Last Thursday, I attended a truly international occasion; an evening spent with people from Uganda, Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Kurdistan and, of course, Wiltshire.
Every Thursday evening between 6.30 and 8.30, Swindon City of Sanctuary (SCS) hosts a meeting in Coffee#1 in the town centre. It is an opportunity for those seeking asylum and those who have been given the right to remain to socialise as they work towards establishing a new life in our country. Drinking coffee and sharing a board game is an excellent way of learning English and as well as understanding the UK culture.
The scheme, which has been running since 2017, was established by funds from the Police Property Act.
These funds, which must be used for charitable purposes, are administered and awarded by Wiltshire Community Foundation. SCS was first awarded a grant in September 2017 and again in 2018.
The scheme also provides support to those who are found accommodation through the Room for All initiative.
Volunteers offer a room to those who have no recourse to public funds - whether that be for a week or longer. However, it is temporary as the volunteers, SCS and the Harbour Project will all work with the relevant agencies to move an individual in to permanent accommodation and ensure financial support, once the right to remain has been granted.
A person seeking asylum is not permitted to work, they are given a grant of £37.75, on which to live, as well as accommodation. SCS, working with Swindon's Bus Company, also provides help with a weekly bus pass which enables asylum seekers to visit those agencies which give support and, at the appropriate time, attend job interviews.
The tie I was wearing that evening, with Fleur de Lye motives, was noticed by a Ugandan who was also at the café. In his home country he had been a scout leader and recognised the symbol. That led to a conversation about scouting/guiding in the UK and I very much hope he will take up the suggestion of getting in touch with Wiltshire Scouts, who I am sure would be interested in keeping a former scout enthusiast himself in the UK. Such help would tick all five values of scouting.
Also present on my visit were four members of Go Gym. These people had run in to town to join the coffee evening to talk and support the clients before running home again. A good example of how to benefit oneself as well as others at the same time.
Asylum seekers from across the globe reside in Swindon, and this is in addition to those who have been granted leave to remain and have chosen Wiltshire to be their new home.
It is not easy to integrate oneself in to our society when so many of ones' personal characteristics - colour, faith, language and custom - are so different.
What impressed me most is that everyone who I met that evening was thankful for being here and keen to integrate. Such a worthwhile use of these charitable funds.