10 min read

Showing hate the Red Card: welcoming asylum seekers to our district

Here is a story of a moment of warmth and hope in an obscure rural corner of our district. A story that shows you can fix a little bit of the broken world and push back against the hate with a smile and a hand of friendship.
Showing hate the Red Card: welcoming asylum seekers to our district

by Doina Cornell

AT A TIME WHEN OUR WORLD feels ever more hostile and broken
, when global and national forces beyond our control seem to rule our lives, and politicians of all colours take their lead from right-wing media scare stories about foreigners and immigrants - here is a story of a moment of warmth and hope in an obscure rural corner of our district. A story that shows you can fix a little bit of the broken world and push back against the hate with a smile and a hand of friendship.

At the end of 2022 Stroud District Council was informed by the UK Home Office that a hotel in the district was to be used to house people seeking asylum, managed by outsourced contractors Clearsprings.

The Prince of Wales Hotel, located off the A38 between Dursley and Berkeley, was to be used, having been closed since the pandemic.  There was a general feeling this was an unsuitable location due to its remoteness and lack of public transport; but the vocal opposition of local Conservative district councillors and the MP seemed to go beyond this. They had no desire for such a hotel housing single men to be based in their patch.

Rival Stroud candidates air views on hotel use for asylum seekers
RIVAL CANDIDATES for the Stroud constituency have aired their views on the UK Government’s ‘small boats’ policy.
It turned out, however, that the hotel fell not in the Berkeley district council ward, but within the rural parish of Stinchcombe, part of a ward represented by Liberal Democrat and Green councillors, who along with Independent councillors such as myself make up the district council's co-operative alliance leadership.

We were determined to approach the situation with more positivity and compassion, building on our earlier work supporting Syrian, Afghan and Ukrainian refugees in our area, and aided by the newly created role of Migrant Member Champion which I had just taken on, connecting me to other councillors across the country also seeking to advocate and campaign on behalf of our local migrant communities.

However, asylum-seeker-hosting hotels are set up by government to run pretty autonomously from the areas within which they are based and services are provided by private contractors; the district and county councils are given little or no say, other than checking on basic housing conditions and helping ensure health checks are taking place.

Private contractors like Clearspring have made millions of pounds of profit and extracted hefty dividends for their shareholders out of asylum accommodation, money which could have been spent on public services and social housing that would support both local people and asylum-seekers.

Firm managing hotels for UK asylum seekers posts bumper profits
Three directors of Clearsprings Ready Homes share dividends of almost £28m, as profits rise sixfold

Fortunately, Gloucestershire is lucky to have GARAS (Gloucestershire Action for Refugees and Asylum Seekers), an organisation based in Gloucester with years of experience supporting refugees and asylum-seekers. Despite GARAS having few resources (and I would urge anyone who can to support them), they at least could help provide the hotel residents with crucial advice and support.

Concerns about how isolated the men might be, and the lack of support being offered, led to a group of local people meeting up and discussing what the local community could do.

In those early stages also, there was some anti-migrant feeling expressed, especially locally on social media - and in fact the police had to intervene over one incident of hate being put into an online video. With far right extremists targeting similar hotels elsewhere, there was a real worry that our area would be next.

In spite of this, there was a determination to welcome the men to our area. Here are some words from three of the volunteers who can express best how things developed


“I started volunteering at GARAS HQ in December 2022. Within two weeks they heard the Prince of Wales Hotel would be used to house male asylum seekers. It’s 20 minutes from my house so one day just before Christmas I stopped and left some chocolates, only two men were there at that point. Fast forward a year.

“A band of volunteers from all walks of life have held English classes, collected clothing, arranged social events, taken people to appointments and college, helped make sense of complex forms and long phone calls to migrant help, negotiated with the security team, provided endless bikes and much more.

“We have made friends with each other but most importantly we have had the pleasure of meeting some amazing men. From all corners of the globe, all have their stories to tell, we never pry but over time words of torture, persecution, long difficult journeys, home sickness, past careers and missed wives, children and mothers gradually are told. 

“Some men don’t mix and aren't keen to engage but the majority are keen to connect. They joined classes and activities, played football, went to church and started to build a community within the hotel and the local people.

“We laugh, tease each other and learn about each other’s traditions and cultures.  I admire their resourcefulness, resilience and determination to make a new life for themselves.”


“Having assisted the group of Syrian refugees settling in Stroud some years ago with English and driving lessons, I was asked if I would be available to teach English.

“So it was that for consecutive Thursday afternoons I, along with a team of 3-6 fellow teachers, was to spend 2 hours with men that had fled from parts of Africa and Asia, helping them to learn English and something of British culture. Some had some English, while others had none, but were able to communicate in as many as 4 languages, and many were qualified in various fields such as engineering.

“It soon became apparent that English lessons were to be only a small part of what the community of Cam and Dursley - and to a lesser extent, Stroud, because of distance - became involved in, making the lives of these men easier. 

“Some were keen to cycle, and soon a large collection of bicycles made their way to the hotel, enabling enthusiasts to cycle as far as Bath or Oxford, but at least allowing them easier access from the remote area of the hotel to the nearby towns.

“Local organisations welcomed the men: sports clubs, charity shops, churches all provided opportunities for interaction with the locals and opportunities for the men to enjoy the open air when weather permitted.

“Mobile phones, clothes and sports equipment appeared. Soon the list on the WhatsApp group of volunteers swelled to over 30, with some, alongside GARAS, providing moral and emotional support, and transport between the hotel and train and bus stations to enable them to attend interviews to determine their status." 


"Far from the negative propaganda the men from the Prince of Wales hotel really enhanced our Wild Acres community.

“Everyone has learned so much from them about culture, skills, language, good manners, respect and incredible resilience. They supported our community by cooking, construction work, made raised beds, gardening, strimming and electrical work.

“They were all so willing to help with whatever was needed.“
Shared meals at Wild Acres in Breadstone

The hotel residents came from some of the most troubled countries in the world, and from a range of backgrounds and professions. Keeping themselves occupied and active led to the discovery that several of the men were talented football players, and personal local contacts led to some receiving a warm welcome at Berkeley Town Football Club, and community tickets being offered to a Forest Green Rovers game.

Sport indeed is a common language and breaks down barriers in ways other things cannot.

After a year, the government decided to close down many of the hotels being used around the country and concentrate asylum-seekers into fewer, high capacity locations. Notice was given to the Prince of Wales Hotel also. One by one the men started to be moved on to places around the country. Those left were all moved on to London. A farewell party was organised by the volunteers.


“We will certainly miss them. I was particularly struck by their emotion and tears. They were genuinely moved by the support and kindness they’d been given by GARAS volunteers and others. They talked of receiving love and having found a family in Dursley."


“It has been a hectic year and we wave the men off to the next step in their journey with mixed emotions. Hoping they are taking another step along the road to gain the right to remain here but also sad to see our little community and friendships end.

“A reunion is promised for next year! There will be many stories to share.”


“The enthusiasm, gratitude and friendliness of the men, coupled with a sense of humour and mutual support, has made parting with them at the whim of the Home Office and politicians that much more difficult.

“We had a wonderful Christmas party, supported and organised by many volunteers and churches, where all were made to feel welcome, but the final farewell was emotional, where 2 of the previously most traumatised and weaker at English read out beautiful speeches of gratitude to all of us that had played various parts in making their lives that much easier.

“Warm embraces by all the men to all of us left us feeling bereft of the pleasure of involvement with these wonderful people over the past 9 months.

“We will miss them, but are pleased to remain in touch with them as they progress through the asylum system into being the worthwhile citizens of this country that they all have said at various times that they want to be.”

Since then I've heard of other places in the country which have also supported in hotel residents in similar ways.

This is more important than ever as we face politicians happy to stir up anti-migrant rhetoric, helping stoke a growing tide of hatred, as reported only this month in the Hope Not Hate Report, State of Hate 2024: Pessimism, Decline and the Rising Radical Right

State of HATE 2024 - Pessimism, decline and the rising Radical Right
State of HATE is the most comprehensive and analytical guide to the state of far-right extremism in Britain today. This year’s report focuses heavily on the Radical Right, a political phenomenon we define as right-wing populist in outlook, with strongly anti-immigration and anti-elite rhetoric, but differs from the traditional far right in that it advocates an illiberal democracy rather than overthrow of the system itself.
“There is a growing mood of pessimism and declinism amongst the population and this is leading to deteriorating attitudes to democracy and the political system... Anti-migrant activism continues to dominate the far-right agenda...”

The report goes on to highlight what happened in Llanelli, Wales, where local protests against a proposed hotel for asylum-seekers were joined by extremists:

“The far right falsely claimed a victory in Llanelli, with activists from fascist groups Patriotic Alternative and Homeland calling it the “Gold Standard of Community Politics in action” ...

“There is a sad story to be told about the pain communities will feel as a result of the Government’s policy failings on asylum. Chasing anti-migrant hatred and cruel, yet ineffective, “deterrent” policies to grab headlines and fuel a hostile narrative has pumped hate into communities.”

In our district I'm proud we saw a different sort of community politics, one based on love and friendship, not hatred and division.

Tucked away from the world's eye - for the sake of the safety of the hotel residents, we kept the community support out of the public eye, and I am writing this only now some months after the hotel's use has been ended. But it is important to tell this story to give us all hope that we can still make a difference.

A random decision by our government, pushing people who have experienced unimaginable suffering, torture and persecution, into an isolated rural hotel, with the expressed aim of creating a hostile experience to deter others from coming, and to demean and discourage those already here, ended up backfiring in a beautiful way: the green shoots of hope grew out of the government's dirty policies.

Lifelong bonds have been created. Volunteers and former hotel residents still remain in touch via WhatsApp. Some of the men have now received their right to remain in the UK.

Asylum seekers helped paint the set for a local theatre production

Many of them had looked forward to moving on to London, but once there, they realised they missed the warmth and friendship they'd experienced in our small corner of the world.

Some of them hope to move back here once they have leave to remain.  And if they still need help we are here. People have helped organise job interviews and lifts for appointments; social visits are happening between Gloucestershire and London.

Just as I was writing this article, one man was informed he was to be moved to Bibby Stockholm; we tap into our networks and find personal contacts and support groups in other parts of the country they get arbitrarily moved to.

The story of this moment of warmth and hope in a rural community can serve to illustrate that at moments in our lives, there may be a brief intersection between on the one hand, global and national politics, between forces that feel remote and much larger than our lives, forces we feel we cannot resist, and on the other hand, the ancient human tradition of hospitality to the stranger, the simple act of befriending a person new to the area. If that chance comes our way, we can make the choice to seize it. To make a difference.

The impact of  what we did can be illustrated by two messages from the men shared on the What's App group:

Last night I had a dream,

I saw you are sitting on the chair and I came to meet you

Take care of yourself and your family
God bless you,

You give me a gift in the shape of Education
This gift will stay with me till my last breath,

In our Urdu books there is a sentence that
We have 3 fathers

1- your father
2- your teacher, who teach you
3- your father-in-law

Thanks is a small word for you
Your son.
Good morning everyone. Happy and blessed last Sunday of January 2024. I pray that we all see this day in 2025 in good health and happiness.

To all our lovely Mothers and Sisters in the house may you continue to stay well and live long.

As individual voters and citizens we feel increasingly little agency over our lives. So let us find the places where we can make a difference, in the smallest and most local of ways and places.

The world might feel broken but we can fix it bit by bit.