In Glasgow, there are various examples of good work that help refugees and asylum seekers of all backgrounds. Much of this work is linked in with Interfaith Glasgow and Interfaith Scotland. Recently, there has been a new initiative called "The Weekend Club" which helps refugees and asylum seekers to feel at home in Glasgow, meet new friends and share their cultural experiences. The group began a few years ago, and was inspired by the fact that many people coming into Scotland from difficult situations and diverse areas have little to do at weekends – they risk becoming isolated and unheard in wider society. Therefore, the weekend club decided to host different events, usually on a monthly basis, to provide opportunities for recreation and dialogue for the refugees. So far, the Weekend Club has met with much success.
Recently, the Weekend Club took a group of people to the Museum Resource Centre in Nitshill, which houses over one million objects that cannot be displayed in museums elsewhere. Exploration is done only by guided tour, so a date was booked with the team in the Resource Centre, and the whole group was shown around the facility. There were many children who joined us, and they were fascinated by the taxidermy and fossils. The adults had time to converse with each other and share some of their experiences. We had people from Libya and Iraq among others, on the tour. The historical articles that were showcased came from many different time periods and cultures – thus providing opportunities for conversation. It was enriching not only for the refugees and asylum seekers themselves, but for the volunteers as well.
Our next and most recent event was at the Hidden Gardens in Pollokshields, a great spot for recreation if ever visiting the area. The spot was once known as the Tramway, the depot for Glasgow trams in decades past. Prior to that, the area was a stonemason's, working with the familiar sandstone bricks still seen across Glasgow's tenement buildings. I arrived quite early myself, and helped carry tables and food into the gardens. With the other volunteers, I assisted with putting out a spread of cuisine – all of it vegetarian to take into account the Halal needs of the Muslim people coming to the event. Indeed, the majority of refugees and asylum seekers coming to the Weekend Club are currently Muslim, from countries such as Syria and Iraq. We had booked for 30 people, and there was a good turn out. Another volunteer kindly got her friends from the LDS Church to provide the food and drink. Each of the volunteers was given an orange t-shirt representing Interfaith Glasgow, and I was asked to go along to the bus stop with another volunteer to beckon participants in the right direction. Being new to Glasgow, it is of course sometimes difficult for people to find their way to different events. We therefore always try to start about 20 minutes early to give them time to arrive. Contact is made with potential participants via mobile phone, and this is often the only way people are invited to our events.
The role faith-sharing can have in all this charity work is sometimes unclear. However, it was revealed most in my experience with a programme of ESOL classes based at the Ogilvie Centre working with St. Aloysius' Church in Garnethill. People of all nationalities, creeds and language proficiencies have come for the past 2 years or so to improve their English each day of the week from 10am to 12noon. A turnout of around 30-40 people can usually be expected and there are many volunteers working hard to ensure success. Lessons can range from grammar and textbooks to how to read a clock or count money. Whilst the classes do have a clear aim, which is met with exams based elsewhere, they have an informal feeling too which puts everyone at ease. As opportunities for teaching the refugees or asylum seekers will often share some of their own experiences of their home country or culture. It is as interesting for the volunteers as it is for them – typically classes can be made up of up to 6 different nationalities, including Iranian, Sudanese, Iraqi, Syrian, Ethiopian and Eritrean. Around Easter time last year, many of the people attending – who were of the Tewahedo Orthodox Churches – went to the Sacraments of Reconciliation and Holy Communion in the Catholic Church next door. This highlighted a real sense of inter-faith work coming alive. During the Christmas holidays in 2016, a party was organised for both the students and the volunteers. Over 25 people turned up, and everyone seemed to have great fun – whether from playing musical chairs, or listening to Kurdish music played especially for the occasion, or from dressing up as Santa Claus. Some of the students brought their children, and this was a special time for them to celebrate a festival many had heard nothing of in their home countries. This whole initiative is therefore one which has a practical aim, but which also develops strong bonds of community and fellowship among people of disparate backgrounds.
Around a month ago, the manager of the Weekend Club – Lynnda – came along to the ESOL classes at the Ogilvie Centre to meet with the students there. We gave a presentation on our work, and everyone seemed keen to find out more. Within 15 minutes we collected the names and contact details of 60 people who were interested to join the club for future events. Hopefully some of these new faces will be joining us soon.
Probably the main difficulty the Weekend Club faces is with funding. Each year there is a push for fundraising, as without the necessary money it would be impossible to pay for the transportation costs involved in each event. Last month, myself, the organiser, and another volunteer attended a meeting at the Virgin Money Foundation, securing at least £250 of funding. Three local charities, of which we were one, were showcased and promised money from Virgin who are seeking to help smaller and more local charities flourish. In a few weeks’ time there will be a further fundraiser at my local Church in Eaglesham – St. Bridget’s. The Church hall has been booked and a quiz night arranged. We hope to raise another couple of hundred pounds at this event. The work is always on-going in trying to keep such initiatives as the Weekend Club alive, but such work is so valuable in reaching out to vulnerable communities and living out our commitment to interfaith.