Refugees find sanctuary in Malham

This September the small community of Malhamdale in the heart of the Yorkshire Dales opened their homes to a group of refugee and asylum seeking women and children for a weekend of fun and friendship.

The group of refugee and asylum seeking women and children & their Malhamdale hosts.

The group of refugee and asylum seeking women and children & their Malhamdale hosts.

This was our second ‘hosting weekend’ which grew out of previous day visits made by women and children from the City of Sanctuary’s Maternity Stream to the Dale, organised as part of our ‘People and the DALES’ project. Participants enjoyed these visits so much that they often didn’t want to go home and asked if there might be the chance to stay for a weekend.

This year built on the huge success of our first hosting weekend in 2015. Seven families opened their homes to welcome 35 refugee and asylum seeking women and children to experience a weekend of Dales hospitality. Among the group was Olympic athlete Muna, who represented Sudan in Beijing as a long jumper – a lawyer, doctor, midwife and various other amazing women and children from countries including Eritrea, Iran, Pakistan, Albania, South Africa and Bolivia.

Farms, raft building & bell-ringing!

The weekend began on Friday evening with a delicious meal at Airton Quaker Meeting House. On Saturday morning we visited Dykelands Farm in Airton where farmer Janet Bolland showed the group around her dairy herd. It was then up to Malham Tarn Field Centre for a picnic lunch and a session of raft building whilst our resident artist Katharine Holmes (also a host) made small portraits of people to take home. That evening entertainment included a ceilidh, singing, dancing and an impromptu demonstration of South Asian dancing.

A visit to Dykelands Farm in Airton.

A visit to Dykelands Farm in Airton.

On Sunday morning we were all invited to join the church service at St Michael’s where women talked about their experiences as asylum seekers . Some of the young people were even given the chance to turn their hand at bell ringing.

A weekend filled with hope

Mirander from Albania said of the weekend:

I’m an asylum seeker which makes me feel tired, and divorced from the world, but this weekend has filled me with hope. I am very happy because people I don’t know have opened their home and this makes me feel like I am at home. My host even made breakfast like my mum does.

Diako said:

I feel ecstatic. The weekend made me feel valued and important. We felt like we are back to life instead of just existing. We felt love around us and the important thing is we are one big family.

The hardest part of the weekend was saying goodbye. One host noticed that her young visitor was very upset to be leaving and everyone wanted to return again next year.

 I have been very moved by the way simple hospitality was viewed by the members of the group and the impact it had. We were warned that Tabitha had a bad stammer and that communication might be difficult. Amazingly she felt so comfortable with us she didn’t stammer at all and was really quite a chatterbox! As the weekend progressed she opened up and shared some of her story with us. It felt good to have gained her trust so readily.

The final comment comes from a host, and sums up why the hosting weekend is so important.

If only this project could be replicated in many more places we would live in a society where there is greater tolerance and understanding of asylum seekers and refugees.

Raft building at Malham Tarn.

Raft building at Malham Tarn.

The people involved

Our thanks go to the many people involved in making the weekend possible – in particularly to Rose McCarthy of City of Sanctuary Maternity Stream, Rev Michael Jackson and the congregation of St Michaels in Kirkby Malham for organising accommodation and providing meals, to Floe Shakespeare and Airton Quakers for a quiet space and great food, Jim Wright and Abby Forrest from Malham Tarn Field Centre for providing accommodation and activities, Janet Bolland for showing us around her farm, to all the hosts for taking our visitors into their homes and hearts and Richard Hargreaves for playing at the ceilidh. A big thanks also to the Morrisons Foundation for funding towards this and other similar initiatives.

To find out more about People & the Dales outreach project contact:

Judy Rogers judy.rogers@ydmt.org or Gail Smith gail.smith@ydmt.org on 015242 51002 www.ydmt.org 

City of Sanctuary Maternity Stream www.cityofsanctuary.org

Linking communities in Yorkshire

Meeting people from new places and different communities is often difficult. Our People and the DALES project is helping to break down some of the barriers by setting up links between communities.

Two groups who recently became acquanted through the project were a group of young people from Girlington Community Centre in Bradford and a youth group for young people in Stainforth, Langcliffe and Horton in Ribblesdale in the Yorkshire Dales.

During the summer holidays 30 of these young people and their adult leaders met up for a day of environmental activities at Malham Tarn led by Gail, our community worker. 

Gail said: “The day up at Malham Tarn was a great success. The young people and their leaders enjoyed getting to know each other whilst also learning about the environment and our natural world through a range of games, sensory activities and environmental art. The natural setting provided a safe space for them to both play and learn whilst also getting to know one another, something that’s not often easy with people from very different backgrounds.”

The groups got on so well that they are planning to meet up again this Autumn for a return visit to Bradford.  

Burma meets Malham though People and the DALES

In 2004 the Home Office agreed to accept up to 500 refugees a year under a resettlement programme run by the United Nations. Under this scheme some of the world’s most vulnerable refugees, including many who have lived in refugee camps for years, are given a safe route to the UK and granted indefinite leave to remain.

Described by the UN as one of the most persecuted minorities, some 250,000 Rohingyas (a Muslim ethnic group) fled from Burma (also known as Myanmar) to Bangladesh in the early 1990s, and have lived in tented camps ever since.

Judy Rogers, community worker for the Trust, recently took a group of 13 Burmese women, who have recently resettled in Bradford, on a trip to Malham as part of our People and the DALES programme. It’s thanks to People and the DALES that many refugees living in urban areas are being given the opportunity to visit the Yorkshire Dales for the very first time.

Burmese refugees who have resettled in the UK need help with everything from learning about their new community to getting into training, work and education. In Bradford refugee resettlement workers at Horton Housing provide this support during their first year in the UK. Judy worked with Horton Housing, and through People and the DALES, to give 13 Burmese women the opportunity to visit the Yorkshire Dales.

Judy says, “The women had lived in Bradford for less than 6 months. Many spoke little English and were shy and nervous. But the great outdoors does wonders! After walking from Malham to the cove, up the 412 steps onto the limestone pavement and then back down the Tarn Road into Malham, it was hard to keep the women quiet and the elation of getting out into the Dales was evident.”

Francesca Archer- Todd, Resettlement Worker for Horton Housing says “The women seemed to have really thrived from the experience. It was a huge success. Thanks for your help. I do hope we will be able to come again.”

During the visit photographer Tim Smith took photos of the women which he used in an exhibition in Bradford to raise awareness of the plight of refugees in Burma.

Through People and the DALES we’re bringing more disadvantaged groups from West Yorkshire and North Lancashire into the Dales. If you know of a group that would like to take part in the project contact Judy Rogers or Gail Smith on 015242 51002.

A new documentary, 'Moving to Mars', tells the story of two families who came to Yorkshire as refugees from Burma through the UN Gateway Protection Programme. Look out for screenings in your local area.

Snow & tell – by David Sharrod

Clapham, where YDMT offices are based, in December

New Year has brought the sort of proper winter that I still associate with the Dales. It’s not quite 1962, but certainly like others in the 60s and 70s.

Now I know it has caused problems for many, not least the farmers. The snow and ice has shown yet again that they have a lifestyle which very few people in our society would put up with these days. No chance of sneaking a day off from the office or school for them. Sheep in particular struggle to move around in snow, and even with daily feeding farmers in the village say that they can only wait for the thaw to find out how many of their stock have survived.

However, it has also been marvellous. Like living in an Alpine village. Day after day of crisp sunshine and blue skies over a stunning white landscape, with the hills pink in the sunsets. That soft quiet you only get after snow; helped by the lack of vehicles. A real sense of community as well, one of those times when people all talk to each other as they slither and slide up the road, or huddle by the fire in the pub. Sights to be seen and remembered as well. Stalactite–like icicles on the roof of the tunnels in Clapham, hares standing stock still in white fields thinking you can’t see them, and most bizarrely for me a Little Owl falling down our chimney! Presumably looking for a warm roost site, it looked as surprised as we felt, but flew off happily enough once rescued.

YDMT staff have done us proud; a Dunkirk–like spirit to carry on. Particular praise to our receptionist Tracy who has got in every day from Settle by bus – indeed the buses have been a lifeline to local villages. Also to Sue who has driven over the top from Richmond every day, snow chains at the ready. Others were not so lucky; Tanya and Rima stuck in Wensleydale a long way from any snow plough. The wonders of technology mean there is no escape from work via the dreaded emails. Our fundraising manager Anne had the opposite problem and didn’t make it home for nearly a week; but then Malham Moor where she lives had several feet of drifting snow. Christa, our new Hay Time officer, must wonder where these supposed flowery meadows are! An unsolicited plug for our two Daihatsu Terrios vehicles as well, sponsored by Nicholas Smiths of Skipton. They have been fantastic and never let us down, when many others have been slipping and sliding around the roads.