After 13 years, Somali refugees are the ‘most-loved family in Southville’, as community forces council to let them stay
A family put in temporary housing in Bristol 13 years ago have been the subject of an incredible outpouring of love and support after council housing chiefs decided they needed to move home – across the city.
So huge was the messages of support from neighbours, friends, work colleagues and local schools that Bristol City Council reversed a decision to move Nimo and Nor Subayr, and their family.
The family came to Southville as refugees from Somalia and back in 2004 were placed in temporary housing, with the promise that something more permanent would soon be found for them.
But nothing happened for a few months, so Nimo and her family got on with building new lives in Southville. The mum of seven got a job at the local Southville Primary School as a dinner lady and after-school cleaner, but quickly became indispensable to, and much-loved by, both colleagues and other parents.
Then, earlier this month – some 13-and-a-half years later – Bristol City Council finally told the family they had found a permanent home for them, even though they thought they already had one. The problem was that it was on the other side of the city – and housing officers told them that if they turned it down, they could end up being classed as “intentionally homeless”.
That ultimatum, giving them just three weeks to decide, sparked the local community into action.
Neighbours and friends began writing to council chiefs, and bosses of both Ashton Park School – where some of Nimo’s children attend – and Southville Primary, where Nimo works, wrote letters demanding a U-turn.
“Nimo is a highly valued employee at this school and a very active member of the school community, helping with out of school events and trips, encouraging other Somali families to become involved in the life of the school and acting as an interpreter on many occasions,” head teacher Sandie Smith told housing officers. “She continues to be a real asset for us.”
But that was nothing compared to the outpouring of support from people signing an online petition to Bristol Mayor Marvin Rees, set up by 15-year-old neighbour Afra Parsons.
“When they first moved in, Nimo and Nor barely spoke English but they quickly assimilated into our neighbourhood and community,” said Afra.
“The seven children went to the local Southville Primary School and, when her youngest child started school, Nimo was employed by the school, where she quickly became beloved by children, parents and teachers alike.
“Thirteen-and-a-half years later, they are now an integral part of our community. They have always gone out of their way to be friendly and neighbourly, and are good neighbours to everyone on the street.
“They are just generally the nicest and friendliest family to have around, and are an absolute asset to our community.
“In the best possible way, these asylum seekers have integrated fully into our community, into our city, our country and, most importantly of all, our hearts. Nimo now speaks near-fluent English and is an absolute credit to her husband, children and her employers – ironically, Bristol City Council.”
Jessica Tucker was one of scores of supporters calling for a council U-turn as word spread of the campaign.
She said she grew up opposite the family.
“They are all some of the most welcoming and communal residents on our street and in the area,” said Jessica. “To force them to move now would be upsetting for all of us but devastating for their family.”
Wendy Giles, a former parent at the primary school, demanded the council re-think.
“Nimo is an amazing woman,” she said. “She has worked so hard at becoming a well-known and respected member of the community. Nimo has looked after the children at Southville School with a good sense of fun and commitment.”
Liz Ellis said the family ‘made us all better people’ in Southville.
“Don’t make the family go to another area – we need them all here,” she said.
“They make us all better people, they are such great role models for our children: polite kind and hardworking children.”
And Claire Bowman was also among hundreds who signed the petition with messages of support within hours of it going online.
“I have known Nimo for several years,” she said. “She and her family are amazing community members. They are known and loved in Southville.”
Local Green councillor Charlie Bolton got involved, and called on housing portfolio boss Paul Smith to intervene.
Faced with a barrage of love for the family and demands that they be allowed to stay in their ‘temporary accommodation’ in Southville, the council relented.
“We have withdrawn the offer of the St George property and will offer it to a homeless family,” said a council spokeswoman.
“We are working closely with the family to make sure they have a suitable long-term home.
“The property they are currently in was originally intended to be used as temporary accommodation, but we recognise that 13 years in a house means it is very difficult to contemplate moving and we are looking for a solution to keep them housed in the current property.”