‘When will the day end?’ the young Llandrindod school boy asked persistently whilst playing football. ‘In about 3 hours. Why?’ ” I don’t want it to end. I’m having such fun!’
This comment and one from a mother who was overheard saying to her friend ‘well they’re just like our kids really aren’t they?’ tells us that we had achieved what we wanted:- To have a fun inclusive day with the chance to make new friends and show people who are living in poverty and fear that they are welcome and give them some good memories to help reduce the bad ones and to allow local people to see that there really is more that all people have in common than not. But to do all this in a Primary School in one of the few areas in Powys ranked in the 30% of most multiply deprived areas in Wales felt truly miraculous.
It really is hard to know where to start [ or finish] to write about a truly wonderful day that was shared by 53 people seeking asylum or refuge in Swansea, 32 people now settled in Newtown as part of the Syrian Resettlement programme, teachers, governors, parents and children of Trefonnen Church in Wales Community Primary School, Members of Knighton refugee support group,Play Radnor, Powys Dance, Llandrindod Community Cafe [ The Herb Garden], the ‘messy Church’ group, Samaritans volunteers, St Johns volunteers, community police, local community and various members of HBTSR, Unity in Diversity, Swansea bay Asylum seekers group and Newtown Community Connection. If that sounds like a lot of people then that is about right! Trefonen is a large [ in Powys terms – it has about 200 pupils] and extremely friendly primary school that was echoing with shouts, laughter,chatter and tremendous warmth for 6 hours on Sunday 15th July.
Pupils had been inspired to think about hosting a day by their teachers especially the head Mrs Stuart-Lyon and Mr Coleman in charge of community liaison and governors Mrs Jo Harris and Dr Simone Lowthe-Thomas. They asked Sue, Lynne, Ailsa and Philip to visit and talk about why people seek refuge and why we offer respite days. Following this several planning meetings were held and enthusiasm developed. Enormous amounts of clothing, toiletries, toys and food were donated by individuals and local businesses and sorted by Samaritan shop volunteers [‘they know how to sort this sort of thing’- and they certainly do!] . The local community cafe agreed to do the catering and Pat and Sally assisted by friends and Lynne and Phil [cut fingers] prepared a feast of vegetable chilli, rice, potatoes and pasta bake with salad and bread with beautifully cut sandwiches and cakes [ also provided by many local people] for afternoon tea. Fruit was donated by Tescos and was freely available during the day.
First to arrive were the group from Newtown in minibuses loaned by Dial a ride. It was great to meet up with Rina [ We’d exchanged emails for months!] who was a local councillor and is now part of Newtown Community Connection who try to bring together and help people who are disadvantaged or marginalised. We benefited enormously from the presence of Family support worker Hamed who as a Palestinian knows a thing or two about needing refuge and speaking both excellent English and Arabic obviously commands great respect and affection from the Syrian families who are now living in Newtown. Somehow, throughout the day, he managed to be always just where he was needed to gently help when translation was needed. ‘I wouldn’t have missed being here for the world’ he said when we thanked him for his help.
The coach from Swansea was a little later than hoped for [but quicker than the Sat nav predicted – Thanks Stuart!] as the opportunity was taken to bring a family much in need of a day out who were on the reserve list. Wayne had estimated his ‘no shows’ perfectly and so a full coach [but not all the 67 on the list!] set off from a wet, miserable Swansea by 10.20 . Meanwhile in Powys the sun shone throughout the day- some quote about the righteous springs to mind……Momentary panic was instilled by Lawrence misreading texts about food delivery but we were ready to welcome the coach with a lovely banner prepared by the School and bunting made by Steve.
Coffees and Welcome moved into looking through the biggest jumble [ non]sale in my memory or playing football for the adults/children and looking round the school and doing crafts for the children, swiftly followed by lunch. A talented local girl played the piano in the background.
It always amazes me how many people can be fed on these days out and it was a great bonus to be allowed into the school kitchen which meant washing up was simplified. The presence of the school cook [ on a Sunday- thanks so much] meant we were able to offer piping hot food for seemingly hundreds of people over several hours. Constant hot drinks and countless cold drinks and bottles of water were available throughout the day and smiles and good cheer were constants.
The ‘Messy Church Team’ came after church with ‘growing green men’ and painted fish and were busy for hours with a regular stream of people participating. ‘It’s a sign of how warm it’s been that the paint has dried in time to go home- it’s all been so thickly applied!’ remarked a helper.
Radnor Play equipment was used throughout, possibly helped by overlooking the football field, so when people stopped rushing around chasing a ball they could try juggling, playing quoits, building with large shapes or playing with massive dominos or Connect 4.
Facepainting hid in a corner but somehow everyone seemed to have found them! Beautiful tigers, princesses and monsters roamed freely. Beading and Dragon fly making people led by Christine from Knighton sat on the grass and thus many people had something handmade to take home. The beads with letters on seemed a great way of learning English spelling and the brightly coloured jewellery in little gift bags will be treasured as a great momento.
Powys Dance had many takers with various routines being suggested and refined and built upon by the participants . One of the older Newtown Syrian men introduced some high kicks which were envied and copied by many. He may be stiff today!
Groups of Syrian women from Newtown and Swansea and Albanian and Sri Lankan and Pakistani and Welsh women sat and chatted and marvelled at the warmth of the welcome and the range of activities. ‘Its such a lovely way to spend time to together. Thank you so much’.
Did I mention football? The everlasting game seemed to take place in various directions across the field and there was never less than 6 people but often more than 20 with ages ranging from 5 to 60! Some of the Refs decisions were challenged [Lawrence claims they all were!] and a young Llandrindod girl left the men open mouthed with her skills and a 16 year old Syrian who has just signed up for Newtown were singled out for special mention. At various stages, an international between Syria and Sudan, then Wales and the rest of the world and Children v adults and any other combinations possible.
St Johns Ambulance nearly caused heart failure when it drew up as we feared the worst but this was a planned safety measure. Thankfully, only a burnt hand was treated but so many people called in for a check up and chat and everyone was delighted with the attention. Something we should perhaps consider again as it was a popular activity! The police presence was also enjoyable as they joined in chatting and one tried out dancing! Its always good to confirm that the British Police really are helpful and kindly.
The Ref’s whistle called people to Tea and afterwards to witness a tree planting ceremony. Steve dug a hole during our set up period and planted several children during the day in between football duties. The weeping Beech tree was planted to commemorate the day by the governors, teachers and some of the visitors and became the focus for many selfies and group photos. One of the Syrian men said [ via Hammed] ‘The tree will grow and provide sanctuary as you have done for us today” .
A group photo, goodbyes, hugs and thanks and suddenly it was all over. Going home sweets were kindly provided by ‘The Candyman’ for every child.
It is a good sign at the end of the visit when the main organisers are saying ‘well, when we do this again… and they were! Planning to meet at the community cafe to debrief and plan again!
Many many thanks are due to
The Herb Garden for preparing, cooking, delivering and serving the food (yum yum); Van’s food for the vegetables, Tescos for the fruit, Aldi donated some food, Dudley Taylor pharmacy for donated toiletries Dyfed-Powys Police and the local PCSO team; St John Ambulance (thank you Shirley!); Samaritans , Holy Trinity Messy Church, Knighton Refugee Support/Christine Brooks , The Candyman for the sweets, Powys Dance, Play Radnor, Newtown Community Connection, the Friends of Ysgol Trefonnen for afternoon tea and face painting, staff,governors and parents for Donations of clothes, toys and toiletries and of course the children of Ysgol Trefonnen for all their help.
Thank yous and comments
Another wonderful respite day – this time hosted by Church in Wales Primary School Trefonnen, Llandrindod. This school is set in grounds with fantastic mountain views. The interior emanates warmth, generosity, welcome and inclusion. This is what so many of us experienced today from the staff, governors, parents, children , friends of the school and local people who gave of their time, money and hearts. Around 50 people from Swansea and a group of Syrian refugees from Newtown were to experience a day of activities, fun, friendship, crafts, music, gifts of clothes toys and books,wonderful food and a lot else besides.
It never fails to amaze us as volunteers, how weary, worried, stressed faces at the start of the day, without fail, return with smiles, gratitude and a much more relaxed air. Sometimes it is an effort for parents with young children to get to the city centre at a fairly early hour on a Sunday morning. Without fail, they are all so pleased that they made this effort.
We are so aware that many,many people contributed to the success of the day. They may never know what a difference their contribution made, to one person, a family or a group of people, all far away from family and friends. Our friends left their countries for many reasons, the majority were in fear for their lives and had witnessed scenes that we hopefully never will. They sought sanctuary, many still waiting to know if their applications for refugee status will be accepted, many have been refused initially, their harrowing stories not being believed. Their nightmare continues. However, today they found sanctuary in the beautiful countryside and with the wonderful people of Llandrindod. Several Albanian ladies, some with children, some without, sat in the sunshine and talked and laughed and cried together – they said they felt safe, with people who wanted them there. There was networking going on between people who had never met before but wanted to help one another. They all enjoyed the fantastic food provided by a cafe and the lovely ladies, Sally and Pat- many of our friends are often too stressed to eat properly.
Many of our friends suffer physical symptoms of their stress. As the day progressed, the headaches lightened. The presence of the ’emergency services’ was noted and appreciated. L who is having a particularly difficult time at the moment told me she really enjoyed the day. She enjoyed the hot food, the items that had been donated and wondered at the caring people. She had burned her hand that morning because she was stressed and distracted. Someone directed her to the first aiders. They tended to her, bandaged her hand but perhaps more importantly took her seriously and added some TLC. She returned this evening more positive and this had the same effect on her children. This is just one example of how a day such as today, can change the mindset, albeit temporarily, of our friends who were fortunate enough to benefit from your thoughtfulness, kindness and welcome.
I struggle to mention individuals or groups, for fear of missing anyone out – to all of you- whatever your role was- an enormous thank you from us all from Swansea. We hope to meet you again ( when you have recovered sufficiently!)
I can imagine the work that must have gone into organising such an event and it was heart-warming seeing the community coming together to give all the families such a warm welcome.
We are inspired to do something like this in Newtown. We are having a Syrian Feast at our Food Festival on Sunday 3rd September and I’ll send you a programme when it’s been printed.
Great to put faces to all the names too!
All the very best