Housing destitute asylum seekers

Keith Burdett and his wife took 'a leap of faith' and over two years invested their life savings in two properties to house vulnerable asylum seekers. After Keith's wife Ethel died, Keith sold one of the houses, but continues to be closely involved in the other. Keith shares the story of how they came to support the two houses.

Group of people from Sheffield meeting around a poster saying 'let refugees learn'

I was inspired to help the charity ASSIST Sheffield after hearing another member of Sheffield Meeting, Craig Barnett, talk about the barriers facing asylum seekers in the UK. ASSIST is a small Sheffield-based charity that helps destitute asylum seekers by providing accommodation, advice and other support to those in most need or distress.

This was in 2006, after which my wife Ethel and I took a leap of faith and set up a house for destitute women asylum seekers. These are the ones who for various reasons failed their first application for asylum in this country and for the next four, five, six years receive no state assistance. We were able to buy this house from our savings and my Quaker meeting agreed to pay for the running costs. ASSIST appoints women to be our guests.

An invitation to do more

In January 2007 we had both been feeling God's invitation to do more. ASSIST told us of cases of many men in similarly precarious situations. In the paper I saw a property auction, guide price £40k. The viewing was on the Monday, we both saw it and felt right about it.

"When is the auction?" – "Tomorrow!" We did not have the money to buy the house nor the means to run it unless the Quaker meeting would take on a second house, so we were mad! A dear Friend offered a financial contribution which tipped the balance in our favour, so we went to the auction and got the house for £48k. The following sequence of events was like being on a runaway train, crossing Sheffield with an envelope with £4000 in used 20s to support the deposit cheque signed knowing it would bounce, asking two building societies for a mortgage and being refused.

Support from the bank

Our bank seemed the only escape so we made an appointment with the mortgage adviser. "So who are these people you want to support – I hadn't heard of this asylum problem – it's awful, how do you maintain your present house?" "My Quaker meeting supports it." "Who are the Quakers?" After explaining, she telephoned her adviser and came back to us saying, "Because of what you are doing we'll give you the mortgage and treat you as first time buyers so there will be no extra fees and I'll put it through as urgent to meet the 28 day deadline." Wow!

Running the house

The next stage was to arrange the support to run it. I rang the chair of ASSIST to say a second house was on its way. "That's funny," he said. "We've just received an offer for the next two years to support our accommodation so don't worry about the running costs." What a coincidence, if that's what it was.

So then we needed to furnish the place; another Friend rang up and asked “did you get all of the furniture you needed for your (first) house?" His father-in-law had died, so they gave us all of his furniture. In the end the whole crazy enterprise ended wonderfully! – we'd got another house!

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