A Befriending Story for Refugee Week

To mark refugee week, we are very happy to be able to share the story of WERS’ Befriending match Beth and Minoo. Since the pair were introduced in Spring last year, we have seen a supportive and fun relationship emerge between the two of them. We love to hear stories of what they have been up to and see photos of smiling faces! A few months ago, we asked Beth if she would contribute a short story of her befriending experience with Minoo to share with other volunteers and those thinking of taking up the role. Beth suggested that her daughter, currently studying at York University, interview the befriending pair and that she write up an article, with input and support from Minoo, who has a professional background in journalism. We recently received the finished article and you can read it below.

Befriending: A mutually rewarding experience.
By Molly Leeming (York University Undergraduate)

My mum Elizabeth and her friend Minoo, who is from Iran, have been taking part in the WERS Befriending Scheme since March 2018. I interviewed them both to hear what they had to say about their experience of the scheme, what they had got out of it, and whether they would recommend it. As I talked to them both, we were all sitting in Minoo’s living room, sipping cups of cardamom tea whilst my Mum, Elizabeth, worked on some embroidery. There was a definite sense of familiar, comfortable companionship between them both.
When I asked them about their experience of befriending, it was clear that they had both enjoyed sharing mutual interests and hobbies. Elizabeth said, ‘We have enjoyed finding points of shared interest, and just being girly, talking about makeup, clothes, hair- light, fun things which we don’t usually get a chance to talk about with the men in our lives’. Minoo agreed, saying that it was lovely to talk about ‘positive life’, as opposed to dwelling on ‘bad memories’ and negative things. Minoo mentioned going to a specialist clothing boutique, for the first time with Elizabeth, saying that it was a really positive experience. She described how it had boosted her self-confidence, ‘It was so nice seeing people the same as me, who weren’t ashamed, but happy’. Elizabeth chipped in, ‘The atmosphere was fantastic, and it was lovely to see you blossom and start to think more positively about body image’. Elizabeth said that she has also branched out and taken new risks, thanks to Minoo, such as letting Minoo dye her hair with henna, as well as being taught a variety of new skills, ‘about hair, makeup, cooking, cake decoration…Minoo is very talented’, she pointed out.
Another really important aspect of Minoo and Elizabeth’s experience of befriending is that of family life, which is very important to them both. Minoo said, ‘I love children, and Elizabeth has three lovely children. I’ve found a friend, and a family’. Elizabeth agreed, saying how her family has also gained from getting to know Minoo. ‘I could see how hard it was for you being here without your family, and that you were missing your extended family, so it is great that you have become an honorary member of our extended family’. Minoo mentioned how much she had enjoyed spending Christmas Day 2018 with Elizabeth’s family, ‘I felt at home, part of a family’. The ladies agreed that the importance of family and family connections is something that they had observed can transcend cultural, religious and national differences. Sharing their mutually held high regard for the family, has been very special for them both.
Befriending has broadened the perspectives of both Elizabeth and Minoo, who have been able to share their own cultures and gain an insight into each other’s cultures. When I asked what the highlight of the befriending experience had been for Minoo, during the last year, she replied without hesitation, ‘Christmas Day’, saying that it ‘reminded me of Persian New Year at home in Iran’. In fact, both Minoo and Elizabeth have shared cultural celebrations together. Elizabeth’s family spent Nowruz, Iranian/Persian New Year, at Minoo’s house, where they were treated to a mouth-watering traditional Persian meal. Minoo said how much she had gained from these times of sharing, ‘When you come to a new community you don’t know the culture, how people think. Befriending has helped me get to know the culture. It is completely different when you understand the culture you live in, you can understand the community so much more’. Elizabeth agreed, ‘You get to see points of similarity in a different culture that you might not have previously known about’. Reflecting on her experiences of living in the Solomon Islands, Elizabeth said ‘You get to see that there are some values which seem international. When you have realised that you have this shared bond, it can help you to realise that everything is not as foreign as you might have first thought’.
I finally asked them if they would recommend befriending and their response was an overwhelming ‘yes’. Minoo said, ‘Befriending has changed my life’. She says how much it has helped her with her struggles with depression and lack of self-confidence, and how it has given her an invaluable insight into British culture and family. Elizabeth enthusiastically agreed, ‘In getting involved in befriending and reaching out to Minoo, our family has gained so much. We have gained a friend, had a lot of fun and broadened our perspective of the multicultural Newcastle that we live in’. Minoo warns that befriending might not necessarily work first time if the befriender and befriendee’s personalities do not match and they do not ‘click’. In this case she simply advises to try again, until you find someone who matches you as well as she and Elizabeth clearly match each other. She says that through befriending, ‘You see each other as humans, beyond religion and culture, you see each other as friends’.

WERS befriending match, Beth and Minoo, celebrate Iranian New Year
together with their families.
Beth’s youngest daughter, Naomi, styling Minoo’s hair.

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Thanks to Good Gym!

All of us here at WERS would like to say a massive thanks to everyone from Good Gym for giving up their time last night to help spruce up our premises a little! It is amazing what they were able to achieve in such a short space of time! Have a read of their fantastic report of it below.


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Trustees needed!

Trustee Vacancies

West End Refugee Service (WERS) is seeking enthusiastic, highly motivated people to join our Board of Trustees.

This is an exciting time for WERS as we reach our 20th anniversary and are in the process of reviewing the charity’s Business Plan and Strategic Objectives. 

To support WERS to continue moving forward we are encouraging people with a range of skills and experiences to get in touch.  However, a recent skills audit identified that the board would benefit from additional expertise in the following areas:

  • Human Resources
  • Research & Policy
  • Financial Management & Accounting
  • PR, Communications & Marketing
  • Fundraising

We are particularly interested in hearing from people with lived experience of the UK asylum system. 

Although based in the West End of Newcastle, applications are encouraged from throughout the area. The positions are voluntary, but travelling expenses would be reimbursed.

Trustees are responsible for setting the strategy and policies of WERS, as well as guiding and supporting the Director and staff team. Meetings are held every two months on a Wednesday between 4pm and 6pm.

Expressions of interest should be supplied with a CV and covering letter detailing any relelevent skills, knowledge and experience.  These should be sent to the Project Director, Sean Gladwin, by 5pm on Thursday 27th June 2019 via email to: director@wers.org.uk  

Applicants will be asked to complete a skills survey, followed by an invitation to an informal meeting for a friendly chat with the Project Director and the Chairperson.

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WERS volunteer project receives Big Lottery Funding, January 2019

We are very happy to announce that the Big Lottery Reaching Communities Fund have awarded us a three year grant to develop and run our Volunteer Project – Support, Empowerment, Community. Central to this is skillsmatch – a new web-based initiative that matches the skills and interests of asylum seekers and refugees with volunteering opportunities out in the community. The funding also supports our befriending scheme and involves working closely with local people and asylum seekers and refugees on volunteer projects.  A massive thank you to the Big Lottery for supporting us…and also to all at Creative Fuse North East and our partners Roots and Wings, Newcastle University and Teesside University who helped create the original pilot project. We’ll start the fully funded project in April and can’t wait to get going! Watch this space for developments!

To find out more about our new project skillsmatch, please visit the volunteer page here.

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