I am passionate about wider working class inclusion and representation in all spheres of life, but this is my immediate field of influence, this is where I work day in day out and its where I have a voice.

The phrase ‘community cohesion’ is a popular one within the spheres of refugee work.  I’ve observed many refugee initiatives over the past 17 years claiming to aid refugee integration and build ‘community cohesion’ (which implies a cohering between two or more components from the same community). But in reality this has been a rarity. Instead, volunteers and organisations’ staff from more affluent areas across the city are parachuted in to deliver a service, and then leave when finished. If no other group from the community was involved, how can this be deemed ‘community cohesion’?

This has shaped my conviction that it is essential to make sure working-class communities are involved and engaged with their new neighbours and the initiatives to resettle them. Side-lining and ignoring them in the process is is no longer acceptable and counter-productive to the aims of cohesion and integration. Resentment can grow if it’s perceived that one group within a community is receiving preferential treatment.

Ken Loach captures the importance of this in his latest film ‘The Old Oak’


Whilst not wanting to discourage volunteers from more affluent communities, I feel there is an important need to focus on engaging potential volunteers from the areas where the majority of migrants are housed. This is not about certain groups not being welcome around the table, it is an acknowledgment that key groups are missing from the table and the need for that to change. I believe creative ways of involving host communities will build real cohesion and resilience.


I want to see how the voluntary sector can work more productively in engaging working class communities to help their new neighbours integrate and feel a part of their new home.

To achieve my goal, I planned to visit two countries to experience first-hand and gain insight from projects which use host communities in the integration process.

Firstly, I visited San Francisco, the first City of Sanctuary in the USA, to learn about their established grassroots, volunteer-based projects that support refugees with integration and language learning.

Secondly, I visited the Netherlands, which is well-known for its successful approach to language learning and integration policies for migrant communities. I want to learn how this translates to voluntary projects; for example, the ‘De Meevaart’ centre in Amsterdam successfully creates opportunities for local people to connect with refugees.

I consider:

  • 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 also want to show how working class communities have deep-rooted connections to their areas and offer a wealth of knowledge and understanding that’s often overlooked, and also demonstrate how their insights are critical for genuine integration. I’ll also endeavour to show that we need to tap into these local perspectives, and identify their genuine concerns and potential solutions when welcoming refugees into their neighbourhoods.

Finally, for true community cohesion, it’s vital to show that decisions aren’t made solely from the top for refugee integration; the local community’s grass-roots involvement is key. While the dedication of volunteers from affluent areas is commendable, it’s essential to ensure that the local community is actively participating, leading the way and resourced as much as possible. I suspect that this balanced approach is the only way to ensure genuine and lasting integration.

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.