EIGHTY refugees mainly from Iran, Afghanistan, Syria, and Eritrea have been thrown a party by volunteers in Otley.
The group, including 20 children, was brought from Leeds by coach and started the day at 10.30am with a walk in Wharfemeadows park, followed by food and fun at the Bridge United Reformed Church.
More than 30 volunteers from Otley and the surrounding areas helped run the annual event, which is in its second year. They led children’s activities such as face painting, party games and crafts, and there was also dancing and a meal of curry and rice followed by cakes, which were provided by Otley residents.
The event on Saturday (February 11) was organised by Jean and Peter Wilkinson, who are on the steering committee of Otley Welcomes – a community organisation formed last year to make Otley a safe and welcoming place for all. The Wilkinsons were put in contact with the refugees by the Leeds-based charity Refugee Education and Training Advice Service (RETAS).
RETAS is based in Harehills, Leeds, where the refugees study English and receive support to help them integrate into society and make a contribution to the wider community.
Peter said: “Refugees are often isolated and have been through a really tough time. Otley Welcomes feels it’s important to help them integrate into our community and feel special.
“We were delighted that so many people volunteered on the day or donated money so that we could show Otley’s kindness to this vulnerable group of people. Churches Together Otley has been a valued supporter from the beginning.
“The children were very competitive and enthusiastic about joining in. Mike, our compere, ran an activity where groups of adults and children raced around to find phones, shoelaces and a sock. The fastest one to find the item got a prize. No one found the final item, which were some false teeth.
“The theme of the day was everyone is unique. At one point we looked at who had a unique talent, and one youth from Eritrea was able to do a fabulous Elvis lip curl.”
Music was also played from Syria, Iran and Eritrea, and the refugees showed off traditional dances their home countries. In return the refugees were taught some English barn dancing.
Jean said: “A special mention goes to the men of Syria, who were enthusiastic and full of rhythm.
“I saw people exchange contact details and make arrangements to meet again. It was a very positive event and everyone went away happy.”
The helpers and visitors cleared up together before the event finished at 4.30pm, and the refugees went home in a bus that had been provided.