What have you done in the last 10 days? I shall summarise my activities – more for my benefit than yours.
On Sunday 28 April I spent the entire day driving home to London from France. The following day was dedicated to unloading the car and washing clothes, sheets and pillowcases. On Tuesday I carried on with the washing, remembered to post a birthday card to Mum, attended a leaving party for a friend who is moving to Devon, then chaired an evening meeting of the Herne Hill Society. On Wednesday I treated myself to a trip to the cinema to see Endgame (bored rigid), then wrote a blog about Operation Frankton. On Thursday I went to the dentist, then cooked a chicken curry, which took hours but wasn’t really much better than a takeaway.. On Friday I met with the staff of Southeastern Railway to propose a new First World War memorial in Herne Hill station, walked round Brockwell Park and had a long lunch with an ex-colleague. In the evening Anne and I went to Pimlico for a few end-of-season beers with Tranmere Rovers owners Mark and Nicola Palios. On the Saturday we attended a wedding in far-flung Rickmansworth. On Sunday we went for a swim in Dulwich (indoors, need I say?) then on to Herne Hill Market, then cooked (or rather Anne did) a roast dinner. So that’s another week gone.
You’ll have gathered that I no longer work for a living
On the Bank Holiday Monday we took a longish walk from King’s Cross up the Regent’s Canal to Paddington, then had lunch. Yesterday (Tuesday comes round again!) I “supervised” the cleaner (which entails cleaning the house beforehand and moving all the contents after she’d left), researched three more local war casualties before nipping out to the Post Office and, finally, settled down with Anne to watch Liverpool vs Barcelona. In between all that I managed to squeeze in a bit of reading and some guitar practice, and also sent and received hundreds of emails.
So I can’t say I’ve been exactly idle, but how much of what I did during the last 10 days improved the lives of other people? And yet I chair a volunteer society. Could do better? I think so.
Would you welcome a refugee family into your community? You might respond “Well… it depends. What is ‘my community’ and what does ‘welcoming’ mean exactly?” I’m proud to say, though I can take absolutely no credit for it, that 18 months ago a number of dynamic local people formed a group called “Herne Hill Welcomes Refugees” and got on with it. Since then I’ve been following the progress of these dedicated volunteers who mobilised support to welcome an Iraqi family through the Government’s Community Sponsorship scheme.
Last night I had the honour of saying a few words of introduction at a celebratory event held at the local Baptist Church. Amongst the speakers were our local MP, Helen Hayes, and Max McClellan from the United Nations High Commission for Refugees. The Mayor of Lambeth, Cllr İbrahim Doğuş, (whose parents were Turkish Kurd refugees) was also in the 250+ audience.
We heard that it has been a demanding and difficult endeavour – one that has consumed thousands of hours and called upon volunteers possessing many different skills – but it resulted, six months ago, in the welcoming of a family to Herne Hill followed by their successful establishment in our community.
Against all odds, an empty house was found for Dalya and her three young children, but first it needed to be furnished. And the children had to be found school places. Obviously they needed help with their English. The aim is not simply to house refugees but to make them feel genuinely welcome and part of the community. So we were delighted to see Dalya and her family at the celebration and – to everyone’s surprise and delight – hear her story in her own words.
A standing ovation followed
Now “Herne Hill Welcomes Refugees” is hoping to sponsor a second family. Similar groups in neighbouring communities have been, or will soon be doing, the same thing.
It was a memorable, thought-provoking evening, telling a success story that reflects the community spirit we are fortunate to enjoy in Herne Hill.
Follow the team on Twitter @HHWR_