Kind-hearted volunteers from Christ Church in Southport have spoken of their experiences of helping dozens of asylum seekers while they were staying at the Scarisbrick Hotel in Southport during the Covid pandemic.
One said: “I developed a real compassion for these men and women, ordinary like us, yet who had been through the unimaginable trauma of leaving home and country to find themselves in a strange and different culture.”
Around 150 people were designated temporary accommodation at the hotel on Lord Street in April last year, shortly after the first Covid lockdown came in. They have since been moved to alternative accommodation.
A team of helpers from Christ Church spent the past few months providing a warm welcome to the asylum seekers with a range of support and donations including advice, clothing, toiletries, food and English lessons.
Volunteers from the group Southport Against Racism have also been helping the asylum seekers over the past few months.
Vicar of Christ Church in Southport, Rev Canon Steve McGanity, said: “A couple of weeks ago the asylum seekers based at the Scarisbrick Hotel were all moved to alternative accommodation.
“This had been planned for February but for a variety of reasons was delayed until April.
“The work that was done with them was vital in providing support, encouragement and help to people who are in a vulnerable place.
“We worked with a number of different groups to provide advice, toiletries, clothing, food and English lessons.
“Perhaps the most important thing we offered was just a welcoming and friendly conversation.
“A small number from Christ Church helped with this and they have described how they found meeting with asylum seekers every week for the last nine months or so.
“A huge thank you to these people and others who helped each week or provided the toiletries and clothing to give out.”
One of the volunteers, Ruth, said: “When volunteering to provide refreshments for the asylum seekers, I didn’t know what to expect. My knowledge of asylum and seekers and thoughts about them was limited to prayer diaries from Christian organisations such as Tear Fund and the often negative reports in the media.
“Meeting the asylum seekers face to face I developed a real compassion for these men and women, ordinary like us, yet who had been through the unimaginable trauma of leaving home and country to find themselves in a strange and different culture.
“All were pleasant, polite and very appreciative of what we were doing and the welcome they were given. We had some laughs as we tried to get over the language barrier, tea, coffee, milk? How many sugars? What, five teaspoons, yes really!!
“I don’t know what their future will be, if they will be granted leave to remain or not, but I pray they will all find a hope and a future. An excellent website which explains the facts about refugees & asylum seekers and answers the questions most asked about them is Care 4 Calais.”
Another Christ Church helper said: “I volunteered with the asylum seekers as I wanted to be able to help where needed. I was nervous initially as I didn’t know anyone, but the other volunteers quickly put me at ease.
“The group quickly gelled and from the outset we were able to offer a safe place to the asylum seekers where all were welcomed with warmth, respect and non-judgementalism. This was as equally important as the practicalities such as clothing, toiletries and English classes.
“Their gratitude was extremely humbling.
“I volunteered as I wanted to give, but ended up receiving so much more. I made new friends, gained a sense of belonging at Christ Church and have been challenged both intellectually and emotionally.”
Lynda also helped out. She said: “We were asked last year in a Sunday service if we would volunteer to help with English conversation with asylum seekers on a Wednesday morning.
“My initial reaction to questions like that is that I couldn’t do that, but God often nudges and persuades me otherwise and I joined in.
“Christ Church on a Wednesday provided a safe place for people from many countries, speaking many languages, and they were welcomed with love.
“They were provided with warm clothes. I remember a grandmother thanking me for her warm coat and jumpers because she said how cold she had been. Toiletries, fresh fruit and a warm drink were all offered with a smile.
“They could also come through for English lessons, some people were only here once before they were moved on, some we might see for a few weeks and their needs varied greatly and we did our best to help each week with worksheets and chatting. We also helped with form filling and telephone conversations.
“They have now been moved on from the hotel, please pray that they will be kept safe and soon feel settled.”
Bob was also delighted to help out. He said: “Volunteering to be on the desk to welcome the asylum seekers has been one of the highlights of my week. I’ve seen notable development within the people that attend, a bright smile and a friendly wave brightens the day.
“The job also provides me with the opportunity to make and develop long-lasting friendships, so all in all and to all the volunteers, a job well done and to the asylum seekers hopes of a brighter future.”