“I was just so glad to hear about this scheme”
By Viv Taylor-Gee, Buddy Coordinator, Bexhill Buddy Scheme.
From the top of the De La Warr Pavilion you could see the massive grey skies. The waves were thrashing and the sun was glittering unsteadily, but 25 people turned up to an Open meeting on 26th January to recruit more refugee buddies for Bexhill.
We were a mixed bunch: mechanic, accountant, English Language teachers, mothers, fathers, grandparents, a sixth-former, business people, midwife, former teachers. All with a common determination to welcome and befriend Syrian families arriving in the town. There are now three Syrian refugee families in Bexhill and gradually we are helping them to settle in, find their feet, practice their English, gain their independence and make a new life for their children.
Rossana Leal, the founder of the Refugee Buddy Scheme recalled how it felt as a nine-year old arriving in the UK as a refugee from General Pinochet’s Chile. How, when she and her family arrived in Cowdenbeath in Scotland, there was a brass band to welcome them, and they were taken under the wing of the National Union of Scottish Mineworkers with warmth and unfailing kindness. This is what she has created in Hastings, and now we will do it in Bexhill.
The two buddy coordinators of the Bexhill scheme outlined what we do, and how much it means both to us and “ our” families. Visits might involve practising basic English, drinking fragrant tea and struggling with Google translate. Or going round Aldi buying milk to make Syrian cheese, admiring a school certificate of good work won by a proud 8 year old whose favourite pastime is playing chess. Or working out how to get grandad to the swimming pool. We get to do the fun bit, the friendship. It normally involves a minimum of one hour a week. The heavy lifting is provided by the full-time paid caseworker attached to these families provided by the Government’s Syrian Resettlement Scheme.
The process of official registration will start now. We are looking forward to creating a trained and enthusiastic support team of buddies, who with all their various skills and interests can provide a great well of support in Bexhill for people recovering from terrible loss and trauma. I think the spirit of Erich Mendelsohn, one of the two architects of the De La Warr in 1934, and himself a refugee from Germany, will be with us.
Photos courtesy of Andrew Grainger Photography.