Barriers for refugees exist everywhere.
Language, culture, food, money and loneliness are just a few, and for someone who has fled their home because of war or persecution, settling in the UK can feel an impossible task.
It’s an issue that inspired Lewis Garland to set up Fences and Frontiers, a community group based in London which aims to help refugees and asylum seekers feel welcome and make friends in their new communities.
Fences and Frontiers started as a short film night during Refugee Week in 2016, and has evolved to a group of volunteers who run two main projects. Never Walk Alone is a walking group while London, Museums and Me is a project organising family trips out to some of London’s iconic museums and cultural attractions for refugees, asylum seekers and their children.
Both projects aim to introduce people to fascinating places in and around London that they would not be able to access on their own, provide an opportunity to practice English and help combat loneliness and social isolation.
Lewis said: “Settling in a new country with a new language and customs can be daunting for anyone. For people who have been forced to flee their country of origin and seek asylum in a country far from home, these difficulties are multiplied many times over.
“At Fences and Frontiers our aim is to make London a welcoming, supportive and inspiring place for refugees and asylum seekers to live in and settle.
“Our projects not only introduce people to fascinating museums and picturesque parts of the countryside, but provide them with the chance to meet and build friendships with people from outside the usual circles, practice their language skills in a natural, relaxed environment, and gain a sense of community in a city that can, at times, be incredibly lonely and alienating”.
The walking group have recently visited Epping Forest and travelled to Margate and Broadstairs on the Kent coast, while the Science Museum and Mudchute City Farm both proved to be family favourites.
Gabriel is an asylum seeker from Democratic Republic of Congo and a member of the Never Walk Alone project. He said: “Firstly, I have met new friends. Secondly, its healthy for my body. My blood pressure is now stable and I can walk without pain in my knees. Finally, it’s important for my mind. As an asylum seeker I have got a great benefit.”
Fences and Frontiers need funding to help cover expenses of running the project, such as transport and refreshment costs, DBS checks and exhibition entries.
They would also like to hear from anyone interested in joining the walks, which are open to all, or contributing in any other way to their work.
Go to fencesandfrontiers.org to find out more.
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By Jenna Sloan