In 2015, Paul Hutchings was running a successful Brighton-based marketing research company called Kindle Research. Like many of us, he was moved by news reports about the growing problem for refugees in Calais. Unlike just about all of us, he did something practical about it. He hired a van and went to Calais for the weekend where he met John Sloan and ended up helping for 6 months.
In essence, Paul has never come back. Paul self-funded for the first 18 months and now is reliant on donations to allow him able to continue.
In 2016, Paul and John established Refugee Support to support refugees in Greece and across Europe. As of October 2017, Refugee Support:
have welcomed 500 volunteers from around 35 countries to work with them
operated on 6 camps in Greece and currently on 4
are about to being operations in Bangladesh with the Rohingya refugees
have developed strong working relationships with large humanitarian organisations and local communities alike
work to a very strong ethos of providing Aid with Dignity
Those of us that were listening to the interview had two hats on. The over-riding one was that of being moved by Paul’s journey, and properly overwhelmed by hearing such a personal account.
To read more of their journey, stories and news, find them here:
The other hat we had on was on our business heads. Paul and John took enormous risks, and still do, in establishing and running the organisation. Here are some of the lessons we learned:
How establishing clear boundaries and a concise focus is so vital:
Paul described how often they had been forced to say ‘no’ to individuals and organisations that have wanted help. Clearly that remains a very difficult thing to say, but they have learned that always saying “yes” can lead to an erosion of their guiding principle, Aid with Dignity. For example, instead of handing out resources to anyone that asked in an ad-hoc way, they started a system of shops and currency in the camps to promote a sense of normality and stability. Working out boundaries is a must.
How working with a business partner can be tough:
Paul and John had a rocky start, with so many demands in so many ways on them both. However, Paul recounts that after that initially bumpy process, they now have each found the best roles for themselves in the organisation – and roles that complement each other. It worked and continues to do so because they care so much and work hard to avoid the trap that many other volunteers fall into of making it about them. It is about the refugees, the volunteers, the donors – everyone.
The mental toll:
Staying grounded and positive in the midst of so much sorrow is not easy. Paul described how important it is to find your way to get through it, don’t hide it away. Share it, pace yourself, keep fit and healthy – they are all basic necessities to having the resource to keep going and maintaining a sense of well being.
How important it is to empower others you work with:
Refugee Support put everything they do though the lens of Aid with Dignity. For example, the kitchens on the camps are run by refugees. The language school is led by volunteers and staffed by refugee teachers. However, it is also important to remember the whole ‘community’ – donors, volunteers and locals too. Everyone needs to feel included and valued.
Knowing what success looks like:
Clearly for an organisation like Refugee Support, this is not an easy answer. The situation for refugees only seems to grow worse by the day. Maybe it is in the individual stories of a refugee family establishing a life in another country that Refugee Support helped on their journey.
Towards the end of the interview, someone asked what kinds of skills Refugee Support looked for in its volunteers and how businesses can help. Here is a re-cap and as like me you are likely to be moved to want to get involved, I have put the relevant links beside each:
How can businesses can get involved?
Volunteers are always needed:
On the camps. There are literally all age groups and the basic skill is to be a warm person with a ready smile. Businesses could also participate by funding a member of staff to volunteer for a couple of weeks.
With expertise. There are a raft of people offering voluntary support in their own countries such as running a social media stream, designing goods, writing newsletters, etc. Paul mentioned they are currently looking for someone to help with some bookkeeping and someone to help them be proactive with their PR.
Money makes it easier to respond appropriately on the ground and to keep John and Paul going. Donation details here:
POSTSCRIPT by JULIA CHANTERAY:
“That’s a great idea of businesses being able to help by sponsoring an employee to go and help the Refugee Support team for a couple of weeks. Think what they’d learn in terms of management and leadership to bring I’m pretty sure many of us could also spare an employee for an afternoon a week to help with the work that’s being done in the UK.
Thanks for suggesting Paul to speak at the Brighton Summit, Susi. It’s too easy to compartmentalize our work and our desire to help others, so it was great to be able to talk about how the two intersect and what we can learn from Paul’s important work.”