The summer lunch was essentially a follow up to our successful tea and circus skills Mitzvah Day event for the families of asylum seekers, living in one of the large hotels in Gloucester. This gave rise to the thought that we might be able to work more closely with some of the asylum seekers to put on a joint event. The hotel residents formed the basis of a group which met twice to plan the day. Their enthusiasm, commitment and organizational skills were tremendously impressive from the outset. They were very excited to be given the opportunity to plan the day and come up with a menu of dishes featuring freshly cooked food, to break away from the regime of precooked ready meals that are the mainstay of their diet in the hotel.
The day itself was an overwhelming success, with over 50 hotel residents attending with their children from countries including Iran, Honduras, El Salvador, Nigeria, Albania and Ukraine. Members of the group started cooking from 9.30 in the morning and an extensive buffet was provided including South American pupusas, Kurdish naan bread, homemade hummus, a range of salads, burgers and sausages. Fresh fruits included mangos, melons, watermelons, pineapple, and strawberries. Ice cream was generously donated by Marshfields. The food provided the opportunity to share a meal with our guests, hearing about the reasons they had left their homelands, the people they had left behind, the frustrations they have experienced and their hopes for the future. Another of the group’s suggestions was to have a selection of second hand clothes available for people to take away. We amassed a sizeable collection of generously donated items which were much appreciated by our visitors, especially the large number of children’s clothes.
An arts and crafts table kept the children occupied while face painting also proved popular with the young people. One little girl was heard to say, “I love it here. I don’t want to go …,” bringing home the degree to which these children are unnaturally confined in cramped hotel rooms. The afternoon rounded off with music from Joel Questle who kindly gave up his time entertaining us with a very well delivered and well received set of popular songs.
The positives from the afternoon were undoubtedly the sense of partnership created with the asylum seekers, our own members, and members of the local church. It was a great team effort with everyone working tremendously hard on the day and beforehand to ensure its success. As Pat commented, “It was great to be involved and a real eye opener. What an honour to meet such brave and warm people.” It also brought home the potential contribution these asylum seekers could make to the wider community in so many areas of employment, instead of being holed up with long waits, many for over 1.5 years, for their claims to be assessed.
Many thanks to GARAS for its ongoing support and advice in helping to arrange this event. It was Adele Owen, GARAS Director, who pointed out that one of the reasons the day proved such a success was that it gave the asylum seekers the autonomy to play a full part in a community event and shape it to their own needs.
Finally, a huge thank you to members from St. Lawrence Church and our own hard-working members who arrived bearing food and clothes and ensured that the day ran smoothly and all the washing up was done!