At the heart of our community

Foundation House provides a welcoming space for all

Kathy Stredder of Stratford Welcome Here, a community organisation that aims to support Syrian refugees living in Stratford-upon-Avon, tells us what happened when she asked if Foundation House could be home to a new initiative – a Syrian Conversation Café.

Welcome Here’s activities include befriending, interpretation (Arabic/English), transport, advice on local facilities, social activities and home-based English language support. The idea for the café was to provide opportunities for English language practice and to reduce the social isolation experienced by the eleven Syrian families settled here. The families are keen to learn and improve their English but have limited opportunities to do this and as they live in different parts of the town, they have nowhere communal to meet. Although their neighbours are friendly, the language barriers often make contact difficult.

‘We approached Foundation House as it is already used for some of the English as a Second Language classes for the Syrians, so was a venue they were familiar with.

‘Fran Donnelly, Foundation House’s Community Hub Manager, was very enthusiastic and encouraging about the possibility of holding a regular Café. She offered to help publicise the event by creating a beautiful poster, in Arabic and English, which could be widely distributed. Any concern we had about arrangements, Fran and her team immediately resolved. They have provided an incredibly supportive environment and gave us the final incentive to trial the Café.

‘A pilot Café was held in November 2019. The event proved popular with about 25 Syrians attending, enjoying the activities and games on offer, and especially glad to see each other and the volunteers who supported it. Towards the end when asked if she wanted to come again, Khalisa said with a big smile on her face that she didn’t want to go home – she wanted to be with her friends and in the communal atmosphere provided by Foundation House, and Welcome Here. The success of the event spurred us on to make the Café a monthly event.

‘On January 29th, the first of the 2020 Cafés took place. The Green Room was buzzing, with both Arabic and English being spoken. A game of chess provided a chance for the men to interact, and a language activity based on photos of Stratford-upon-Avon engaged many of the women. There was lots of 1:1 interaction among the 15 Syrians and 12 Welcome Here volunteers who attended, and the atmosphere was joyful!

‘Over the coming months Welcome Here hopes to attract some of the young mothers (who are home based) to the Café and we will look for ways of providing get togethers for those who are at work or have classes on Wednesdays. Future plans also include involving the Syrians in planning and running the Café and using their feedback as a basis for developing different kinds of activities.’


24 Stratford Town Trust Annual Report 2019

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