Article from Brecon and Radnor Express
The impact of the coronavirus pandemic has been felt across the world,
with people seeking asylum among the hardest hit.
For many of those who now call Wales home, lockdowns and social
distancing rules have left them increasingly isolated and unable to access
their usual support networks. The effects have also been felt by charities
helping to provide that support.
Hay, Brecon and Talgarth Sanctuary for Refugees (HBTSR) has been
hosting welcome days across Mid Wales since 2015 – giving refugees
and asylum seekers, many of whom have fled war or persecution, a
chance to make new friends and find support while spending time in the
“We started at the height of the Syrian refugee crisis and early on decided
that we could demonstrate welcome and support for people seeking
sanctuary by inviting them to visit and share activities with local people in
our beautiful area,” HBTSR’s Ailsa Dunn said.
“Our reasoning was that people who had fled in fear of their lives might
find healing in our beautiful, peaceful countryside and that everyone
involved would benefit from discovering their common humanity.”
The pandemic forced a stop to HBTSR’s regular community-organised
welcome days and made it difficult for the charity to hold any of its usual
fundraising activities but, thanks to the efforts of its volunteers, it is still
making a difference to many families’ lives.
“Throughout the months of lockdown, HBTSR supporters have kept in
close telephone and email contact with groups and volunteers in South
Wales cities and tried to respond to the needs that they identified,” Ailsa
“People seeking asylum have to live on less than £40 a week and are not
allowed to work so are often in need of help.
“HBTSR supporters have been very generous and grants from the
Community Foundation Wales the Coronavirus Resilience Fund and the
Gibbs family trust have allowed us to continue to offer help and support
for people seeking sanctuary.
“We’ve helped to provide laptops, phones, tablets and phone top-ups so
people could continue to follow their education courses and learning
English in particular is an essential aid to integration. Phone top ups have
also helped to maintain contact with families and friends – an especially
important consideration during the days of lockdown and isolation.”
The charity has also helped people in particular hardship by providing
money for children’s shoes, clothes and food.
Despite the challenges, supporters have also been busy adapting to
changing circumstances, making face masks, running a market stall and
helping to set up sewing groups.
A small group of supporters, Rachel Giaccone, Janet Bodily, Kumari Dias
and Gaynor Hooper started making hand-made washable face masks and
these have sold very well online. Christmas-themed face masks were one
of the attractions at a stall run recently by Christina Watson and other
members of HBTSR in Hay market.
“As the Covid-19 restrictions have made it very hard for drop-in support
groups to function and for donated second-hand goods to be given to
people seeking sanctuary, we made the decision to offer some of the
goods for sale. The stall was very well supported and raised over £275.”
In August, Tools for Self Reliance Cymru gave HBTSR four sewing
machines – and supporters gave four more machines – for Newport
Sanctuary where one of the organisers, Claire Seymour, was able to work
out a way of starting a socially-distanced sewing group so asylum seeking
people could visit and make items that they wanted.
“A couple of our supporters made a trip down to help set up the machines
and demonstrate their use,” Ailsa said.
“Now, just three months later, there are three separate groups taking
place in Newport using the machines, making assorted items such as
bags, children’s clothes and masks. HBTSR are about to deliver a further
batch of donated machines serviced and PAT tested by Tools for self
Reliance. We hope this will allow even more people can benefit from this
activity which is reported to help their general wellbeing .”
Chair of HBTSR Margaret Blake said: “While the satisfaction from seeing
groups of over 100 people meet and spend time together in our villages is
not matched by isolation and everything happening at a distance,
nevertheless it is good to know that in the absence of monthly welcome
days HBTSR are still able to help people seeking sanctuary to feel some
hope and welcome. This is all made possible by the generosity of the
many kind people in our area. We are very grateful to Tools for Self
Reliance who have been fundamental to the start of these new sewing
groups and who also gave gardening tools last year when the Newport
Sanctuary Allotment shed was burnt down destroying all their equipment. ”
More information can be found on the website hbtsr.org.uk. Any offers