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 or Gail Smith on 015242 51002 

City of Sanctuary Maternity Stream


Teaching skills on the hills

Take seven amazing women, one son, two YDMT members of staff and one Instructor, put them in a hut in Selside with maps and compasses and you have all the ingredients for a fantastic weekend of fun and learning!

Hill Skills training in the Yorkshire Dales

Hill Skills training in the Yorkshire Dales

People and the DALES ran another successful two days of Hill Skills training last weekend, when an all-female group from predominantly black and minority ethnic backgrounds came to the Yorkshire Dales to learn how to map read.

Fun & laughter!

Map reading madness! 

These women all work alongside disadvantaged community groups in Bradford and Leeds and have previously enjoyed visits to the Dales through our People and the DALES outreach project. The weekend was a chance for them to learn how to plan walks, navigate and understand the equipment needed to safely enjoy a day in the hills.

Map reading & navigation.

Everyone went away with a Mountain Training England qualification and lots of memories of a weekend filled with laughter and enjoyment – not to mention the skills and confidence to enjoy the countryside safely and independently in the future.

Building the confidence & skills to use maps to access and enjoy the countryside independently.

Building the confidence & skills to use maps to access and enjoy the countryside independently.

People and the DALES turns 10!

People and the DALES rocks!

People and the DALES rocks!

People and the DALES stands for Diversity, Access, Learning, Education and Sustainability. We think that about sums up what we do – to enable people from diverse backgrounds to access, understand and benefit from the Yorkshire Dales – but it doesn’t tell the whole story.

To us at YDMT the project also has an alternative strapline ‘People and the DALES – It makes people cry’. That’s because we’re regularly reduced to tears when Judy or Gail – our dedicated community workers – recount the heart-warming, inspirational and uplifting stories of the people they meet.

It’s getting to know the people and hearing their stories that make us realise just why this project is so important. Like the new mums who live with the day-to-day stresses of being a refugee or asylum seeker in Leeds. For them a day out in the countryside can be a life-changing experience. It helps them leave their troubles behind, compare life in the English countryside with life back home, and smile. It gives them hope that life can be better.

Mums and toddlers from Choto Moni childrens centre at Malham Cove

Mums and toddlers from Choto Moni childrens centre at Malham Cove

In the last 10 years People and the DALES has benefited 7,000 disadvantaged children and adults, many of whom had never visited the countryside before.

This year we’re delivering 30 days out in the Dales. Visit the People and the DALES Facebook page and you’ll see the variety of things we do and the diversity of people who are involved. Recently we brought together a Refugee Women’s Choir from Leeds and a local choir in Settle for some walking and singing in the rain. School children from Bradford have helped a Dales farmer with lambing and sheep shearing. A weekend of activities brought together refugees from City of Sanctuary Leeds with the community in Malhamdale

Through this work we hope to inspire people to spend more time in the countryside and give them the confidence to come back. But it’s much more than that, it’s about giving people the opportunity to get away from it all and have fun, meet new people, get some exercise, try something new and often remember something from their past.

A day out with People and the DALES is a hugely positive experience and one that helps people feel like they belong. In the words of one young asylum seeker, “It’s been the best time of my life…I want to stay here forever”.

Choto Moni at Malham Cove

The Dales…from above

A blog by Gail, YDMT Community Worker

“Working out and about with groups on our People and the DALES project gives me plenty of opportunities to explore parts of the beautiful Yorkshire Dales. Getting up hill and down dale is both a privilege and part of the everyday.

After a number of years of the weather getting the better of me I finally got the chance to view this fabulous part of the world from a new view point, up in the air from a hot air balloon. Taking off from just outside the National Park at Burton-in-Lonsdale, we rose gently brushing the tops of trees, as the people, river and buildings below us shrank into miniature. The sensation of drifting noiselessly through the air was just incredible.


Thanks to some unseasonal sunshine we enjoyed stunning views of all three of Yorkshire’s Peaks in one go, a first for me, a glimpse of the arches of Ribblehead viaduct in the distance, views across to Morecambe Bay and the distant hills of the Lake District.


Seeing Ingleborough from a range of perspectives over the course of the hour long flight was just incredible, although our pilot was a little nervous about being drawn up and over it, it’s a steep descent on the other side!

Ingleborough from up high

Ingleborough from up high

As YDMTs home village of Clapham grew closer we came to rest with a rather hefty bump in a field near Newby! Thanking the farmer with a customary glass of champagne as the sun sank below the horizon. Perfect end to an amazing experience and a view of the Dales I’ll never forget.”

A dose of Dales air!

Words and pictures by Judy Rogers, our People and the DALES community worker: 

“Earlier this week I took a group of refugees and asylum seekers for a walk around Swinsty reservoir. Living in the heart of the Yorkshire Dales I rarely visit this neck of the woods, but have often wondered what the reservoirs that are dissected by the A59 are like as I drive to Harrogate. Last week my son and I did a recce of the walk around the reservoirs and were thrilled to see a few cormorants resting on some tree trunks. And this week with the group we were not disappointed as we saw yet more cormorants, Canada geese, crested grebe and a mob of mallards.

The group included ten young men from Leeds who were mostly asylum seekers supported by a project called PAFRAS. Each of them came from a different African country and each of them are waiting for their applications for refugee status to be reviewed and are hoping for the right to remain in this country. Whilst waiting they receive no benefits and so have to live with support from projects like PAFRAS, friends or churches. Days out offered through our People and the DALES project allows them to get away from the city and forget about their problems for just one day.

PAFRAS members enjoy a day out in the Dales

The walk took us over the dam between Fewston and Swinsty and up to the newly built Heritage Centre next to Fewston church. Here Cheri the church warden and Anne the Centre manager welcomed us into the church and provided us with tea, biscuits and chat. Thank you Cheri and Anne for making us feel so welcome.

We continued on our walk past Swinsty Hall remarking at the dam at the end of the lake and the huge pipes taking water to Leeds. The trees have been fantastic this time of year. Some say it is because we haven’t had the high winds which so often strip the leaves off trees in October. As we walked the men asked about wild animals and were saddened to hear we have no big game, although they were surprised to hear about the adder – our only deadly snake!”

A celebration of People and the DALES

The initial phase of YDMT’s inspiring and ground-breaking project People and the DALES comes to an end this Summer. This month we celebrated the projects many achievements with some of the people who have helped to make it such as success.

Over the last three and a half years People and the DALES has given over 3000 people from disadvantaged and disabled groups the opportunity to visit the Yorkshire Dales countryside. The project has enabled these people to take part in all kinds of activities, enjoy the magnificent Dales landscape, learn new skills and forge new friendships. Some of them have never visited the countryside before. We hope that most of them will be inspired to return.


St Vincent's Support Centre users from Leeds experience lambing in the Dales

A People and the Dales lambing day with St Vincent’s Support Centre, Leeds


At the celebration event at Bradford 1 Gallery last week we heard several community group members recounting their most memorable People and the DALES moments. Some of them were very emotional, and there were tears shed! Sylvia Shatwell from Willow Young Carers Barnardo’s said: “I have been very touched emotionally by the project and have shared exhilarating moments with some incredible people through the People and the DALES training events. I am exceptionally privileged to have been involved in the project.”

Everyone who attended the event, or who has been involved in People and the DALES, has overwhelming support for the project and admiration for the YDMT team who have delivered it, Dave, Gail Judy. Natural England, who awarded £197,000 to the project in 2009 as part of its Access to Nature programme, is one of its biggest advocates, praising the project for exceeding all of its targets, surpassing expectations and being a joy to manage.

YDMT is doing everything it can to ensure the life-changing work of People and the DALES continues into the future.

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.