Purpose: This is a joint update from the subgroups that feed into the Multi Agency Forum (MAF), which supports operational planning of the Bibby Stockholm barge in Portland. The MAF consists of representatives from the Home Office, Dorset Council, Portland Town Council, Weymouth Town Council, Dorset Police, Dorset & Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Service, NHS Dorset, and the barge operators Landry & Kling and CTM. Please share the following information with your networks.

Site update

New residents continue to arrive, in line with plans agreed with local agencies. There is an increased turnover of people, as residents receive a decision on their asylum application and right to remain in the UK or find alternative accommodation with friends or family.   

Asylum interviews are taking place on board the barge, which not only reduces travel to appointments where possible, but has been well-received by the asylum seekers as it provides encouragement that their journey is progressing. Dorset Council have an agreement with the Home Office that barge residents being granted asylum are moved off the barge to other parts of the UK, where they can continue with the rebuilding of their lives, without placing undue burden on Dorset Council, public services, or the local housing market.

Media and social media continue to be monitored.  When required, Multi Agency Forum partners provide accurate, factual information to dispel rumours and reduce the spread of misinformation.

Bus Service

There have been a few enquiries about the use of the private bus service provided to residents of the barge.  These have ranged from concerns that barge residents are being discriminated against because the bus ‘segregates’ them from the local population, to concerns that the service discriminates against the wider community by providing a private service to the barge residents – and that the bus is often empty.

The bus service is funded by the Home Office, and such a service is provided at other large asylum accommodation sites around the country.  The bus provides an hourly shuttle service into Weymouth, throughout the day.  The bus service is required in order to limit any impact on the local community, and to allow barge residents to participate in a range of activities in the community, from volunteering, to sports, education, faith, and other activities.  Getting off the barge is good for the physical and mental well-being of barge residents and is helping to build community cohesion as local people get to know the humans behind the headlines. 

The service is well used by the 300 barge residents, but inevitably, as with any public or private bus route, there are busier and quieter times – such as first thing in the morning and the last trip at night.  The service route is kept under constant review by the Dorset Council-led Community Impact Group.

Home Affairs Select Committee visit

Parliament’s Home Affairs Select Committee (HASC) and Joint Committee of Human Rights (JCHR) recently visited the barge and had the opportunity to meet and speak to residents, to hear about life on board. Both Committees also spent the afternoon with senior members of the Multi Agency Forum (MAF), and community and faith representatives.

The MPs had read reports and had concerns about conditions on board the barge and how residents were being treated.  The letter they sent to the Home Office following their visit can be found here https://committees.parliament.uk/publications/43175/documents/214806/default/. The primary concerns expressed in the letter related to room size and the mental health of barge residents.

During the afternoon session with the MAF, Dorset Council and other local agencies explained the challenges Dorset faced when the barge was originally set up. They also explained the significant collaborative effort that has gone into minimising the impact on the local community and attending to the welfare of those living aboard.  Dorset is now viewed nationally as an exemplar of how local and central government can work together.

The Home Office response to the Home Affairs Select Committee letter can be viewed here: committees.parliament.uk/publications/43630/documents/216714/default/

Community Safety

The Community Impact Group (CIG) comprises of representatives from the Police, NHS, Dorset Council, Portland Town Council, Weymouth Town Council, local business community and other community representatives. Any issues are raised at CIG and discussed with a recent example of complaints of litter being left at a bus stop, education was provided by the barge staff and the residents returned to the site and cleaned the area.

There are often rumours on social media whenever a crime is committed, alleging barge residents are involved. Dorset Police website provides updates, so if you want further information, please use this resource. 

Voluntary and community activities

The residents on the barge continue to take part in various activities provided by voluntary and community partners. These include football, cricket, walking, cycling, library visits and English lessons. As we move into the spring and summer, more activities will be offered for the residents to take part in. Feedback from local people engaging with barge residents is wholly positive, commenting on their enthusiasm and courtesy.

Lots of residents actively and regularly volunteer in the community.  Some want to give back to the community hosting them in their moment of need and develop skills that will help them find work and integrate into British way of life when their asylum is granted.  Many of the barge residents are already highly skilled professionals, and refugees often provide much needed skills (e.g., medical staff).

This month is Ramadan. Staff on board the barge have spoken with residents to listen to how they can help one another. For example, evening mealtimes will be extended, as well as additional mealtimes. Dates will be readily available, alongside having more milk, yoghurt, and honey available.

Faith leaders continue to attend the barge regularly to provide pastoral support to the residents.

Safety education

Dorset & Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Service (DWFRS) is working with staff on board the barge to deliver a range of safety advice to the residents, to ensure that they have the skills needed to stay safe while on board, while out and about, and for when they eventually settle into a longer-term future home. This is being led by firefighters from Weymouth fire station, who visit the barge on a regular basis to meet the residents in person.

Cruise season launch

Portland have started their cruise season with boats already coming into Port and a recent news story around the shuttle service provided to take guests into Weymouth which can be seen here https://www.portland-port.co.uk/news/127/Buses+vital+for+cruise+ship+visits

Please share these updates and information with other people in your networks. Further information is available at Portland Port: factsheet – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk).

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