Who is my Neighbour? Supporting refugees and asylum seekers in our Diocese

Published on: 1 July 2017

The Diocese has been making short films that celebrate what churches across the Diocese are doing to promote the gospel and show God's love. Tim Rogers describes the experience of making his first film of this kind.

Who is my Neighbour? is a film that celebrates what churches in Norwich are doing to help refugees and asylum seekers. The making of this film began with a meeting with Carrie Sant of City Saints in the refectory of Norwich Cathedral. It ended with me realizing that this wasn’t just a film about churches ‘doing their bit’. It was, and is, much more than that. The direction the film was to go in would see me filming a Church in action. I would be filming what it means to really love our neighbour.

Norwich is what’s known as a ‘dispersal city’, which is essentially a place to where asylum seekers go while their application for asylum is processed. People who go through this system are housed by the local council, are given weekly cash support worth £37 (with extra funding for dependents), but not initially given the entitlement to work. There are currently 140 beds in the city. In 2015, the UK received 32,414 asylum applications.

After outlining a possible premise of the film, Carrie pointed me in the direction of Rosie Sexton and Brigid Everett, two people who, along with Carrie, had recognised the fact that many asylum seekers and other foreign nationals in Norwich are facing problems and difficulties that seem almost impossible to overcome.

Rosie had set up two groups called English+ and Conversation Café at Holy Trinity Church, St Luke’s and St Thomas’ Churches in Norwich, whilst Brigid had begun an International Friendship Group at St Matthew’s Church in Thorpe Hamlet. These are groups that have been set up with the aim of bridging the language barrier as well as providing an avenue to help asylum seekers and refugees integrate with the community around them. Through various churches in Norwich, there was now a large group of people offering their time, skills and money to resource lessons and opportunities for English conversations for people who really need it.

“I started the English classes,” says Rosie, “to help people fit in, to learn English, to reduce isolation and to create a sense of community. When someone comes to Britain for the first time and can’t speak the language, it can be very difficult to find support, make friends and feel that they belong. So although our groups offer the immediate benefit of learning English, they also address the problems of a lack of friendship, a lack of community and a lack of opportunity for getting into work.”

Carrie also introduced me to Hala Marie, who had been one of the first people to attend English+ and who is now running her own charity as well as studying in further education. I would later find out that Hala believes that without the help of English+ and the work of Rosie Sexton, she would not be able to provide help through her charity Hala’s House2Home.

I also met teachers Ian and Lauren, who both volunteer at the English+ group and Conversation Cafe. Through planned lessons and providing resources and materials, they are able to work with groups and individuals to provide practical and much-needed help. These were just two of the many other volunteers that were helping to support this initiative.

One of Tim Rogers’ roles is making short films that celebrate what churches across the Diocese are doing to promote the gospel and show God’s love. Here he describes the experience of making his first film of this kind.

It was very important to remember that whilst I wanted to capture footage of the classes and groups, these were people who had faced and whose families were continuing to face difficulties and struggles that most of us are unable to grasp. However, Salah, a Muslim from Egypt, was prepared to share his story

It was a struggle having to flee his native country and then move through Europe and on to the UK; he initially moved from city to city (something that Salah called ‘horrible days’) and eventually came to Norwich where he was able to find groups such as English+ where he could begin to improve his situation. Ian, a tutor from UEA, was ideally placed to develop what Salah already knew.

“I am only looking for security,” he explained, “and freedom, which I lost in my country. I leave my family. I leave my friends. I leave everything. I lost everything. But this is life – if you have principles, aims and you want to achieve, you have to sacrifice many things.”

Freedom, Salah explained, is something you only really notice once it’s been taken away.

The language lessons and courses that churches are providing are for people who had been forced to give up everything in their home country and flee to a different country. I was filming Christians welcoming those that felt isolated, feeding those who were hungry, and loving those who needed compassion. The Revd William Warren, then Curate of Holy Trinity Norwich, said:

“There is a call for us as Christians to be involved in making a difference in the world. We are called to go out and show love to those who are in need and this is a small way in which you can do that.”

William explained that running courses like English+ has been brilliant to enable local people to come in to the church to make use of the building, as well as making relationships and connections with the local community.

Having spent quite some time speaking to people from these groups, filming the lessons and activities that were taking place – and also enjoying some delicious food along the way, made by Raz and Karima – it was time to pack up the cameras and edit the footage into a short film to celebrate the work that was taking place. This was to prove to be the most challenging part of this process as there was so much valuable information that could have been in the final film.

What started out as a conversation in the Cathedral eventually became something I hope shows how people in our Diocese are shining their light before others. It demonstrates how some people are, as Rosie puts it, “walking alongside those” who have come to the UK. Hopefully, it will also encourage other Christians and churches to think about how they too can help the people in their communities; how they can meet their need, how they can show love, how they can truly be what Jesus commands us to be: a loving neighbour.

If you want to learn more about City Saints and find out how you could help you can contact Sophie Clark on 07729 394223 or fbcuvr8pynex@lnubb.pbz.

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