Well-being with people seeking asylum: ‘The best days!’

Participants in the well-being morning for people seeking asylum are cooking at Frimhurst Family House

To thrive, we all need opportunities to be creative, build meaningful connections, and make our own decisions. At the hotel where people seeking asylum are placed in Surrey, they lack access to stimulating activities, can feel isolated, and don’t even have the opportunity to cook their own meals. That’s why the ATD Fourth World team at Frimhurst Family House, in conjunction with local organisations, hosts a fortnightly well-being morning with people seeking asylum housed at a nearby hotel.

Getting away from daily struggles

Every other week, Frimhurst Family House organises these well-being mornings with the help of Barnardos and St. Barbara’s Church. This is part of our Getting Away From It project, which offers time away from the day-to-day pressures and anxieties of life in poverty, and opportunities to create meaningful connections with others.

During these well-being mornings, Barnardos offers families and individuals help with various administrative matters, such as filling out forms or learning about services in the area, including English classes.

Meanwhile, the Frimhurst team proposes many activities and events for families to relax and enjoy a few hours away from the pressures of daily life. This project started in the summer of 2023 with the support of Home-Start Surrey Heath. It continues today because of the positive impact this time of well-being has on residents of the hotel. A team member explained: “We have been offering arts-and-crafts workshops, games, well-being massage and reflexology sessions, and a chance to socialise in a friendly and peaceful environment. It’s great to see them enjoy themselves and to see how much they support each other.”

Special mornings

Those mornings seek to break isolation and offer activities for adults and children to thrive. Residents of the hotel who come to Frimhurst can encourage new people to join the well-being activities, and the team sometimes welcomes more than forty participants at a time.

A member of our core team, Eva Carrillo Roas, said: “Most people didn’t know each other when they came to this area. They met through the hotel, and through community groups and the Frimhurst activities. It was beautiful to see the community that they created.”

Many participants have commented on the friendships they made through the well-being mornings. Eva added:

“It’s a moment where you don’t think about anything else. You can be there in the moment, be in Frimhurst which is beautiful. Reconnect with nature, reconnect with yourself, reconnect with your society and with people. You do whatever you think is best for your soul, and this is very important.”

A father who lives at the hotel said how important and special it was for the children’s development to have access to activities like those at Frimhurst, because “there is nothing for them to do at the hotel”.

At Frimhurst, children (and adults!) can get creative during arts-and-crafts workshops, try out board games with friends, play with toys in the nursery, explore the games room with the pool and ping-pong tables, or play the piano. One woman said:

“Those days are the best days!”

The opportunity to cook for themselves

One special well-being morning took place on the last session of the summer, before the project started again in the fall. Part of the group of asylum seekers cooked ‘Pupusa’, a Latin American dish, for everyone to enjoy. Living at the hotel, in daily life they have no opportunities to cook. They feel flung into a very foreign place where they miss cooking the way they used to in their country.

Traditional Latin American food 'Pupusa' is being served on plates.
This is ‘pupusa’, the dish cooked by a group of asylum seekers at Frimhurst in the summer of 2023.

Often, people in poverty are disempowered. Research on the Hidden Dimensions of Poverty, led by ATD Fourth World lived-experience activists across six countries, identified disempowerment as a key dimension of poverty. They explain that lack of means, time, energy, and opportunities limit and constrain their options. Choices are “constrained by life circumstances”, and people are “not in charge of [their] own destiny”.

In her conversations with people at the well-being morning, Eva heard similar experiences. She said: “One of the things they keep on missing is food that is culturally appropriate to their needs. In the places like this hotel, they aren’t given any opportunity to say what they want or prefer to eat. And they tend to be given food that is not culturally appropriate to them.”

Participants in the well-being morning for people seeking asylum are sharing a meal at Frimhurst Family House

Eva has Hispanic roots, like most of the people seeking asylum she met that day. She explained the significance of food in Hispanic culture: “Food is very important. It is where people gather to speak, and see each other. Most social interactions happen through food – that can be family or friends. Food also gives you this sense of feeling at home.

“Not only eating food, but cooking too. Cooking is a bonding moment. On that day, they got to cook and share that food with other participants and with ATD Fourth World team members. They got to be proud of their culture and their food. I think it was very important to them.”

A woman who stays at the hotel said that, at Frimhurst Family House, she feels like she is inside a real home, and she “feels like a real person”.  A team member said:

“ATD Fourth World provided an opportunity for her to cook something herself, which is one of the things she misses most.”

A project we want to continue

Some people have now received their refugee status and moved out of the hotel. Although it is not always possible to maintain long-term relationships with asylum seekers we meet through this project, some families keep in touch with the team. One said she was happy to leave the hotel, but sad to leave Frimhurst.

Chantal Levesque, a team member at Frimhurst, said: “This project is important. It is very much about learning and supporting each other in the present, and it is a great opportunity to learn and to change perceptions of asylum seekers’ situation in the UK.”

In the light of the recent immigration policy debates, Chantal added:

“One of the residents of the hotel was telling me that anxiety is running very high about the new deportation law. There was much crying when the law was passed and a lot of residents are now very much living in fear. But having a chance to come and have two coffee mornings a month does a lot for their well-being and mental health. They always leave Frimhurst happy and relaxed.”

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