These words were reported to me and seemed such a great illustration of integration and of why it is so important for people to meet each other and dispel any negative stereotypes. This works both ways as our friends from Swansea frequently tell us that they didn’t think British people were friendly or warm until they met a reasonable number of us and realised that we may behave differently but that we are warm and friendly like them.
So to tell you about another wonderful day out for all of us who attended – 45 people from Swansea (via Eritrea, Syria, Bangladesh, Cameroon, Iran, Ethiopia, Afghanistan,Sudan, Iraq, Albania, Pakistan, South Korea, Australia, England, Wales and Laos) and 21 of us (mainly Welsh, Irish and English) and the wonderful Kasia and Caroline from The Landmark Trust and Roy, Mick and Andrea from the Crucorney environmental group and the farmers, competitors , spectators and locals at the Llanthony dry stone walling and hedging competition on 29th October.
Kasia from The Landmark Trust wrote at the beginning of April ‘I work for the Landmark Trust, a charity that restores buildings at risk. We are currently working locally and I’d like to offer the Llwyn Celyn project in the Llanthony Valley as an Away Day for local refugees. It would be slightly unusual, but it might be quite nice for refugees to see the restoration work happening.’ Over the ensuing months we hit upon the plan of running a day out with the annual competition but once we realised that our food needs wouldn’t mesh well with the local catering of bacon butties we ended up running alongside (or actually about 100 metres above!) in the yard of the old house. The Landmark Trust very kindly paid for the transport (Stuart and Bluebird coaches who else?) and provided biscuits, brioche, soup, bread , cheese, hummus, fruit and limitless coffee, tea and juice. Our generous supporters added enormously to this, so we had our usual all day feast and were able to send food parcels back with our guests as well as a new cloth bag with some toiletries, pens and food.
Bill Gannon from the Falafel stall in Hay Market generously donated falafel mix and trimmings and pitta bread. I have even more admiration for him after making a 100 or so falafel in my specially purchased deep fat fryer- it’s fiddly and time consuming but the end result was delicious – entirely due to the expert mixture!
Love At First Bake gave us 2 very large and extremely delicious cakes! They will be delighted (but not surprised) to know that everyone enjoyed both the carrot and lemon and the ginger and parsnip cakes. Indeed, no one realised that the cakes were gluten free except our gluten intolerant friend who had been told that he could eat it (and actually he didn’t quite believe anything so delicious could be gluten free). Several people commented that this was really what they would call cake!
Amongst our supporters, Gaynor and Alison were not able to attend but sent food. From our intrepid supporters who made the journey, we had a delicious salmon quiche, feta and spinach rolls, flat breads and almond dip (really yummy) samosa pie, green salads, couscous and tabouleh and rice salads, and almost any version of cake that you can imagine – chocolate, apricot and almond, strawberry cakes, clafoutis…
We are becoming experts at setting up kitchens wherever we need to be and this time we didn’t even have running water but we did have a running Kasia who ferried bottles of water from the building works so we could boil it using kettles and an electric extension lead from the shed. It never fails to amaze me how easily we work as a team with no squabbling and everyone somehow just knowing what to do next.
Steve became our kitchen guru, supervising the movement of tables, water, food and people so we kept the tables mostly under the shelters in the yard and Katy and Florence were in turn the expert butterers of bread, the coffee ladies, the soup kitchen and the tea ladies. Virginia, Lawrence, Hazel, Margaret, Melrose, Barbara,Reg, Hilary, Lou, Sam, Sue, Liz, Maria, Maureen and I bustled around doing whatever seemed needed at the time. The washing up in a bowl perched on a step smoothly allowed us to transition between meals, conversations and activities. Eugene was again quietly getting on with sketching the beautiful people who took his eye and Gez cycled over from Bronllys with Sue to lead a walk. I was so relieved to see them having a lift home later on! I’m sure that one can have too much exercise.
Moving on from the food, the dry stone walling was fascinating to watch and I couldn’t have picked a winner. Some of us had a go for ourselves and whilst some relived previous occupations in far away times and places, some screamed at the worms and others felt able to offer instruction!
The hedging was good to watch seeing a thicket of bushes reduced to a tidy stock proof barrier.
Spinning and carding wool was popular but difficult for some and easy for those who had done it many times before, invoking memories of home.
The green wood carving and sculpting was wonderful to watch as throughout the day there were always people crowded round making spoons or helping to make a large dough bowl. Again many of the men and women had far more experience of this than the average Brit. Mrs D, from Syria chiseled away large pieces of wood, wielding the mallet forcefully and expertly and watched admiringly by her sons. S from Sudan told me of how this would be a very routine activity at home even for a graduate such as he: ‘We make spoons and beds and tables and my grandfather did this for a living making boats and huts’.
L from Eritrea made a beautiful spoon intricately engraved with his name and was pleased to take it home. He said he’d never had a chance to do this before and Roy and Mick agreed that he had real talent and hoped he’d come again.
And so to Gez’s walk which was again a popular activity. Lawrence said it was longer than they had anticipated possibly because they kept stopping to look at animals and chat! D from Iran talked about how he’d ridden with 5 horses tethered to him through the mountains and told of how to kill bears. Lawrence thought he’d avoid going on a bear hunt but they did find a big fallen tree that they couldn’t go over or under but had to go through (on hands and knees). M from Syria talked about work and how he enjoyed the visits. Whilst Wayne resisted the urge to exercise, Tah, his wife, led the walk with Gez and really enjoyed being out in the countryside.
Talking of walks reminds me that D went off for a cross country run shortly after arrival and managed to run up the hill despite mud and sheep. He is the current 3k Welsh champion in his age group.
Meanwhile, football was played most of the day by variable numbers of people including Reg and Barbara’s grandsons who are becoming seasoned supporters and we always look forward to them coming.
Did I mention the constant drizzle and mud? No – as our visitors found, there’s no such thing as bad weather when you are properly dressed – and properly dressed they were thanks to a trip to Swansea by Sean on Thursday with a load of wellies and waterproofs and fleeces and Kasia’s kind colleagues who had donated additional wet weather gear that was available on arrival. When we met people arriving, they looked like farmers arriving at an agricultural show dressed in their wellies and coats. Some wellies were discarded at the end of the day- not much call for such footwear in the city apparently. They’ll come in useful for our return visit!
Very many thanks to Kasia and Caroline and the Landmark Trust for making this day both possible and so enjoyable.
Thanks to those of our group who turned out on a grey Saturday and for being such good company (and hard workers) and to Wayne, Tah, Maria, Phil, Jihye and Jonathan of Unity in Diversity and the Swansea Bay Asylum Seekers Support Group for helping to coordinate the visit and to all our friends in Swansea who undertook the journey and made the day such fun. We all had interesting conversations and a lovely day.
Thanks to Love At First Bake for the delicious cakes – some of which is winding its way back to Unity in Diversity Swansea so others can share it.
Thanks to Crucorney Environmental group for providing such interesting activities that absorbed so many of us all day (this group also runs courses in the art of green woodworking).
Thanks to Bluebird Coaches and Stuart our driver for again making the journey a great part of the day out. Thanks Stuart for braving the narrow road and low bridges!
Thanks to Margaret and Pat for the cloth bags and biscuits. The slogan ‘active at the sea’ seems especially relevant.
‘A day to remember, to relax with friends, to chat, to find out about each other, to forget for a short time the asylum process, the rejections, the reasons one can’t go back, the journey to this point and the fear about what might happen if the home office don’t believe you’ L&S Pakistan.
‘When will there be another day like this- to come back here? It is good to be able to share with friends’ L from Eritrea.
‘My father was a refugee so I do know a bit about what it is like to have to flee, to lose your home and to be somewhere that people don’t really want you. I want to help make people feel welcome’ K from England.
‘Thanks all round for yesterday; it was another unbelievably good day. I have been thinking about the Away Days, the organisation and variety etc and have come to the conclusion that the essence of the success is largely due to the wonderful way the refugees engage so wholeheartedly with whatever we offer’ Virginia.
‘Just to say thanks so much for coming out on a wet Saturday and brightening up the day for our visitors and me and each other. I’m so glad to be associated with all of you and able to call so many of you friends’ A.
I feel enriched by knowing there are so many people of goodwill living close by. Each of us can only do relatively small things but each one makes a difference. I feel that at our drop ins , although other support is provided, there are not enough volunteers to take time to listen and not be called away every 3 minutes. At the respite days, the welcoming faces, take a genuine interest in what our friends have to say and those who want to share their stories with us,have the opportunity. The options of spinning and woodcarving, walking and dry stone wall building, amongst others were a huge success and therapeutic in so many ways.
I would like to thoroughly endorse your thanks to every individual who contributed, whether they were able to be present yesterday or not. Particular thanks to ‘ Love at first Bake’ and Bill Gannon for their food contributions, which also demonstrates moral support, and of course the generous offer and support by Kasia and Caroline on behalf of The Landmark Trust and the time and patience ,which enthralled so many, of Roy, Mick and Andrea of Crucorney Environmental Group, and the quiet but noted presence of Eugene and Steve. I could go on…. but there is not enough space’.
‘What a great day it was yesterday! Just seeing extraordinary people (the refugees) doing really out-of-the-ordinary things (stone walling, spinning…) was amazing. And very different from the other days I’ve been to. I was very pleased too to have a chat to the Landmark Trust events organiser, who said she’d heard about the Hay event and thought Landmark could do something similar – and to meet other volunteers.’ Liz
“any fear about tension between the visitors and the local people were very quickly proved unfounded as far as I can see. Local farmers were sanguine at the least -and in one instance, I overheard a local man speak with real compassion about the terrible journeys that so many of the visitors will have had – and he also expressed appreciation for the work of HBTSR. That, in my opinion, is real community building! And, from my point of view. I learned a bit about hedging and am determined to try to apply that new knowledge in my dank field.’ M D
‘Thanks for making this happen!Your team of volunteers were wonderful and made it such a special day for us all. I hope that our friends from Swansea had a safe return journey – they were a lovely group and a pleasure to spend a drizzly day with. I felt very emotional at the end of the day – it really brought home the reality of so many of the problems out there in the world. I do hope there are more people like yourselves out there bucking the trend of extremism and misunderstanding and using simple goodwill and friendship to make a difference.’ K