‘Those displaced, through no fault of their own, need friends more than ever and need action and practical assistance, not rhetoric.’ This quote from a recent email from a supporter encapsulates our aims. We have spent time on a petition this week but essentially we try to offer a welcome, friendship and practical help to those in need.
When Margaret approached the owners of Penpont in November about our group to see if they would consider being her local place to host a day, she was unprepared for such an enthusiastic and generous response ‘Yes certainly; why can’t we host two days and give you a Christmas tree for the Cathedral festival and possibly some volunteer placements?’
Well, what a wonderful first day we had at Penpont with so very many like minded people! I’m actually still quite overwhelmed by the sheer range of activities and comments. Its been even harder than usual to convey a sense of what happened.
Our generous hosts Gavin and Vina and magnificent coordinator (and Chair) Margaret are greatly to be thanked and so are the very large numbers of people who turned out to welcome, cook, sort groceries, toiletries, clothing, toys, draw, make bracelets, print, make dream pillow cases, knit, walk, horse ride, show lambs, wood carve, play football, chat, tidy up and all the other important roles that I have forgotten. We could have more than doubled the signatures on our petition to the council demonstrating our support for Dubs had we only the time to consider it on the day!
For my part, I’ve never helped sort groceries in quite such palatial surroundings and it’s hard not to think of the miracle of the feeding of the 5,000, since we must have fed and watered more than 150 people several times during the day with so much food to spare to be packed into every conceivable container for our guests to take home. In the end I heard people offering round the cake saying, ‘I’m not allowed back until this tray is empty!’ Wayne’s car boot was full of cake to share at the Unity in Diversity drop-in when he left – and it’s not a small boot!
When telling people about our days we usually say it will be fun, there will be food (‘and we’ve never run out so plan to eat with our guests’) and chat and somehow the day will evolve allowing everyone to do something enjoyable and share fellowship. This day was no exception!
We made up 50 large grocery bags and 50 bags with toiletries to give to every adult on the trip and the bags were pretty heavy. Sennybridge School and Rainbows, Brownies and Guides, Brecon Food Bank and the people of Llanfihangel Nant Bran were mainly responsible for the vast amounts donated in addition to the donations from Morrisons and Aldi and a kind supporter who shops at a Cash and Carry and gave us all the spares from two for one deals. This isn’t painting a picture of an uncaring society is it?
Please do feel thanked if you were there. And if you weren’t then feel very envious! I’m sure that the feedback from our guests (who of course also contributed enormously to the day with their enthusiasm and quite remarkable ‘joie de vivre’) told everyone how appreciative and overwhelmed they were by the warmth of the welcome, the range of activities, the amount of clothing, the generous take home bags and the food and drink.
We had 58 people from Swansea seeking asylum/ refuge transported by Bluebird coaches with our favourite driver Stuart and cars driven by Wayne and Phil (and Maria) containing another 5 people. On this occasion we were also joined by two Syrian families from the Newport resettlement scheme as their support workers had heard about how good our trips are. “I have heard so much about your activities and all the wonderful support you offer refugees. We are knocking on every door to try get these families integrated with the community and settled. Please can we join with you?” Initially we thought that the families hadn’t come until we realised that they had approached down a different drive, had missed those of us waiting to welcome them at the front and were already intermingled with everyone else at breakfast!
There must have been over 100 supporters turning up throughout the day to help in various ways or say hello and welcome – so thanks to everyone who helped to make this such a memorable day for us all.
Breakfast was a fantastic mix of freshly baked breads and homemade jams and local honey with fish, eggs and fruit. People were then encouraged to join in with the various crafts, sort through clothing or go for a walk through the grounds. The crafts were on offer throughout the day and adults and children all joined in.
The dream pillow cases were popular. This is an idea Sue’s friend Anael in Israel allowed us to use. The basic premise being ‘Think Good Thoughts that Create Good Things’ – you can draw your favourite things onto the pillow case and sleep soundly thereafter. A lovely thing to use with traumatised people. There were some lovely prints made and friendship bracelets and some knitting. Some people just stayed by the lovely woodburning stove and chatted. Some were drawn by Eugene.
The walk round the grounds was somewhat delayed by a massive hailstorm followed by torrential rain but suddenly the sun came out and we were off. Waterproofs and wellies were loaned and we wandered to see the walled garden by crossing the river (‘Please can we fish?’ ‘Its not the right season, unfortunately’) and then went to the magnificent maze via the elephants! (A hedge beautifully cut as a herd of elephants since you ask). The maze was a new concept for many people and it is unique with so many interesting features. Better weather would have encouraged us to explore more but suddenly it was lunchtime!
Lunch was a delicious lamb cawl prepared by Steve (by popular request – nearly derailed by his broken arm… still not quite clear about how he managed) and vegetable chilli, vegetable stew and a vegetable curry (yum yum) with local salad leaves (fantastic) and some wonderful pickled cabbage amongst other items. During lunch, a cello, violin and guitar were played and added to the real sense of well-being.
Horseriding and seeing lambs then became a possibility between showers. The horses patiently plodded to and fro and the smiles on human faces could hardly have been broader. Gareth the woodcarver had a constant stream of visitors especially during showers! A football suddenly appeared and some intrepid footballers played on the front lawn.
And suddenly cake started appearing and appearing in almost every conceivable type and variety. We hadn’t forgotten the gluten intolerance either – though some of the gluten containing cakes did look even more special! Little A just wanted to eat the icing off the cupcakes! Trays of cakes were offered round and tray holders blocked doors so people could be encouraged to take extra as they left! A Syrian lady told me she’d not encountered such friendship for so long and we became slightly tearful thinking about all the good people around us.
As people boarded the bus about 45 supporters gathered to wave them off and the Kitchen Crew were briefly able to be seen and applauded. I’m told that shift systems were in action but Jackie and Rob and others seemed to be kitchen bound throughout. Thanks!
There were many new faces and many regulars – both guests and volunteers. Somehow every away day sees various teams formed spontaneously from whomever turns up, everyone helps and magic happens.
We were also able to take more than 30 bags of sorted and labelled clothing down to Swansea Humanitarian Aid Response Project (SHARP) on Monday. Thanks to the team who so expertly displayed the clothes, assisted our guests to try them and then helped to pack them up.
- Vina and Gavin (for use of house and grounds and for making us all so welcome and being part of such a great day)
- Sue Bethel and Tace (‘dream pillowcases’)
- Sennybridge Rainbows/Brownies/Guides (donations of toiletries)
- Sennybridge Primary School (donations of food and toiletries)
- Brecon Food Bank
- Liz Matthews
- Fiona Cloke, Petra Tester, Kate Thomas and their helpers (ponies)
- People of Llanfihangel Nant Bran and the surrounding area for donations of home-made cakes, toiletries and food supplies
- Steve Buzza, Lynne Rogers and Philip Oliver (waterproofs)
- Gareth Irwin (woodcarving)
- Tessa Waite (artist) and Robert Macdonald (artist)
- Julie Cayless (artistic help)
- Clare Binnie (spinner)
- Sally Ty Mawr (Lambs)
- Al Cooper, Di Esplin and Simon Newcombe (Musicians)
- The kitchen team
- The clothing team
- The grocery team
- All helpers on the day!
‘What an amazing day! So many guests, so many helpers, so many visitors – plus so much food, toiletries and clothing. What a wonderful response to the needs of many. Despite what some would have us believe, the world is clearly full of kind-hearted people offering plenty of goodwill to others.
Although the weather was not kind to us, it was a happy experience. The ponies were a great ‘hit’ with children and adults alike, as were the baby lambs. Woodworking, art and crafts (under cover) provided plenty of interest and the supply of donated clothing was much appreciated by those in need. (The left over clothing has already gone down to Swansea to be distributed through the Swansea Humanitarian Aid Response Project; serving refugees and others in need.) A trio of gifted musicians played during the extended lunch time which added a joyous feel to the day. Throughout, we fed about 85 refugees and forty helpers ; and still there was some spare food to travel back to Swansea with them. Fifty bags of toiletries and dried food were also given out to each household to take home…..
I would like to give each of you a personal ‘Thank You’; whether you made cakes, donated goods or money, cooked food, served in the kitchen, managed the stores, looked after the ponies, arranged for lambs to come, musicians to play and artisans to lead the art and craft work or generally assisted in one way or another. Most importantly – to all of you who mingled with our guests and chatted to them; they really do appreciate the warmth of our welcome and the extent of our hospitality. These days offer a ray of hope to them. in their straitened circumstances.
O from Nigeria
‘👌👌👌👌👌 That trip for me and my family was by far the best. The highlight of it was going horseriding .Our appreciation goes to the organisers.’
N from Pakistan
Yes it was really very enjoy full and I am happy because my daughter E [ aged 4]was very happy and had experienced to ride a pony and all people were very caring. My daughter still talking about them. One thing which is really good for me especially -my daughter developed a lot of confidence to meet different people and deal with pony and chicken before that she was scared from those animals. Trip was memorable for us thanks all of people who involved to arrange this kind of activities for us thanks a lot and Wayne thank you to you too😀
B from Iraq
actually I had a great time there. It was great lovely place and beautiful people! I am grateful for all of your amazing help in showing us around. big thanks to you. send you a lots of love to you. 😀😀😀
C from Sri Lanka
‘Yes we really did enjoy the trip and the way they treated us was amazing.We felt like they’ve been known us from long time.we do appreciate all your hard work.’
Well , firstly to Margaret who coordinated everything. This is a challenging task – it could not have gone better, despite the weather, over which she had little control. Secondly, to the lovely Vina and Gavin Hogg who allowed so many to enjoy their beautiful home and take home wonderful memories. Lastly, to the ‘too many to mention ‘ people who shopped, baked, organised clothes and food bags, washed up, poured tea , provided activities and music and most importantly made many many people feel welcome.
Sadly, our press do not advertise many positive events – this is a great shame. We are all enriched by the time we spend, however temporary, with this group of courageous, spirited, resourceful and interesting people. I cannot emphasise enough how much these days mean to our friends. In addition to spending time in the fresh air, away from everyday life, enjoying home made food and taking away goodies that will mean that they will have a bit of extra cash that week, they are made to feel special and wanted. Much of the time the reality is that they struggle. Everything is harder for them…. when they are stressed,the English that they have disappears, they have to try harder to communicate whether in a shop, at the Doctor’s surgery or catching a bus.
I personally feel that kindness ( a simple word) is one of the most important things that any of us, but especially those in need, can experience. During these Away Days, the kindness of so many shines through and that is the word we hear most – ” People are so kind” and our friends find it difficult to express their gratitude, feeling ‘thank you’ is just not enough. I think we can all see by their faces at the end of the day ( and the queue for the trip list) that they have forgotten, for a little while,their significant worries.
One young man D is very isolated and has recently received bad news about his case. He really enjoys these days. It is the only social interaction he has.
So thank you one and all for making a difference.