A group of asylum seekers were hosted for a second time in Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) as part of a Farming in Protected Landscapes funded project.
The AONB offers conservation activities for refugees to have an opportunity to come together, and experience a positive, welcoming experience in nature.
In December, asylum seekers took part in coppicing activities in the AONB. This January, hedge-laying was planned but due to bad weather, the asylum seekers took part in a woodwork workshop hosted in the Harrogate and Nidderdale District Scouts activity centre, Thornthwaite, in the heart of Nidderdale.
The group carved wooden spatulas and spoons, sharpened hedge stakes and fashioned decorative flowers from hazel stems, with guidance from tutors from the Leeds Coppice Workers.
All those taking part are fleeing violence, war and oppression in their home countries and are in the process of applying for refugee status.
Asylum seekers have no right to work in the UK, while applying for asylum, so volunteering as part of a conservation project offers well-being and a sense of purpose.
Matt Trevelyan, Farming in Protected Landscapes Officer at Nidderdale AONB, said: “Here in the UK, refugees suffer from acute anxiety about the complex asylum process. They worry about accommodation, money, education, access to legal advice. They fear detention, deportation, destitution and homelessness. And there is a constant concern about loved ones left behind or missing. All this takes a heavy toll on their emotional and psychological wellbeing.”
Research shows 61% of asylum seekers experience serious mental distress. Refugees are five times more likely to have mental health needs than the UK population.
Despite the rain, the group enjoyed a short walk around Darley Beck after the woodwork activities.
To date, asylum seekers from Syria, Iran, Turkey and Sudan have taken part in the volunteering scheme. A further four outings are planned to take place throughout the year, with activities including dry-stone walking and visits to working farms.
Matt said: “It is such a pleasure to work alongside people from other cultures, on this occasion, Kurdish, Eritrean and Iraqi. I’m hugely impressed by the beautiful manners of these men, who show such resilience, embracing the unknown, and facing new challenges with real joy.”
The Nidderdale Way Café provided hot food for the asylum seekers on the day.
Matt added: “Thanks go once more to the Nidderdale Way Café, Josh and Rowan from Leeds Coppice Workers, and the volunteer Nidd-Plus minibus driver, Karen, as well as volunteers Miriam and Jane from the conversation club for asylum seekers in Leeds.”