Quakers host day out in Chichester for people seeking asylum in the UK

People seeking asylum in the UK in 2019 face many obstacles. To offer respite, Chichester Quakers hosted a day out for refugee families. Michael Woolley reports.

chichester quakers sanctuary everywhere
Families enjoy a brass-rubbing activity at Chichester Cathedral. Photo: Friends Without Borders

70 asylum seekers from Portsmouth visited Chichester on Friday 12 April on a day trip that included sightseeing, all-age activities and a shared meal. The event was a group effort between a local charity, a national company, a cathedral, a football team, and a Quaker Meeting.

Making it happen

At any given time up to 200 asylum seekers are accommodated in Portsmouth while the Home Office reviews their applications. The government does not permit asylum seekers to work, but provides basic bedsit accommodation and an allowance of £37 a week. I chair a charity, Friends Without Borders, which runs a drop-in coffee shop and advice service for the asylum seekers in Portsmouth.

Friends Without Borders decided to organise an outing as a way of adding a bit of fun and colour to the lives of some very poor and deprived people. The nature of the project meant our Local Quaker Meeting, Chichester, was able to provide practical hands-on support.

A Stagecoach bus service runs past our Portsmouth base to central Chichester. We contacted Stagecoach to ask if they could help make the day happen by giving us complimentary tickets. Generously, they gave us the 50 we requested! When travel demand exceeded supply, the charity covered the cost of further tickets.

On the day of the visit, the day-trippers and charity volunteers travelled on the complimentary coaches. Quakers and refugees involved in the Chichester Sanctuary Meeting met the Portsmouth visitors and led them on a guided tour, going from the beautiful Bishop's Palace Garden, past the cathedral, through the city centre and to the Meeting House, where everyone had lunch.

Around half of the visitors were children, so after the meal, there was face-painting and Easter egg hunts, followed by a choice of football in the park, playing in the Priory Park play area, or a visit to Chichester Cathedral that included a brassrubbing acivity. Some of the men took time out to go to the Swanfield Mosque for Friday prayers before having an informal football match against Nations United, the Sanctuary in Chichester team.

Practical hospitality

We printed handbills advertising the trip as 'A Fun Day Out' with nothing to pay. On the reverse we printed maps of central Chichester. We timed the day to coincide with the school holidays, and organised activities for both children and adults. We made vegetarian food to avoid issues with sourcing halal options. Chichester Cathedral Education Department was a great help, and organised tours and the brassrubbing. The Easter egg hunts and face painting were popular with the children, and we had children's films to hand in case of wet weather. Some Sanctuary in Chichester folks came to play football, which went down well among the young men in the group.

The numbers were a challenge as the original plan was to cater for 25 people, and it ended up being at least 70. Fortunately it was a lovely day so there was quite a lot of coming and going; not everyone was in the Meeting House at the same time. A lot of Friends pitched in with the catering and all went smoothly on the day.

Reflecting on the day

Everyone who came on the trip gave us a very warm response. Many people thanked us, some quite profusely. The trustees of Friends Without Borders, a secular charity, were very impressed by the warmth of the Quaker welcome.

Even the little things made a difference. One elderly Quaker came with some flowers to make the tables look nicer – a normal courtesy in our own homes, but a pleasure for people whose lives are often restricted to bleak bedsits.

On a personal level, I had not expected that these small acts of respect and kindness would be so meaningful. The gratitude of the people who went on the visit surprised me. We hope that others will copy us!

Learn more about Friends Without Borders