When your guests arrive you may find yourself in a new situation: living with people you never met before, uncertain of what to do and how to approach challenges, and yet equally, in charge of things as it’s your home. Your guests will be looking to you to know how your household runs, and how things work. You are a host, you are a supporter, you may become a friend, that’s a lot of roles to hold at the same time. How can you navigate them? In this resource we will offer some tips on how to find a hosting style that suits you and your guests.
‘Guest’ is the accepted word used to describe people coming to stay with you through the Homes for Ukraine scheme. However, when thinking about your approach to hosting, thinking about people as ‘guests’ may be a bit misleading. If someone lives in your home for six months or more, you and they may no longer feel that they are simply a “guest” in your home, and the relationship you develop with them will most likely become more of a housemate dynamic.
This will look different for everyone, but things like sharing meals together, making sure communal spaces are tidy or checking in with each other about having friends or family over will be more common as time goes on.
Many people describe the first few days in a new country as a ‘haze’, so be prepared to take care of some practicalities in those initial days – have food ready or be prepared to cook. But after that, discuss with your guests what will work best. Just like it is when you live with a housemate – you’ll get along great with some and end up spending loads of time together. With others you may not connect as well, and you’ll live your own lives interacting occasionally.
If you are hosting someone, it doesn’t mean that you’ll immediately become friends and it’s not a failure on anyone’s part if you don’t. So how you manage day-to-day life – cooking, eating together or separately will depend on you and your guests’ preferences. It may be that your guests enjoy different food than you and prefers to cook for themselves. Or it may be that you share cooking duties. There isn’t a right or wrong answer here – it is about what suits you and your guests best. As a host you are not expected to cover the cost of food for your guests, however, be mindful that they may not have a lot of funds when they first arrive, at least until they receive the initial £200 per person payment from your local authority. You can look at our resource on finical matters for more information.
In each household we all have rules and boundaries. It may be that you never set the heating above 20 degrees, or that you use one chopping board for meat and another for vegetables, or be that your child isn’t allowed sugar after a certain time of day. As you’re preparing for your guests to arrive it is time to reflect on what those rules may be for you and think about how to best communicate those to your guests.
It is important to have conversations that may be difficult, like what you can offer as a host, how long your guests may be able to stay with you (that is definitely a conversation to be had early on). When offering support to your guests think about the long term. You may be able to give them a lift to the jobcentre for the first appointment, but will you be able to do this for every single one? If not then it may be better showing someone how to get there by public transport, so that they can go on their own next time. Hosting and supporting someone for six months or more will feel more like a marathon than a sprint so be mindful of offering your support in such a way that you can sustain it, alternatively, be clear about how the support you offer to your guests may change over time.
It’s important to remember how much power you’re holding in the relationship with your guests – you are essentially their landlord, their supporter, initially you may be the only person they have to talk to in the entire country. That sort of imbalance of power can manifest itself in several ways. It may be that your guests find it difficult to say ‘no’ to you, being worried that they may sound ungrateful. They may be worried to say ‘no’ to an offer of activity like that amazing picnic that you found, they may be worried to say ‘no’ to offers of spending time together, they may be worried to say ‘no’ to a whole range of other things. Make sure to check in with your guests that they are comfortable, that they aren’t doing things for your sake just because you propose them, whenever offering something give them an option to say no.
With that in mind it’s important to remember that as hosts we are not there to judge the choices people make whether it is in relation to their own life or for example how they choose to parent their children.
Another way in which this imbalance of power can manifest itself is the guests seeing the host as ultimate source of information on all things British, from culture to welfare benefits and employment market. Be open when you don’t know an answer to something and whenever possible try to help your guests find the answers to their questions in such a way so that they know where to look next time. Especially with the potential language barrier in mind, it’s important that your guests have something to go back to and look at again in their own time to make sure they’ve understood things correctly.
One of the difficult aspects of being a refugee is being on your own – you move into a town, a city, an area where you may not know anyone, where you have no family or connections. This is even more true for those coming to the UK through Homes for Ukraine whose partners or husbands have to stay in Ukraine.
You may find that soon after arrival your guests rely on you quite a bit as you are essentially the only person they know and can rely on during a very difficult time in their lives. Remember you don’t have to be on your own! There will be people in your area who are keen to get involved and help refugees but aren’t quite able to host anyone. Make sure you take advantage of that and connect your guests with people, with their consent (remember to give them a chance to say “no”), who can do some of activities with them or even take them for a walk and to have a chat to practice English. Pickwell Foundation developed a great resource on how to build a support group around you as a host.
There isn’t one right way to host someone. Every relationship between host and guests will be slightly different and that is absolutely fine – work out what works best for you and your guests!