From small seeds: welcoming refugees in Central Scotland
For a number of years a small group of Quakers in Central Scotland has been involved with supporting Syrian refugees in Stirling and Clackmannanshire.
The first of the refugees arrived in late 2015 under the UK government Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme. Friends have helped in the development of a small charity that has grown in five years. It started from the seed of an idea to a flourishing organisation that is the Forth Valley Welcome (FVW) today. To date the charity supports 34 households (67 adults and 78 children), including some from conflict zones other than Syria.
A couple of Friends were involved from the very start and others have joined along the way to volunteer as home visitors. They also befriend individual families, donate goods, help with policy development, data support, evaluation and as a trustee. We have not always declared ourselves as Quakers, nor have we sought to own the project. We work alongside others with a common aim.
A personal experience
Since 2016 I have been visiting and supporting a family with four boys, now aged 5–11. They had no English when they arrived from a camp in Lebanon where they had been for four years. We've been through a lot together, but they are now quite independent. At the start of the Covid lockdown I was moved when they phoned me, before I had a chance to contact them, to check that I and my husband were well. They offered to do my shopping for me and insisted that I must stay home. We speak on the phone or send messages until we can meet again in person. I have made face masks for them.
Supporting refugee families
Forth Valley Welcome has a Material Needs Team which usually sources items for families above and beyond what the council is able to provide. It adds 'homey' items like toys, child-friendly bedding, throws, rugs and additional kitchen equipment. During the lockdown, the team has stopped moving items about, but has continued to support the families in other ways. It delivers food parcels including halal meat. It takes out craft boxes to the children to help keep them occupied and gives all the Muslim children presents at Eid al-Fitr.
On 2 June 2020 Forth Valley Welcome heard that they had received the Queen's Award for Voluntary Action. This is the highest award for voluntary work in the UK. Forth Valley Welcome is one of 230 charities, social enterprises and voluntary groups to receive the prestigious award in 2020. The number of nominations has increased year on year since the awards were introduced in 2002. This shows that the voluntary sector is thriving and full of innovative ideas to make life better for people in the UK.
The Queen's Award for Voluntary Service aims to recognise outstanding work by volunteer groups to benefit their local communities. It was created in 2002 to celebrate the Queen's Golden Jubilee. Recipients are announced each year on 2 June, the anniversary of the Queen's Coronation. Award winners this year include a community shop in Cornwall, an environmental group in Swansea and a thriving community arts centre in County Down.
Savi Maharaj, Chair of Forth Valley Welcome, says, "We were very surprised and absolutely delighted to receive this prestigious award. Our organisation started because of a small group of volunteers who were passionate about supporting and welcoming refugees into our area. We currently have around 75 volunteers and it's really hard to put into words the incredible contribution they make to the organisation and their commitment to the families we support. We literally could not do it without them, and it is great to see them recognised in this way."