The impact of our Connect Fund grants on the lives of refugee asylum seekers by Doncaster Conversation Club members

This summer, thanks to generous donations of our Peak Partners to support our Connect Fund, 35 people were able to access the Peak District for just £285. Thirty people were seeking asylum, five were volunteers from Doncaster. The countries represented were as widespread as Eritrea, Iran, Afghanistan, Zimbabwe, Trinidad and Tobago, Kuwait, Granada, Ethiopia, Iraq, Sudan, Chad, Syria, Nicaragua, Honduras and of course the UK.

The organisers Julia and Nick Burne describe the impact on people during the day’s outing as tangible. “The weather was lovely and the walk chosen by the Peak Park Rangers was partly through woods which were green and quiet – and then over the heather moorland. People enjoyed walking and talking in a new environment. The stress of seeking asylum is huge – and this was a ‘day off’.”

Two asylum seekers with better written English expressed their thanks and emotions about the day, which organisers said was typical of the group. These views have been replicated here with permission from the editor of “A View From The Edge”, the Doncaster Conversation Club newsletter.

On Saturday 9 September we enjoyed a visit to Padley Gorge, on the edge of the Derbyshire Peak District. The funding for the outing came from the Peak District National Park Foundation.

We travelled by train to Grindleford, where we were met by a group of Park Rangers. We made our base at their offices at Brunt’s Barn. This outing provided a welcome break from the daily challenges of life within asylum accommodation in Doncaster. Below, we detail positive memories of some of the participants.

The visit was organised by Doncaster Conversation Club lead volunteer for health, Julia Burne to support the health and mental wellbeing of our traumatised refugee and asylum-seeking community in Doncaster.

Abraham Mdlongwa from Zimbabwe describes his experience

Not even the high humidity sparked by the country’s record temperature could dampen the curiosity and excitement of a 35-strong male-dominated group of refugees and asylum seekers who enjoyed a guided 2-hour walk with some uphill walking in a prime section of the Peak District National Park near Grindleford train station.

Situated less than 6 miles outside Sheffield, the Peak District National Park is 555 square miles (1,438 square kilometres) in size and covers parts of the counties of Derbyshire, Yorkshire, Staffordshire, and Cheshire. This section of the Peak District National Park is endowed with cultural heritage sites such as the Padley Chapel believed to be the remains of Padley Manor (originally the private chapel of Padley Hall) thought to have been built in the 14th and 15th centuries.

We had our lunch at the foot of a section of the ruined Padley Manor which our lead ranger Peter explained had been the princely residence of a Catholic

family of John Fitzherbert and his wife Anne Eyre. We each ate to our heart’s content and had plenty of leftovers that we took with us, ensuring the environment in our eating area was left unviolated.

From Padley Manor we set off to Bolehill Quarry sometimes known as Lawrencefield by rock climbers. Speak of an uphill walk in the sweltering heat, this is one! I was gasping for breath when we reached Bolehill Quarry. This area is marked by woodlands, narrow footpaths, and rich foliage. You could tell the walk sapped our energies and not everyone arrived at the same time.

We waited patiently for each other, showing our duty of care and our strong conviction that “no man/woman should be left behind”. After all we are one big family, yes, our culturally diverse human family on this occasion included people from Africa, the Caribbean, Middle East, South America and Europe.

We walked over the moor to Padley Gorge where we marvelled at several rock climbers doing their thing in the neighbourhood. Some in our travelling party took time away to pray whilst others watched the drama among mountain climbers. Domestic animals mainly cattle, mingled amongst us and we watched the beautiful flow of water in the meandering streams nearby. As we walked further to Burbage Brook before returning to Brunt’s Barn which houses the offices of the Peak Park Rangers, we split into 2 groups (not intentionally but because some tired legs were struggling to keep pace with the leading pack). We all got there at the end!! A groundswell of joy and excitement. So much love in this crowd.

These outings enrich our experiences and have a therapeutic impact on our lives. We need more of the same outings to the Peak District National Park – a place of profound beauty. A big thank you to Julia and everyone involved!”

Iranian Mohammadreza Aleyasin also contributes his views

“Do you also believe that the greatness of the world is due to its unknown in our mind? I believe that sometimes imagination makes our unexplored horizons seem out of reach and larger than life, and experiencing “firsts” like stepping onto other planets helps us give a real shape to our imaginations. Today, along with DCC family, I explored another corner of this unknown world. Yes, today the world in my mind became smaller. It all began with the beautiful smiles of Julia and Denise, and gradually the caravan continued with the eager presence of hikers in Peak Distract National Park. We used the railway system to reach our destination, and this experience taught me that this structure is very important in Britain and has a historical background. Due to the extensive network, you can travel to any part of this country. We arrived at Grindleford Station, and Steve was the first person from the National Park team to welcome us and accompany us to the park office. But what made his name stick in my mind was his kind personality and strong British accent. The tour was led by Pete and another colleague, who provided detailed explanations and precise navigation that made our journey more enjoyable. At the beginning of the trail, we passed through the plants and after a relatively long and breathtaking walk, we reached a forest. This forest had a rocky wall in one corner, and some rock climbers were ascending it. At the bottom of the cliffs, there was a small swamp where a few cows were enjoying the sun, as if God had provided a corner of paradise for them. I’m sure the swamp added more excitement for the climbers. But this was not the only attractive picture of this trip, we reached a green and infinite plain at the end of which the earth and the sky were tied together and the agricultural lands were so small that we could see them in irregular geometric shapes with different colours. Their products separated them from each other and left an unforgettable image in the mind. The most enchanting part of the journey for me was when we reached a short and ancient wall behind which lay a forest with tall, green trees reaching for the sky. The sound of birds mixed with the sound of running water, and the soft light filtering through the tree leaves made it impossible to think about anything else. I am very grateful for seeing another corner of this world.”

If these stories have stirred you to contribute to a possibly life-changing day of enhancing mental and physical wellbeing among marginalised and vulnerable people,  you can donate to the Connect Fund here.

And a few more comments to brighten your day…

“It was very adventurous and fun” – Samuel, Grenada

“It was amazing, so nice. We are so happy and appreciate the efforts of Julia and Paul” – Mohammed Rahman, Iraq

“It was a lovely experience for me to travel and meet new people. We enjoyed very, very much during the trip. We are all taken as one family of friends and believe in humanity” – Mubariz, Afghanistan

“It was a brilliant trip. We met nice people, experienced nice hospitality and would like to thank Julia and Nick and everyone else involved” – Solav and Nawal from Kurdistan and Kuwait.

“It was special for us. We enjoyed walking in the woodlands. We met many new people. A good community. I am personally happy” – Grmai, Eritrea

“I arrived in Doncaster a month ago. For one month I only went to the Meeting House and nowhere else. (Classes for English for Speakers of Other Languages or ESOL are held at the Meeting House). This is not enough for me. I am the only one in the house most of the time. I am alone. I don’t even go to the park. Today I go to a new area. I was good. Today I am happy to see too many people and to talk. Usually I have stress. Today I had no stress” – Seid, Ethiopia

“I am very happy today. I go to the mountain. I’m in my room every day. I stay home. Today I changed my day. I speak to other people – Pete and others.” – Abdulaziz, Sudan

“About the journey to Peak District. I like the place, it was refreshing going out and it was a plus the beautiful views we had on that place, also I loved watching people climbing, that was awesome, makes want to try someday, the people who lead the walking was kind and at the same time they tried to teach us about the place its history and some fun facts about the flora and fauna. Just to resume it was amazing.” – Jerry, Nicaragua