by Holly Taylor
Watching the awful events unfold in Afganistan on the news and hearing that many families would be evacuated to the UK, I wondered how I could get involved with support once they arrived. Not long after, I received a message asking if anyone who had volunteered with Bridges had any spare time over the coming weeks to help with upcoming events welcoming families arriving in Bristol - I didn’t hesitate to put my name forward. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I wanted to do what I could to help welcome the families, introducing them to our city and hopefully relieving some boredom from their temporary accommodation. After a meeting with other volunteers from Bridges for Communities and Westbury Welcome, a plan was made for the first meetings.
Over the last two months we have shared in a whole range of experiences together. Talking over coffee, art and attending a film screening was brilliant at the Arnolfini. The Matthew ship was fun to explore, and for some of the children this was their first experience of being on a boat. We the Curious welcomed us and both adults and children alike enjoyed the experiments and creating animations. The Station provided a great space for us to learn circus skills together, be creative with crafts and play language Bingo. Making the most of the early autumn sunshine, it was lovely to spend time in some of our city’s beautiful green spaces, playing tennis, cricket and enjoying walks (a huge thank you to Let’s Walk Bristol for inviting us to join you at Ashton Court for your 2021 events).
More recently, Gloucestershire County Cricket Club kindly welcomed us to a session at their grounds. I am no cricket expert, but there was some clear talent! The Hoo -Haa family festival, held at the Bristol Beacon, invited us along to share in music and craft activities. The families enjoyed joining in with the singing, making crafts and a couple of children confidently danced on stage with Junior Jungle. Over the half term break, we had great fun at a soft play-I quickly had to get past my dislike of slides!
As well as creating some incredible memories over this time, it has been an opportunity get to know some of the families. A few adults and children have felt comfortable to share their experiences, and it’s felt important to have been able to provide an empathetic listening ear. At times, the resilience and growing confidence of the children has amazed me. There are some stand out moments from the time we have spent together – the first time I volunteered at a group event, I had a very quick lesson in plate spinning before families came to join us for some circus skills activities. Unfortunatly, I wasn’t very good at it! One child in particular seemed quite shy, so I persisted to fail at my task, which bought her a great deal of amusement. By the end of our session, she was happily joining in with some other girls in a small group, and my face hurt from laughing whilst we had fun dancing with the scarves. Although still shy, she always smiles when I see her and it reminds me of the fun we had being silly that day.
One of the younger boys is a real character, and despite not speaking any English, his ability to effectively communicate and initiate games is incredible. We started a game of hide and seek between us, and within 10 minutes he had all the other children engaged in the game. My own children have come along to a few meet ups, and its really lovely to see my son and B playing together, despite not being able to have a conversation.
It has been and continues to be a pleasure to be able to support the families, and has given me the chance to meet some incredible people. There have been many wonderful memories made, and I've shared in some harder moments. I don't know how long the current situation will continue for, or if any of the families will stay in Bristol long term, but I will continue to offer support as long as they are here. I hope that some of those families I have got to know will stay in touch if they move away from Bristol, and that they will be welcomed into their new communities with open arms, as we have welcomed them here in Bristol. And I look forward to seeing what some of the children will go on to achieve in this country, particularly the talented young cricket players!