A group of refugees from eight different countries, speaking six different languages spent a weekend exploring community in Grassington earlier this month.
The men – all from St Augustine’s Centre in Halifax – were part of a project run by the charity, ACross Country, which uses the outdoors and other activities to encourage personal, social and spiritual growth and recuperation. Its trustees include the Revd Simon Crook, curate at Huddersfield Parish Church, and his wife, Sam.
Read Simon’s report from the weekend away:
"Our group in October 2016 was incredibly diverse with men from Sudan, Syria, Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Ethiopia, Sri Lanka, and Trinidad and Tobago; speaking Arabic, Somali, Dari, Oromo, Tamil and English. As usual we started the weekend at St Augustine’s with the necessary form filling, minibus loading etc. Talk is sparse and there are clear small groups formed mostly around ethnic lines. By the time the group has walked in the dusk and dark, stumbling in the mud, helped each other over walls, rocks and stiles that miraculously double in size and difficulty in the dark, they are a unit. Dinner in the warmth of the house is a celebration of an adventure survived: a gathering of a community in a place of safety.
"This year saw us trying a new venue in Grassington. The homebase had a fantastic kitchen and lounge area, and so cooking, eating, playing and praying were effortlessly communal. The family atmosphere was more than a cliché, it was tangible, with people playing games, jumping in to help, ducking out of chores, wrangling over what to do next.
"This community formed in the furnace of adventure, and nurtured in the safety of the home became the place to talk about everything from the weather and food, to childhood memories. In this space stories were shared about journeys to the UK, time in Calais waiting for passage to England, losses endured and some of whom and what has been left behind. Cooking and eating became times of connecting, teaching each other languages, sharing food traditions and customs, reminiscing.
"This time it was not the trauma, death, blood and tears that struck us, although they were undoubtedly there, but that these men were torn from their families and communities. These people, young and old, were connected by the thin ethereal thread of the internet to their mums, dads, brothers, aunts, uncles etc. Their phones were more precious than food or clothes because they were the only way to hold the threads of family together: the way to capture the moment and share it with the ones they love.
"This disparate community is vital but not enough; as humans we are created for community no matter how introvert or extrovert we are. For a brief moment, ACross Country provided a space to be in community, to build relationships, to laugh, play, cry and pray together, whatever the culture, language or faith. Rather than counsellor and leader this group needed us to be fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters. Not for a moment do we think ACross Country can or should replace a person’s family, but this past weekend has resonated with family and home.
ACross Country: a place of Adventure and Stillness, to be more fully ourselves, with others, our world, and with God.
Simon Crook is curate at Huddersfield Parish Church, His wife, Sam is a former primary school teacher in her last year of training to be a counsellor.. Both spent three years community-living at the Bekezela Adventure Farm in South Africa and once back home in the UK wanted to set up a similar experience here. There are six trustees with the charity and they are always looking for more people with a wide range of skills and abilities to volunteer.
The long term aim of the charity, ACross Country, is to buy their own homebase. Find out more at: www.acrosscountry.org.uk or send an email to: enquiries [at] acrosscountry.org.uk.