Natasha Nicholls

Volunteers and the Community Sponsorship Scheme: The volunteer relationship with the refugee family and their journey as a volunteer

Supervisors: Dr Jenny Phillimore and Angus McCabe

Natasha NichollsNatasha’s PhD research project explores the experiences of volunteers involved with the UK Community Sponsorship Scheme by examining how relationships change between the refugee families and volunteers over time and the impact that taking part in CS has upon the volunteering trajectory of those involved. Despite the inherently temporal nature of community-based refugee sponsorship, little is known about how the relationships between CS volunteers and refugees change over the two years and beyond. 

Through a social constructivist, interpretative approach, Natasha draws upon qualitative research tools, exploring the use of walking interviews as a way to continue gathering in person data during the Covid-19 pandemic.  


Natasha Nicholls is currently a Doctoral Researcher at the University of Birmingham and part of the community sponsorship team based within the Institute for Research into Superdiversity (IRiS). She also works as a research assistant on the IRiS project – Migrant descendants' intercultural competence and their recognition in the UK and Italian labour market (MIDIC) which commenced in 2020. She has worked on several research projects at the University, alongside her PhD. Currently she is working on a participatory art based project with local refugees and asylum seekers in Birmingham, exploring their experiences of ‘welcome’ in the city. She is also working on the University of Sanctuary application for the University of Birmingham as part of the Refugee Hub. Natasha is a 2021/22 Transatlantic Fellow and coordinates the PhD Private Sponsorship network, an international group of researchers working on private and community based refugee sponsorship. She holds an LLM and a LLB from Cardiff University.  

Research Interests

  • Migration
  • Volunteering
  • Community action
  • Creative research methods
  • Social activism


  • LLM Human Rights Law – Cardiff University 
  • LLB Law and Sociology – Cardiff University

Conference Outputs

Conference Papers

‘The role of community volunteering in creating a feeling of belonging for refugees and asylum seekers’, 24th November 2021, Queen Mary University of London: ‘COVID-19 and Home: Dwelling and belonging in pandemic times’.

‘Socially-distanced walking interviews: Methodological considerations during the Covid-19 pandemic’, 10th September 2021, University of Glasgow, Social & Digital Change Symposium: Living in Between: Digital Technology and the COVID-19 Pandemic’.  

Enacting Hospitality through the UK Community Sponsorship Scheme’, 7th July 2021, 18th annual IMISCOE conference.

‘The importance of ‘place’ in an exploration of the UK Community Sponsorship Scheme: a walking interview methodology’, 28th June 2021, School of Social Policy PGR Annual Conference.

‘Walking and Talking: An exploration of the volunteer experience of the UK Community Sponsorship Scheme through a walking interview methodology’, 23rd June 2021, ESRC MGS DTP Conference.

‘The role of UK communities in refugee Resettlement’, 13th May 2021GCfE Annual Conference Programme: 'Communities in Europe: Between Continuity and Transition'.  

Conference Panels

CARFMS21 (Canadian Association for Refugee and Forced Migration Studies): Utopia’s as Practices. ‘Roundtable - Special session on refugee sponsorship as practice, politics, refusal’, Online. Summary available:  

Conference Posters

‘Volunteers and the Community Sponsorship Scheme: The Volunteer Relationship with the Refugee Family and Their Journey as a Volunteer’, 28th June 2021, School of Social Policy PGR Annual Poster Competition.

‘Walking and Talking: An exploration of the volunteer experience of the UK Community Sponsorship Scheme through a walking interview methodology’, 22nd-23rd July 2021, University of Birmingham Graduate School Annual Poster Conference. Overall Third Place. 


Blog Posts

Nicholls, N. 2021. ‘Five ways the UK government and local communities can support Afghan refugees’ Available at:  

D’Avino, G., Nicholls, N., Reyes, M. 2021. ‘Community Sponsorship: Religious Identity and Action in the “Refugee Crisis”’ Available at:  

Nicholls, N. 2021. ‘A Newbie’s guide to community sponsorship’ Available at:


Phillimore, J., Reyes-Soto, M., D’Avino, G. and Nicholls, N., 2021. “I have Felt so Much Joy”: The Role of Emotions in Community Sponsorship of Refugees. VOLUNTAS: International Journal of Voluntary and Nonprofit Organizations, pp.1-11.



Twitter: @Tash_Nicholls