‘Thank you for your hospitality, for thinking about us and giving us a different day. We really appreciate it. ‘
Every now and then we do wonder if the money and effort involved in inviting 50+ people seeking asylum to come to spend a day in a rural back water is really worth it. And then you see the enjoyment it gives to everyone involved and you know that it really does make a difference to so many people’s lives . Not just the invited guests but the local people who have cooked, planned entertainments, opened their allotments[ and their hearts] , loaned equipment, donated food or time- everyone is touched by the act of meeting with people who have been through so much and yet still can smile and chat. And these people are given hope and resilience by knowing that someone cares…
Penny and Andrew took on the task of coordinating the day and were as always supported by their team of very willing and experienced helpers. A trial run using the risk assessment form completed with Melrose helped to inform all participants prior to the day. On Saturday, Steve , Charlie and Fin strimmed the grass prior to mowing so that that gazebos [ borrowed from the town council by Andrew- many thanks]could be erected to give a little more dry space if the inclement weather that was forecast did arrive. Julia, Trevor and Carola cleaned the kitchen ready and Penny and Fiona sorted out tables and chairs [ Thanks to Llanfihangel Nant Bran hall for the loan] and put away scout stuff and put out our things.
Then on Sunday by 9am things really moved apace. Penny’s car acted as a storeroom for cakes, whilst stews and salads arrived complete with garnishes and serving spoons, Mac and Ailsa set up the welcoming area, Becky arrived with indoor activities including knitting, Jackie with outdoor games, gazebos were erected by Steve, Paul, Andrew and Jackie,Virginia arrived with signage, Trish and Liz with a large wheelie bin full of donated vegetables from Watton Allotments, flowers and tablecloths put on tables by Carola[ and others] , biscuits and fruit shared around, hot drinks prepared and Paul with his keyboard serenaded the people milling in and out finding or allocating jobs. The kitchen team led by Julia with Bernie, Lis, Val, Tim, Carola, Fiona [ x2] and Erica made sure that there was space to prepare welcoming drinks and also cut up fruit, opened packets of biscuits and made space for all the food that kept arriving. Patrick and Gerard arrived with large amounts of fruit, Val with river dipping equipment and some donations of bike repair things. Then by 11 the message came through that the coach with 44 people on board was 10 minutes away and so a welcoming party led by Penny, Melrose and Margaret set off to await the arrival and show people round to the hall. Katherine hoped that she might meet some of the people she remembered from last year and her mother looked forward to doing some sewing if the occasion arose.
The coach arrived in brilliant sunshine and umbrellas were put away. Hot drinks, fruit and biscuits demolished ,piano music by Paul and welcoming messages from Margaret led to people setting off for a walk to the play ground for children, football for those so minded with Robert and Lawrence and allotment visits for most with Trish, Liz, Jackie and Mike. It was interesting to discuss how to cook various items, to imagine what might be growing in far-flung countries at this time of year, to work out names in different languages, to reminisce, to enjoy the scenery, to marvel at the generosity of the allotment holders, to swap gardening notes and to enjoy being in a lovely space with friends. T arrived to meet his wife with the news he’d scored a goal whilst she showed him the beans she had been allowed to pick and the pumpkins that were growing so vigorously.
Then back for lunch and a chance to catch up with each other, to make new friendships, to bond over a shared love of the countryside, or of food. It was good to see so many tables of people made up of visitors and locals chatting and enjoying each others company. A recently arrived Chinese family with elderly grandmother, parents and teenage children were managing with little English to enjoy conversations, the food, the busyness. The piano music was again appreciated and several people asked to have a go.
Swansea City of Sanctuary representatives, Amber, Kathryn and Thanu had arranged for Rowland to attend so that he could be given a Holiday House of Sanctuary award for his generosity in allowing over 30 families to have a break in his lovely house over the last two years. He was also given gifts by Thanu and Guli. They had thoughtfully planned to make the award at one of our Welcome days rather than making Rowland drive to Swansea to be presented. It was good to be able to welcome Amber and her children and Kathryn to their first Welcome day.
Then as the applause died down and the food started to digest, it was off to river dip or walk along the promenade to the bandstand. Val had done a very careful risk assessment as the banks were a little slippy but it was good to see that O still loves being by water and looking at the wild life. His sister was so proud to have touched a fish- ‘it was a very little one, mummy’ .
Meanwhile back at the base ,cakes were starting to disappear from the table and tea to be drunk. Large amounts of courgettes, beans and beetroot were being selected to go home to Swansea and some was boxed up to be used at the drop ins to make supper and to share with Govinda’s who regularly make food for Unity in Diversity.
All too soon it was five o’clock and time to walk back to the bus. Another very successful day over, another load of enjoyable memories made and many friendships cemented.