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On November 9th Pam and Bessie were invited to a reception at the House of Lords to celebrate the publication of ‘Investing in the Future’, an evaluation of the work of the Southampton and Winchester Visitors’ Group.

We had heard of the SWVG but knew very little about them.

We discovered they were an organisation similar to LCofS but their focus is almost entirely on housing – they run a scheme whereby they place vulnerable homeless asylum seekers in rooms rented from one of a number of landlords with whom they have built up a relationship. The asylum seeker stays in the accommodation for as long as they need to or until it is clear that there is no longer any possibility of them being granted leave to remain. As well as the room they receive a weekly allowance of £25.

Some asylum seekers who are staying with friends or family receive an allowance of £10 ‘sofa money’ to enable them to contribute to household expenses. Each client has a ‘visitor’ who sees them regularly and provides help and support, each visitor has a back-up visitor to take over if they are ill or away, and there is a system of monthly ‘support groups’ for visitors. It is all very well-considered and professional which impressed us.

However, they are also quite a wealthy organisation – their annual budget is in the region of £100,000 a year – and their client base is quite small. Over a three year period to August 2011 they helped 154 clients.

It is always interesting to see how other organisations function – and to do so on the terrace of the House of Lords while sipping tea and eating scones with jam and clotted cream was a great privilege. Only a handful of other organisations were represented at the event and we were surprised – and rather flattered – to be the only City of Sanctuary representatives.