A guest post by Tom Underwood

In 2016 MyRaynesPark organised various events to celebrate Refugee Week.

Central to the week was a Refugee Reflection Zone set up at the Lantern Methodist Church. This was a creative space for reflection and information on refugees in the world today. Members of the public and local schools engaged with the facts and statistics outlining the extent of the current refugee crisis and heard the testimonies behind those statistics. The reflection zone included space for people to add their own thoughts, reflections, prayers and artwork. As part of the exhibition we displayed ‘Sea of Colour’ by renowned artist Güler Ates. It uses items drawn from donated and discarded children’s and baby clothing – too worn, damaged, or dirty to be used again. These cast-off clothes offer a haunting reminder of refugee children who have suffered or died in journeys to escape conflict. The artwork is currently being stored in Raynes Park and could be used at other venues for Refugee Week 2017.

Another popular event was the book club for which we partnered with Raynes Park Library and invited local book groups and individuals to read ‘The Lightless Sky’ by Gulwali Passarlay, the true story of an Afghan refugee boy’s journey of escape to a new life in Britain. Gulwali joined us on the evening to discuss the book and take questions from the audience.

We partnered with the Newman Circle, a national network of lecture groups connected to the Catholic church. For their monthly lecture in June we had Sarah Teather deliver a lecture on ‘A Christian Response to the Refugee Crisis’. Sarah Teather is a former Minister of State and was the Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Refugees. She is currently the National Director of the Jesuit Refugee Service.

We were aware that most of our events invited members of the public to join us, this often means that you are ‘preaching to the converted’. Therefore we were keen to find ways to engage with the public to help change the negative narrative towards refugees. Raynes Park is a commuter town and therefore the centre of the town is the train station and the pedestrian tunnel. During Refugee Week we set up two chalkboards in the tunnel by the station to bring attention to the positive contribution that refugees have made in the UK. On one noticeboard we used Refugee Week posters and images. The other noticeboard was interactive and had a daily poll where people could chalk up their responses to questions such as, ‘How would you want to be welcomed?’

Lastly, we worked alongside schools by using local churches. Often local schools (particularly CofE or Catholic schools) have a local vicar/priest who deliver assemblies. We got in touch with local vicars and asked them to deliver an assembly on refugees during the week using a PowerPoint from Oxfam. This meant that we were able to reach out to three primary schools, one secondary and one special needs school.

MyRaynesPark look forward to joining with Refugee Week in 2017!

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