I do not think I could have visited two more contrasting cities. Yet, there were common threads which ran through both, solidifying my learning and recommendations. It was interesting to observe the same goals achieved against the backdrops of two very different environments. I would say the UK currently sits in the middle of the two, although our current trajectory of travel, if nothing changes will align us more with the USA, hostile with little social infrastructure or finance.

My aims as mentioned previously, were to explore the following in the organisations I visited:

  • What is their ethos for engaging working-class host communities?
  • What are their methods of engagement?
  • What are the barriers? How have they overcome them?
  • What procedures are put in place?
  • I want to learn how these countries’ approaches can be adapted to the UK’s model.

I want to learn how these countries’ approaches can be adapted to the UK’s model. I offer the following recommendations based on that learning:

Recognise the importance of involving host, working class communities.
It may seem obvious, but I have witnessed time and time again in the UK the side-lining of host communities in a bid to work with the refugees placed in them.  This practice is divisive.

Through the previous pages, I hope you are now persuaded by this and see the benefit to all involved. As I said earlier, ‘community cohesion’ implies a cohering between two or more components from the same community. Continuing to overlook and ignore one of those components will not only result in failure, it will also prove counterproductive to the aims.

Proactively target recruitment of volunteers from working-class communities
Whilst regular means of recruitment (websites, social media etc) often attract volunteers from more affluent backgrounds, I have found that recruiting people from disadvantaged working-class communities requires a more targeted approach. As Lisa Hoffman from East Bay Sanctuary reflected “we had to go to them”

Identifying the community ‘hubs’ or ‘anchors’ is key in the USA, these were places of faith in Amsterdam, the local community centres; in the UK, it might be the local TARA (Tenants and Residents Association) or a library coffee morning places where locals willingly gather.

Many organisations I visited were able to offer incentives for volunteering access to training programmes, free meals, help with job searching and CV building. Consider what your organisation could offer for volunteers personal development on top of the benefits volunteering brings, then reflect this in your advertising.

Develop understanding of the barriers faced
Understand barriers faced by working-class communities: Organisations had taken the time to understand some of the barriers working-class communities face, from zero-hour jobs, shift work,  caring responsibilities, lack of confidence, and lack of access to resources (transport being a key one). They had tailored their volunteer roles to overcome these issues.

Diversify services and roles.
Across both countries, the services offered by volunteers were wide-ranging, from teaching English to navigating transport systems or helping someone at the supermarket. There was something for everyone and  being able to offer a variety of roles proved key to reaching a broader volunteer pool and in tackling some of the identified barriers.

Develop a flexible approach
In both Amsterdam and San Francisco, the recognition of people being ‘time poor’ was identified as a barrier and successfully addressed by using small teams of volunteers to deliver certain programmes rather than depending on a specific one or two. This enabled volunteers who could not commit to a regular weekly time slot to either ‘dip in and dip out’ or be included in a less time-demanding rota system.

Training for the volunteers was delivered in the local areas to reduce the reliance on poor public transport for those without cars.
Consider the rigidity of your current volunteer programmes. What could be changed to address some of these barriers and create a more flexible inclusive approach?

Work for the community as a whole.
Many working class communities already feel marginalised, abandoned and ‘left behind.’ We will probably never have the resources that Amsterdam enjoys, but we can adapt their ethos services for ALL.

Inclusion and integration need to be about the inclusion of everyone, including non-migrants who feel marginalised or excluded. When people at the bottom of society are competing for scraps, organisations who come in and offer to one group and not another inadvertently promote division and foster resentment.

Avoiding differentiation between migrants and non-migrants within a community in terms of the services offered is not only important now, but will be even more crucial in the time ahead when services come under even more pressure.

Challenge narratives:
Challenge not only the daily stream of negative narratives surrounding refugees, but also the ones which are often levied at working class communities.

Frequently re posted on social media following the 2016 EU referendum.

These are not always as easy to detect, as they are often couched in other things helping them to remain acceptable and hide in plain sight.

Classism today may not be as overt as it was in decades gone by but it is still alive and well, active for example  in the sneering of working-class culture, stereotyping of people from council estates or deriding those who voted differently. Brexit gave rise to the blaming and demonising of whole working class communities and still remains an acceptable means of doing so to this day.

Build track records, persevere:

Against the backdrop of a hostile environment, a lot of the organisations I visited in the USA were initially only funded to deliver basic legal services for migrants.

Using the small amount of resources available, they developed programs which used volunteers to deliver the much needed wrap around services, persevering in these to build robust track records successfully demonstrating a case for their necessity and merits. This  eventually attracted the additional funding needed, enabling them to embed these services within their core programs.

On my journey I’ve been privileged to witness the power of genuine community engagement, where the essence of  ‘community cohesion’  is not just a buzzword but a lived reality. I’ts evident that for true integration to occur, its imperative that we involve every layer of the community, especially the existing working class  who hold the key to unlocking genuine connections.
The lessons I’ve learned from San Francisco and the Netherlands have only solidified my belief that we can, and must do better in the UK.

I am deeply grateful for the insights and experiences shared with me throughout this research, it is my hope that we can take these learnings and apply them in our own communities, ensuring that every individual, regardless of their background feels valued, understood and truly at home.

The journey towards a more cohesive society is a collective one and I am committed to playing my part in it.

Copyright © 2023 by Kerry Cressey. The moral right of the author has been asserted.
The views and opinions expressed in this report and its content are those of the author and not of the Churchill Fellowship or its partners, which have no responsibility or liability for any part of the report. All images are the author’s own unless otherwise stated.