Before the Pandemic put an end to large groups of people getting together, Hay Brecon and Talgarth Sanctuary for Refugees, organised and hosted Welcome Days in their locality for people seeking asylum or refuge in South Wales. The charity has strong links with Swansea Asylum Seekers Support and every month or so, groups would be invited to village and school halls, where they would take part in various activities and share a meal cooked by members of the local community.
At one such event in Hay-on-Wye, in January 2020, Emily Hedges and two of her friends, Jenny Chippendale and Julia Joplin, ran a sewing group where people from Swansea sat round a table with a local volunteers and made hand-sewn brooches. Emily remembers:
‘It was wonderful,:everyone really enjoyed themselves and absorbed in this simple activity, opened up and began to talk about their previous sewing experiences. One lady had been a tailor in Basra and another chap had been taught to sew by his mother- we really had a giggle’
Safe stitching during lockdown
As COVID took hold and lockdown led to long periods of isolation for many, Emily began to think of a plan to help people connect once again, through stitching. The idea of a Friendship Quilt grew and she devised a series of packs to be sent out individually to people seeking asylum as well as their friends and supporters in Swansea and in Breconshire where she lives. Each pack contained a square of linen , some embroidery thread and needles as well as simple instructions ‘to embroider a design on the theme of Friendship.’ There was also a stamped addressed envelope so that each finished square could be posted to back to Emily.
With the support of SASS trustees ,Beverly Dobson and Margaret Lamb, who sent the packs out to members of the refugee community, the project quickly grew, to Emily’s delight:
‘I made eighty packs in total and have been really thrilled with how the project has taken off. It’s been lovely to think of everyone stitching away at home and that the individual squares will be joined together to make a quilt. Most days now a finished square drops through my letterbox and I’m so thrilled with the results. We’ve had lots of hearts and lots of flowers. They’re all so different and so beautiful.’
Once the finished squares are sewn together, the hope is for the everyone to be able to gather together once again, COVID permitting, to begin the process of hand-quilting. That the conversations and friendships that began back around the sewing table in Hay can be picked up once again. Eventually the quilt will be sold to to raise money for SASS and the refugee community they support.
SASS Trustee and volunteer, Margaret Lamb, has seen how the project has helped people who have felt isolated during the difficult months of lockdown:
‘It’s been really positive working on this project and getting to know everyone involved. Two ladies, who between them have completed six beautiful squares, said how much pleasure they have had from stitching.’
Ailsa Dunn, Secretary of HBTSR , commented upon how much fun it was to make a square and know that it would become part of a bigger item showing welcome and friendship
If you would like to see some more of the squares and follow the progress of the Friendship
Quilt project, please follow on Instagram: sass_friendship_quilt.
Photo shows an adapted, embroidered HBTSR logo
Emily with some completed squares