Places of Welcome come together

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Almost 20 representatives from a range of voluntary, faith and community organisations gathered to take part in a half day event for Birmingham’s Social Inclusion Process initiative, Places of Welcome network on Tuesday 4 March 2014 at the Faithful Neighbours offices in Sparkhill.

Participants were welcomed by two of the Places of Welcome steering group members, Jessica Foster, Near Neighbours and Sarah Turner, Thrive together Birmingham who  explained how the Places of Welcome network was developed from the city’s Social Inclusion Process, which has been led by  Rt David Urquhart , Bishop of Birmingham since March 2012.

As part of the Social Inclusion Process’ extensive engagement across the city it identified seven commitments outlined in the social inclusion white paper with one particular recommendation focused on doing more to support new arrivals in the city whether they are asylum seekers, refugees or they have moved from different parts of the city.

Also, participants heard that a small Places of Welcome steering group was formed to engage with Birmingham’s community, voluntary and faith groups who said that there was a need for Places of Welcome in the community and that five key elements or principles were formed for groups to sign up to operate as a member of the network.

To be a Place of Welcome (Places of Welcome summary nov 2013) there needs to be willingness to offer:

  • an unconditional welcome to local people for at least a few hours a week
  • and to commitment to the five P’s

Place: An accessible and hospitable building, open at the same time every week
People: Open to everyone regardless of their circumstances or situation, and staffed by volunteers
Presence: A place where people actively listen to one another
Provision: Offering free refreshments (at least a cup of tea and a biscuit) and basic information
Participation: Recognises that every person coming to a Place of Welcome will bring talents, experiences and skills that they might be willing to share locally

In a simple geographical mapping exercise (north, south, east and west) individuals represented their groups across the city, not only did it help them develop their own local networks, but it also gave them an opportunity to share their experiences of running as a Place of Welcome. One delegate shared how by offering simple friendship and a hot drink helped one young man boost his confidence to attend a training course, leading him to get a job in the local community.

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In smaller groups individuals shared their hopes and fears, both for their own Place of Welcome and the wider group:

  • Q: What happens if no one turns up? A: Make sure that you enjoy joint activities with those around you, so if no one arrives you have still a productive time
  • Q: Signposting, how do you provide the resource without setting up expectations? A: The offer should be simple with basic support without make your offer too complicated.

Yardley Wood Road Baptist Church, John Glass shared how their group has been running for 10 years and that joining the Places of Welcome network has not only given those visiting an automatic understanding that the place is different to just a coffee morning. But also they are part of something bigger, reassuring and supportive. As a Place of Welcome it has also given them a Place of Welcome kite mark giving agencies the assurance in the standard of care that their clients will receive.

Refugee Action, Phil Davis spoke of how many asylum seekers have fled from their homes (country of origin) under terrible circumstances and moving from area to area through a complicated and difficult system. Very often a smile and simple offering of kindness can help them start to become part of the local community. Phil added that for Refugee Action having a network of Places of Welcome was important as they can direct vulnerable individuals to a trusted place.

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Participants also suggested ideas which would help develop and support their Place of Welcome:

  • A website pin pointing the location, opening times, dates, basic offer and blog to share stories
  • A banner to be displayed outside the Place of Welcome when open
  • Workshops and training to support and develop Places of Welcome
  • A soft launch to agencies and groups, including those of non-faith backgrounds across the city to participate and grow of the network

All the new Places of Welcome received a banner and printed materials which were funded by Barrow Cadbury Trust and presented to them by Debbie Pippard Head of Programmes.

If you or your organisation would like to join the growing network of Places of Welcome and are interested in becoming a Place of Welcome, please contact Sarah Turner or Jessica Foster at the Faithful Neighbourhoods Centre on 0121 675 1155 or email sarah@thrivetogetherbham.org or jess@nearneighbours.com.

For more information visit: https://www.facebook.com/PlacesOfWelcomeBirmingham

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