.
The British Red Cross commissioned Hitch to devise, implement, and evaluate a project to tackle prejudice and discrimination towards refugees and asylum seekers.
The project, which is currently ongoing, focuses on areas with the greatest numbers of people seeking asylum, so the first phase is being delivered in Liverpool and Greater Manchester.
In partnership with the National Social Marketing Centre, Hitch conducted a secondary review, which supports evidence of the application of 'contact theory’. This research reveals that contact between two groups works best to reduce prejudice if it involves joint activities and a common aim.
We established two key audiences: young people and the “worried middle” and, to understand more about their attitudes and behaviours towards refugees and asylum seekers, invited them to share their thoughts at four focus groups.
In addition, we set up stakeholder co-creation workshops, inviting a mix of community partners and organisations, some who already worked directly with refugees, to meet and share their experiences. They identified ‘togetherness’ and ‘sharing’ as being important to the project.
Following a testing phase, the ‘Open Arms’ project began with a series of meetings across Liverpool and Greater Manchester.
Our aim was to record a positive shift in attitudes of people involved in these activities up to the end of 2018.
The Open Arms programme was independently evaluated. Here are some of the headlines:
- An increase in the extent to which refugees and asylum seekers and host communities participants felt part of their community.
- A statistically significant sample demonstrated a positive shift in attitude, where ‘hope’ of refugees and asylum seekers about the future for themselves and their family living in the UK improved.
- More of the host community stated that they knew a refugee or asylum seeker and there was an increase in the number of host participants answering that they were friends with a refugee or asylum seeker.
- Activities appear to help reduce feelings of isolation among refugees and asylum seekers.
- Word-of-mouth was the most common method of referral for both the host community and refugees and asylum seekers.
Positive outcomes led to a recommendation for Open Arms to be continued.