The Welcome Tea House
In the St James' Room every Friday, 10.30am - 3.30pm
The Welcome Tea House has now closed. It opened in July 2003.
Plans for the setting up of a place where women asylum seekers could be made welcome in the City of Nottingham have now come to fruition on Fridays in the St James' Room at St Peter's. The doors have been opened each week since the beginning of March 2003, volunteers and staff from Refugee Action welcome women from many different countries to sit and chat (in many languages) and get to know each other. Inevitably there are various problems facing the women as they leave behind their home country and try to settle here in this busy, often confusing city and the equally overwhelming demands of paper work to be completed to apply for refugee status that are even more difficult when English is not your first language.
The aim of this project is to be a place where the women can socialise and find out what help is available to them. Fran Deuchar provides health advice as do two members of staff from the Arboretum Practice. An advice worker from the Chase Community Centre in St Ann's and staff members from Refugee Housing are also available. Bilfer Ecin the Women's Development Worker from Refugee Action and Kurdish speaker is invaluable at listening, befriending and contacting other agencies when necessary. Additional activities, important for bringing people together, are aerobics and art and crafts.
The highlight of the time together, and in a sense the most important aspect of the work, is the cooking and sharing of a meal. Preparing food together in the kitchen is an excellent way to overcome difficulties of language and communication is easier when there is a shared task. The outcome is very much appreciated by all who are able to share the meal (not least Trevor the Verger!) and the atmosphere is extremely warm and friendly.
Food has been provided by members of the church community and this is still required. Dried food such as tinned tomatoes and red kidney beans, cooking oil, pasta and rice are very popular ingredients. They can be delivered to Trevor in church on a Sunday or to me in the St Peter's Centre on weekdays.
The volunteers are from a variety of different groups and churches. Each one has attended a training course where background information, details about the procedures for claiming asylum and issues of good practice were presented and discussed.
The Project is to be officially opened on Friday 4th July 2003. The opening ceremony will be performed by Alan Simpson MP and it is hoped that many of the women, volunteers, staff and representatives from associated organisations will be there. The women are preparing a collage of artwork for display and providing the food for the lunch.
We hope that this will be an occasion to celebrate what has been achieved so far and put the project on a formal footing to launch it into a future where more women can be helped to integrate into society.
A new initiative to offer support to women Asylum Seekers has just started in the St James' Room. Refugee Action, the government-sponsored agency trying to manage support for asylum seekers and refugees, and which has its regional office in Canal Street, approached us some months ago because it has proved very difficult in their building to offer the sort of drop-in advice and support centre for women that they have wanted to. As a result, a weekly facility is now being offered in the St James' Room on Fridays between 10.30am and 3.30pm. It is simple in concept, and we shall see how successful it is in practice.
Basically it will be staffed by a full time worker from Refugee Action, Bilfer Eclin, who is herself a refugee from Turkey, and supported by a team of volunteers, all of whom will have had a two day training course on issues of asylum and the needs of refugees. The centre, which aims mainly to offer a welcome and friendship, will also, we hope, become a hub for a network of agencies that are able to offer to meet practical needs of refugees (e.g. medical, domestic, housing etc.).
Asylum-seekers have been on the receiving end of a torrid campaign in the popular press which in general is entirely unjustified and deeply inhuman. That there are important issues for the government to deal with is clear, and there is a problem over bogus refugees. But the vast majority of asylum seekers have been through unbelievably awful experiences in their own home countries. To then arrive here, in a strange and frightening new culture, with unfriendly climate and incomprehensible language, to a torrent of abuse from the media and the sulky and selfish rebuff of a section of our population, is tragic and appalling.
We are looking for a small number of female volunteers to help staff the Welcome Tea House, as it is being called. There will be training on the afternoons of 5th and 19th March in St Peter's Seminar Room. Please think carefully and prayerfully about whether you would like to be part of that welcome. Let me know if you would like to volunteer, or would like to discuss it further.