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Safe refuge

From pandemic response to Afghan aid, Jason Towse, MD of Business Services at Mitie, explains how the FM sector can play a leading role in helping the UK during times of crisis

It’s been almost four months since the agreement with the Taliban to leave Afghanistan came into force, where thanks to the stellar work of many organisations and individuals, including the British Armed Forces and humanitarian charities, thousands of people from Afghanistan were able to travel safely to the UK to start their new lives. However, given the fast pace of the evacuation, which took place over less than two weeks, many people arrived having left most of their belongings behind. As a result, it was imperative for Britain to welcome these people with open arms, by providing accommodation and essential supplies, including clothes, hygiene products and food, whilst they get settled in the UK.

Organising and delivering this support for thousands of people is no easy task. As with the pandemic, it required the public and private sector to pull together, working closely with the UK Government to arrange accommodation and deliver supplies for people arriving from Afghanistan. With our sector’s experience of rolling out COVID test centres and NHS ‘field hospitals’ in a matter of days, the FM industry has the expertise to be front and centre of the efforts to help the families arriving in the UK from Afghanistan. At Mitie, for example, we created a dedicated management team who mobilised hundreds of security officers across the country in a matter of days, as well as deploying our intelligence experts and risk analysts to ensure the safety of people staying in the hotels arranged by the Home Office.


With expertise in delivering complex projects within very short time frames, we were able to quickly meet a logistical need when we were called upon to help with an initiative. Carol Weatherall and Ron Dennis CBE (Founding Shareholder and former Chairman and CEO of The McLaren Technology Group), in collaboration with Wellington College, where they are both parents, instigated and led a huge initiative to collect and organise vital donations for Afghan adults and children being relocated across the UK. The family, Wellington College staff, students, and parents, along with many volunteers from the local community, came together and collected and organised 74,000 essential items, including clothes, bedding, household goods and toiletries. The donations were collated into over 2,200 ‘Welcome Care Packages’ to support the Afghan community.

The generosity was overwhelming, with enough Welcome Care Packages to fill the equivalent of nine articulated lorries. When Ron Dennis approached Mitie, we were delighted to be able to provide the logistical solution in delivering such vast volumes of donations. Cadets from The Royal Military Academy Sandhurst also joined the effort. By harnessing our professional network, with support from our supply and logistics partner Stronghold Global, in just 24 hours we were able to secure transport for these donations, at a time of perhaps unprecedented demand for the UK’s supply chain and logistics industry.

In turn, Stronghold Global were incredibly generous with their support, by collecting and transporting all the Care Packages to their Swindon warehouse within just 48 hours. Stronghold Global, at their own expense, are also distributing packages throughout the UK to people staying in the hotels arranged by the Home Office, which Mitie are securing.

This truly was a team effort with people and businesses donating their time and services to support the efforts. As James Dahl, Master of Wellington College, said: “Over the course of just seven days an astounding 74,000 essential items were donated, via the Wellington College Community, ranging from clothes, food, electrical equipment and bedding. Wellington College staff, parents, pupils and local volunteers meticulously sorted and arranged the donations into 2,295 ‘Welcome Care Packages’, which were accompanied by heart-warming and welcoming letters and cards.

“Our hope is that our ‘Welcome Care Packages’ will go some way to providing the Afghan families with the essentials that they need, after they have lost so much, and as they now begin their new lives.”


I very much agree with the impressive scale of the initiative and, more importantly, about the need to help the families that have been affected by the crisis in Afghanistan. There is always more that we can do to give our support and, as such, we have donated £20,000 to Breaking Barriers, a charity which will be helping people apply for asylum through the Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme. As they start to build new lives for themselves, and their families, we hope, over time, to offer career opportunities and welcome some of these people to our own workforce.

And with COVID still to consider, we also donated 10,000 facemasks and over 3,300 litres of hand sanitiser to charities supporting people that have arrived from Afghanistan.

Given that a number of our colleagues come from Afghanistan or have served there as members of the British Armed Forces over the past 20 years, we wanted to ensure that we had support in place at a potentially difficult time for them. Through the Mitie Military, our inclusion network for employees who are veterans, reservists or family members of people in the Armed Forces, we hosted sessions to offer an open a space for colleagues to talk about the issue.

Some of our colleagues needed additional support and found this time particularly challenging, so we also dedicated significant efforts to making sure that employees were aware that Mitie’s Mental Health First Aiders are there to lend a friendly ear. And our Employee Assistance Programme is available 24/7 to offer advice to colleagues, and their family members, facing mental health issues, encouraging people to reach out to these support services as needed.

As with the COVID pandemic, the crisis in Afghanistan has demonstrated that many of the challenges Britain may face in the future will require that everybody, including local communities, government and businesses, work together to take swift action. Mobilising large projects in a matter of days is what we do day in, day out, as facilities management providers, which is why our sector can, and should, force for good in supporting the UK in overcoming whatever challenge may come next.

About Sarah OBeirne

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