Minutes of group meeting 16.01.16

Minutes of meeting of Ashburton Refugees Welcome Group
Thursday 16th January 2015. Quaker Meeting House – taken by Pip Harris

1. Present:
Anne Watts, Simon Chater, Hilary Townsend, Inge Page (chair), Jo Barley, Judy Gordon Jones, Jude Cranmer, Nigel Ward, Paul Taylor, Pip Harris (minute-taker) , Sarah Parker-Khan, Yaara Lahav Gregory, Judy Marshall

Specific Apologies:
Andrea Sife, Jenny (from gnash comics), , Lucy Lepchani, Sophie Pierce, Tanja Brown, Tanmayo Murray-Clark, Anna Dunscombe, Stefan Batorijs, Andy Sife11951116_10153624169289571_7520198125483780574_n

2. Review of minutes from last meeting (04/11/2015)
Minutes are currently embedded within the blog, which makes them hard to find and read/print out. We will look at alternative place to hold them;
Action: investigate possibility of hosting as a Word document on the website

3. Matters Arising
Modern Slavery DVD. The Quakers have a copy of this, which can be shown at a future event if felt appropriate. Pip hasn’t seen it yet, but has the details. Action: Pip to follow up.

4. Updates
Xmas Appeal: Thanks to the Fish Deli for holding an extra collection for the Syrian Appeal, the Xmas Appeal raised £350 + £160, creating a grand total of £1375.50p raised for refugee charities since our inception in September ‘15.

Correspondence with Mel Stride
Yaara has received a letter from Richard Harrington MP, Minsiter with responsibility for Syrian Refugees. She will upload it to the website; it doesn’t address the questions raised in her initial correspondence regarding numbers of refugees being allowed into UK, but reiterates the Government’s position. People reported that this is similar to the response from Sarah Woolaston MP for South Hams.

Letters do have an impact so we should keep writing and asking; letters from individuals are very important – more so than petitions.

Tanya’s fundraiser (poetry event Sunday 17th Jan). No need for publicity, enough people are thought to be attending. Invites were kindly provided for the group.
5. Sharing Group Responsibilities.
Chairing meetings in rotation:
Pip has agreed to chair the next meeting (with apologies for not chairing this due to lack of prep and a kind offer by Inge)
There are many things the group still needs help with: none of these need a commitment to do them for very long, an offer for a month or two would be very helpful. Yaara is happy to provide pointers and oversight, but can’t do everything needed …
• Website maintenance
• Twitter account
• Ongoing letter writing and lobbying
• A contact for Beyond Borders
Action required: offers from volunteers please

6. Establishing what help refugees are likely to need from us
e.g. language practice, driving, meals and social interaction.
We need to find a way of exploring this with existing volunteers who are mostly in Plymouth. We haven’t heard from Emma Brown yet.

Our group is not clear as to how rooms are allocated to refugees. British Red Cross seem to be the only group involved in Plymouth. The government have made reference (Theresa May speech) to the possibility of a scheme which would enable local communities to arrange housing. Without specific volunteers willing to step forward to look at this issue, we aren’t able to take this forward.

We understand that “language skills” are significant need. A local resident has fostered a young Sudanese man and he would appreciate help with his English. Judy GJ is TEFL trained.

Simon reported some very exciting things happening as part of Bristol’s “Regional City of Sanctuary”:
Things are happening in Exeter and Newton Abbot as they both have “City of Refuge” status. Exeter is expecting its first refugees shortly. We are unsure what the situation is in Teignmouth. Very little has been discussed at Town Council level beyond a “we are waiting for advice from Central Government and have been advised not to billet people in spare rooms” type statement.

Refugee Support Devon has recently produced a document called “A Safe Haven: Devon’s response to the Refugee Crisis”, as a first “Issue Brief”. Simon gave us a hardcopy and electronic versions are free to download from website;

The groups in Totnes and Dartington are very active and we can gain a lot of information from them. Saif has suggested to the group that we join the “About Time” platform, and this certainly needs investigating.
A lot of information gets disseminated down from “Totnes without Borders”.
Whilst the links between local groups are important and we need to do as much as possible to support each other, we feel there is an important place for our group within Ashburton and surrounding moorland villages,

Refugee Support Exeter is planning an online tool to help plan and exchange information.

Things for refugees. Is anyone interested in co-ordinating information about where to send stuff (e.g. clothes, equipment) as this is a frequent question to the group, and we feel we would like to be able to signpost to local initiatives collecting for refugees. Action: a volunteer please.

7. Possible future events/activities
There was general discussion about the aims of Ashburton Refugees Welcome.
Link to webpage where are current aims are spelled out in the Home and About pages: https://ashburtonrefuge.wordpress.com/

We do seek to clarify this on the web pages (where 4 clear aims are set out on the landing page); we are very much a support group and a platform rather than a project group. If any individual wants to do a specific piece of work, we would hope to be able to support them.
e.g. setting up some informal meetings in Plymouth for the families to practice English conversation.

The group felt there was a need for clarification / confirmation as to what the group is; a need to educate ourselves; to share information and practice speaking about issues was also identified. We need to educate ourselves so that we can engage others in debate more successfully.

Simon felt this was quite natural for the group at this stage. Many groups are faced with a “shortage of refugees” to work with; at this stage a focus on lobbying and letter writing is essential. LOBBY LIKE FURY! There is a guide to this in our December blog: https://ashburtonrefuge.wordpress.com/2015/12/01/lobbying-help-a-sample-letter-with-some-ideas-of-points-to-make-to-local-and-national-politicians-blogpost-by-judy-gordon-jones/
Action: everyone to keep the pressure up by writing

Myth-busting evening
The group felt it would be a good idea to run an evening devoted to the issue of educating ourselves as a group (rather than the general public). Pip proposed a “Myth Busting / What do we think we can realistically do?” type evening.

Action: A small group will come together to plan facilitation of this session.
Yaara, Pip with help from Simon

Research for other events
People undertook to do some fact finding before the next meeting:
• Beyond Borders/Totnes Embracing Refugees (Judy M)
• Cultural Kitchen (Plymouth, every other Friday, Pip, Yaara, Inge, Lucy)
• Exeter (Paul Taylor, Simon, Jude Cranmer)
• Platforms for English Support ???
• Linkings with British Red Cross ???

Date of next meeting
Thursday 11th February 7.30-9.30pm.
This evening will allow the group to educate itself, practice myth busting conversations and generally explore the issues more closely
Likely to be a longer session – 2 hours.
Quaker Meeting House.

Refugees Welcome Group agenda for meeting tonight 14.01.16 @ 7.30-8.30

14 January 2016, 7.30 at Quaker Meeting House, Ashburton

1. Apologies
2. Minutes of last meeting
3. Matters arising

4. Updates
– Xmas appeal
– Correspondence with Mel Stride
– Tanja’s fundraiser

5. Sharing of group responsibilities
– Chairing meetings
– Admin, Twitter account, website, letter-writing & lobbying

6. Establising what refugees want from us – online forum or face to face discussion?

7. Possible future events/activities:
– Working with “About Time”
– Speaker on “Refugee rules”
– Attending Plymouth Cultural Kitchen
– Links with Totnes Embracing Refugees/Beyond Borders
– Links with Plymouth Red Cross
– Shared food events at homes in Ashburton
– Offering holiday homes
– Film showing

8. AOB

9. Date of next meeting

Gathering of Gifts event and other thoughts by Lucy Lepchani

In response to the invitation to attend ‘Gathering and Gifts’ from Beyond Borders Totnes & District: I arrived at Totnes Methodist church with gifts of sweets, wrapped in shiny red paper; and gifts from others – lovely toiletries – wrapped in gold and white. It was the first Christmas social event of the year, and I wasn’t sure what to expect, but wanted to keep up the contact we have between Ashburton and Totnes area’s support for refugees.

I arrived early and was made welcome with hot, spiced apple juice and friendly introductions, and was directed to put my gifts alongside others that had been brought, on the altar. I am not a religious person but the significance of placing those humble, lovely things on the altar was quite moving: the most exalted place in that building, allocated for giving to others, gifts heaped and gleaming.invite

A few people asked about our recent Ashburton event, and what we are planning to do next: I replied that we are having a break for Christmas but that we intend to ask local refugees what they would most like and benefit from. My hosts’ response was, they would like to learn English, through informal conversation.

Saif Ali agreed; he said that the best way for us as a group to support local refugees, and to better skill ourselves to respond to their needs, would be to work alongside the group About Time, who would be distributing the gifts gathered at the meeting.

I love the idea of working with this model of community building. I haven’t contacted About Time yet but they are an established group of some 6 years working with refugees and homeless people. On two days a week, they organise, serve and host meals and meeting where people from all backgrounds converse with each other. Saif was quite enthusiastic that we work with them, develop ourselves as a group as well as support ‘About Time’. He said that it would give us insight into how to develop our own further activities too. It is on the agenda to find out more and discuss this further, at our meeting on the 14th January at the Quaker Hall.

I mentioned that one of the things we could uniquely offer was our location: that in proximity to the moor, and being such a different environment to the city, and some of our members having ample space to meet and gather – and Saif agreed. We spoke about how connection to place expands inner and outer maps of our known worlds, and that belonging in a land included having joyful experience of that land.

There were about thirty of us by the time the meeting began, assembled in a circle. Introductions revealed several groups represented informally by members present. It was an informal, networking-type event. I didn’t take notes and so I recount here more with the essence of the meeting, than the detail!

People spoke about their work with refugees and asylum seekers in a number of contexts, both in response to recent disasters or spanning many years. Apart from Saif, there was one other person who I gleaned to be a former refugee, now working to support refugee causes. It was affirming and reassuring that so many skilled and compassionate, committed people are part of this movement. I would urge you all to look at the BBT&D website  and see the range and scope of what is available, and consider ways we might continue our work as individuals and as a group.

The conversation also covered a new venture that our Totnesian friends are looking into: the possibility of providing holiday homes for refugees. Weekends or weeks, especially for those isolated, or who have children, or whose means are such that they cannot leave the city, for example.

Some people spoke about gardening and land related projects they are part of, and that this is a wonderful opportunity to work and converse alongside refugees – although none have taken up invitations in this weather! More information about this at our meeting on the 14th January
It is also worth considering, that adjusting to this climate is yet another thing for people from other climes (I’m not sure I’ve ever got used to it, despite a whole lifetime here!)

A woman from a community council spoke about what is needed after a town becomes a refugee friendly town: that local/national authorities need to know that schools and doctors surgeries have spaces and are willing to support. This can also be discussed at our next meeting.

If any of you have ever felt the inclination to study the history of Ashburton, you will know that we have a long history of supporting the most vulnerable; of providing alms, sanctuary, facilities; for welcoming strangers and visitors; for participating in ethical and humanitarian issues; and for building community . Best wishes for 2016 and beyond, may it bring us all together similarly, and with much cause for happiness.

By Lucy Lepchany