Quakers from all over Herefordshire and Powys came to the Pales Meeting House in Llandegley to welcome Syrian families from Hereford and to join with them in a Barbecue and picnic on July 15th. This was a long awaited day, having been thought about ever since the Syrian resettlement programme had started in Hereford- a day for the families to get together and to share a picnic with friends both old and new -to help to rebuild lives torn apart by the fighting in Syria and to build trust in the strangers whom they now live among.
The Pales is an historic Quaker Meeting House, built in 1717, a burial ground with a Warden’s Cottage attached situated in a peaceful hillside setting in Powys. It is the oldest Quaker Meeting house in continuous use in Wales and is of great emotional and spiritual significance to many. The name The Pales is thought to refer to the enclosure of land near to the house that is used as a graveyard. It was a perfect venue for this gathering where the natural beauty of the surroundings and an abiding spiritual atmosphere were valued contributions.
Jeff and Lynne from our group started the detailed planning in February when a weekend camp was first thought about but then, as British weather was considered and the families were consulted , turned into a day out with money donated by the Quakers being given to the families to buy and cook food that they wanted. Minibuses were arranged, mobile toilets and small marquees loaned and all local Quaker groups alerted to the chance to welcome families from war torn Syria to the peaceful Radnor countryside.
Families started to arrive around 11am, barbecues were lit and food and more food brought from bags and vehicles and meat on skewers,kebabs both vegetable and meat and plenty of tabouleh and salads and fruit . An impromtu football game was mooted but the only flat land large enough was up the hillside above the meeting house. People scrambled up and played and flew kites and marveled at the view. ‘Its like being on top of the world’ said young S who seems fluent in English having been here since December . ‘I’m 10 or 11 and I like it here’ .And ‘No’ she’d not known English before arriving and ‘Yes’ she loves her new school.
The families were really keen for everyone to eat and invitations were most pressing. I walked to show E where to wash her hands and was sidetracked by a group of Syrian and British men chatting in Arabic [ I understood the words Hereford and Swansea and Inshallah!] who were insistent that I sat and ate with them some delicious flatbread and salad. Soon in groups, all around the grounds people were sitting , eating and chatting. The smoke swirled around, the overcast day seemed brighter and even the drizzle failed to dampen spirits. The Hookah or Argileh pipe was shared amongst friends and children played with hula hoops and made bracelets and necklaces and paper airplanes and made new friends as they taught each other to turn cartwheels, somersaults and juggle.
The Peace choir practiced in the meeting house and came out to encourage singing just as the rain became briefly more persistent. The singing, dancing and sharing of different musical traditions and dances was uplifting and fun.
For HBTSR this was an event with a big difference, the ‘guests’ did the cooking and we, the hosts, became the guests. ‘People don’t always want to be the recipients of help and it’s great to be able to give them choice and independence.’ one of the Quakers told me. Certainly,the money had been well spent and everyone seemed very happy- and full!
All too soon the afternoon started to turn to evening and it was time to go. People sat in the meeting house as people have for over 3 centuries and said their thanks and farewells. Some gift bags and Chocolate bars provided by our Group were shared with the 34 Adults and 25 children ranging from 1-16 and the 3 young Eritrean Asylum seekers who had welcomed the opportunity to meet up with each other away from the separate towns that they now live in.
Grateful thanks are due to the generous Quakers who made the outing possible both financially and physically , to Burgoynes for the loan and erection of the shelter, to K&S Portaloos, Morrisons for fruit and to the many people who made the trip. A day to remember for a long time to come- this multinational and multi faith [ and none] gathering sharing peaceful enjoyment of the countryside and good food with friends.