MBEs for York couple providing a home for young refugees 

Bec Horner

Bec Horner

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MBEs for York couple providing a home for young refugees 

York couple Nigel and Rachel Poulton met whilst volunteering in a refugee camp in Thailand 38 years ago. They have both always had a desire to help refugees and children and have spent much of their lives to doing just that.

Still, when the Cabinet Office rang them just before Christmas to confirm their email addresses, and they subsequently each received an MBE in the New Year’s Honours for their services to fostering, especially during Covid, it was a total surprise.

Nigel and Rachel have seven children, most of whom are grown up now. They also care for teenage refugees who have had to flee their troubled homelands including Syria, Iran and Sudan.

Having been foster carers for over a decade, it was 5 years ago, horrified by seeing more and more refugees in need, that they approached City of York Council asking them what we, as a city, could do to support and welcome young asylum seekers seeking sanctuary in the UK.

Nigel and Rachel’s home became a Welcome Centre, where young refugees could stay initially, and be supported with their wellbeing, health and education, before a more permanent home could be found for them.

The time spent at our house got longer and longer. There is a constant need for foster carers in York.

Nigel and Rachel get to know the sad details of how these young people have had to leave their families, often witnessing horrendous situations such as family members being killed. They hear stories of the harrowing journeys, where people drowning was commonplace, they have taken to get to UK. Not just leaving physical scars, but psychological ones as well.

Teenagers as young as thirteen are making dangerous sea crossings.Recently two arrived just after midnight, each carrying a small plastic bag containing their only possessions and a few damp, ill fitting clothes.

Along with their heart breaking stories, the young people that join their family often bring a lot of joy.

They know they are safe, so as well as tears there is much laughter. It is a fun household. And do you know, they all arrive supporting a premiership football team, and are very knowledgeable about them too. So we watch a lot of football matches with great enthusiasm.

Something they also do together on a daily basis is share a meal. The boys may make suggestions on the food they prepare, help out and although mealtimes are often happy, they can also be painful.

A simple chicken and rice dish reminded one of our boys of his Mum and transported him back to his homeland. It brought a lump to his throat, and ours too.

Most of the boys would love to go back to their homeland eventually. If the situation changes in their country, that is what they would do. In the meantime they all work hard and have ambitions for the future.It’s important to keep hope alive.

The best thing is seeing things improve in their lives, watching them have fun and seeing them achieve at school and college. Fostering has given us so much. There is such a need in York right now, we know it feels like a risk, but we wish more people would give it a try.

Could you be a foster carer in York?

Our city definitely needs more foster carers.  There is a high demand for more people to share their homes with children and young people. Foster carers come in all shapes and forms, it isn’t just families or couples, single people who have room to share their space and lives are as much needed.

The Fostering Team welcome new enquirers and are able to give all the information needed.The youth homelessness charity SASH also offer the older age range of local young people and refugees homes to live in with their hosts.

Not sure and want more experience?

For those people who are interested in fostering, but don’t feel they have the skills or confidence to do it straight away, an ideal route to get experience is by becoming a mentor at children’s charity The Island.

Here you get fully trained in supporting and mentoring young people with complex challenges and make a huge difference in their lives.

Nigel just happens to be the Chief Executive Officer of The Island. Supporting young people is in his blood.

We have several foster carers and adopters who’s started life as a mentor at The Island. These outcomes feels really good.

If you would like to consider fostering or adopting, contact the Fostering Team at City of York Council for a chat and to learn all about it.

Nigel and Rachel are also very happy to chat to you to tell you about their experience of it and answer any questions you might have.

The Island currently have many young people in York who need a mentor.

Could you provide the stability to a young disadvantaged York child to build up their confidence and self-esteem? In the first instance, The Island ask for people to be able to offer a regular commitment over a period of a year. Find out all about Mentoring at The Island.

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