MP’s Questions

CWR recently wrote to each of the four candidates in the Cheltenham constituency, posing four open questions on the Government’s approach to the ongoing refugee crisis.

We’re very grateful to all of the candidates for responding so fully, as now set out in this report.

We definitely encourage everyone to raise the question of refugees with each candidate when canvassed on the doorstep, in town or at hustings events – and there are several issues in each of the responses that you may want to raise with them for further detail.

For many of us, the attached responses will be a key factor in deciding who to vote for on June 8th.

CWR – MP Candidates


Annual Report October 2018


Looking back, this has been a year of both consolidation and development.

Crucially another 9 Syrian families have been housed in Cheltenham, making a total of 18, with more expected before the end of the year.  Their primary support comes from the GARAS Resettlement Worker with help from CWR volunteers.  Individuals working with CWR have got to know some of the families well, and offer friendly support in all sorts of ways.  CWR’s main contribution is the monthly Community Café bringing the families together to meet, eat and practice English – and the children to play!

Another social highlight is the Summer Picnic, held with the support of the University, open to all with 100 or more people enjoying the food and the music and the various entertainments (with workshops and craft activities this year provided by The Everyman Theatre).

Volunteers to help with the Café and the Picnic are always greatly appreciated – and drivers to assist the families without their own transport.

The other area of work of direct benefit to the families is the search for accommodation larger than that supplied by the Council, ideally targeting families with three or more children.  So far, CWR has identified two such properties, and we need more volunteers to help with this search for socially-aware private landlords prepared to let property for less than the maximum market value (i.e. Housing Benefit rates) while developing a sense of contributing towards a better community.

We have also sought to ensure that English language teaching is coordinated to make best use of local resources by bringing the various providers together to discuss issues and share ideas.  Another conference is planned on 14th November.

The other main thread of our work is to raise local awareness and develop proactive understanding.  We continue to do this through the provision of school assemblies and workshops.  We have established contacts with all of Cheltenham’s secondary schools and 60% of the primary schools.  Our work with primary schools, especially, has generated interest further afield and we are looking to share our experiences and training materials.

Our Social Media presence grows with 750 followers on Facebook and 170 people on our Newsletter mailing list.  We recognise the need to improve and update our website, and are working on this at the moment.

We have spoken at various meetings and provided stalls at various events, but a highlight of the year was a much expanded programme of events for National Refugee Week in June.  We organised a Meet and Greet for volunteers and potential volunteers, a Film night, a Storytelling event and an evening of traditional Syrian dance.  Alongside this was a theatre performance at the Everyman and a Book Launch at the Suffolk Anthology.  All were very well-attended and well-received.  We also had some positive media coverage on Radio Gloucestershire. The same week also saw a series of activities for the families organised by The Everyman.

The success of National Refugee Week demonstrated our growing partnerships with major players like The Everyman and also with venues such as The Swan, The Scandinavian Coffee Pod, The Sober Parrot and The School House Café.  The Picnic would not be such a success without the support of the University of Gloucestershire. We have been in discussions with the Global Footsteps café but have settled on Friends Meeting House as our regular venue for meetings.  We are starting to talk to The Wilson about arranging events for refugee families. The Suffolk Anthology continues to put on events we are happy to publicise.

Organisationally, a lot of energy this year was spent making sense of the new General Data Protection Regulations.  This meant our work on a volunteer database has slipped.

But the Core Group is working well, working hard and still finding time to enjoy each other’s company.

Not everything has gone well as we would have liked, of course.  Although we are maintaining links with Education Centres in the refugee camps of the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon and are working to provide them with more computers, we have not been able to establish the student to student links we were hoping for. We started to provide individual volunteers to support local Syrians looking for work, but the different approach of the Job Café at the Hester’s Way Resource Centre seems to be working well and we are looking to support that initiative instead.  And, finally, we would like to have been able to recruit more volunteers (for the Café, for the Picnic, to give lifts, to help with the website and social media, and to help find more landlords) – an ongoing task as people inevitable move on and we take on more work.

But nor are we the only people contributing to making Cheltenham a place that Welcomes Refugees.  We are delighted that Gardners Lane and Oakwood Primary Schools have achieved School of Sanctuary status.  We congratulate the University on setting up the Michael Perham Sanctuary Scholarship.  We know that many churches make very generous contributions.  We know that many volunteer teachers go the extra mile to the make the families they are working with feel welcome. Individual CWR volunteers have enhanced their understanding of refugees by volunteering in refugee camps in France and Greece.

Looking forward: we know that families will be continuing to arrive until the end of 2019, so our contribution to their support needs to be maintained.  We need to continue to find a range of accommodation options.  We need to sustain our current partnerships and seek new ones.  We know that world events will continue to create refugees and we need to ensure that people are properly informed about this. There is still much to do, and, in order to meet the growing demands of local refugee support, more help is needed.


Maggie Powell


Refugee Week Program 2018

Cheltenham Welcomes Refugees: National Refugee Week Event Schedule

Tuesday 19th June Meet and Greet with CWR


The Sober Parrot




A chance for volunteers and supporters to meet and chat in an informal setting, finding out more about each other’s roles and the work we do! The Sober Parrot is Cheltenham’s unique ‘dry bar’ – no alcohol is served on the premises, only delicious and unconventional snacks and beverages.
Wednesday 20th June ‘Share your Story: Where Do We Belong?’


The Scandinavian Coffee Pod


An open evening of sharing stories about ‘belonging’. Some of our volunteers and resettled families will be speaking of their experiences, with questions to follow. Snacks will be available throughout the evening, with iced teas and coffees for sale by the Scandinavian Coffee Pod.
Thursday 21st June Film Screening – ‘The Other Side of Hope’


The Swan Pub 7-9pm
A film released last year about a poker-playing restaurateur and former traveling salesman who befriend a group of refugees newly arrived to Finland. Discussion to follow after the film. Snacks will be provided, and meals and drinks available to buy at the bar.
Friday 22nd June Mens’ Dabke Class School House Café 6-8pm


Dabke is a traditional Middle Eastern circular or line dance performed at weddings and on special occasions.

This event will be a dance party, with Syrians on hand to help you learn the steps!

Saturday 23rd June Womens’ Dabke Class


School House Café 6-7pm


A one hour lesson dedicated to teaching locals the art of Dabke dancing. For cultural tact and sensitivity reasons, this event is available to women only, but everyone is welcome to attend Friday’s event.

Every CWR event is free to attend, but we really appreciate donations to help with our running costs.

Please email us at for more information!

Welcome Food Hampers

GARAS frequently arrange welcome food hampers of store cupboard staples for newly arrived families.

If you’d like to help them to arrange this, or make your own contributions, please email them at


Food items, including:

Dried chick peas plus Rice and/or Couscous and/or Lentils and/or Bulgar wheat
Olive oiI
Tinned chopped tomatoes
Tea (English Breakfast)
Coffee (Nescafe)
Biscuits (sweet and savoury)
Nuts (pistachios, almonds, cashews)
Could be packed in sturdy shopping bags that can be re-used.
NB Be careful to avoid alcohol and gelatine. The Halal supermarket on the Lower High
Street stocks halal sweets.

Also needed – household supplies and toiletries including:
Toilet paper
Kitchen roll
Washing-up liquid
Surface cleaners
Toilet cleaner
Cleaning clothes/sponges/dusters
NB These items could be packed in a bucket, waste paper basket or laundry basket that can be re-used within the household.
Soap/hand wash
Shower gel
Face cloths
Tooth brushes

Cheltenham Group and Cleeve School to Help Young Refugees in Syria

This is an article published in the Gloucestershire Echo on 23rd November following Chris Vidler’s visit to the Bekaa Valley to distribute laptops and create links with the refugee community there.

Cheltenham Group and Cleeve School to Help Young Refugees in Syria

A Cheltenham group set up to help refugees resettle in Gloucestershire is extending its work by forging a link with four refugee camps in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley. They have been helped by the Cheltenham based charity “IT Schools Africa” who have donated 6 laptops for use in the camps, and by students from Cleeve School, Bishops Cleeve, who plan to set up direct on-line links with young refugees living there.

Chris Vidler, Education Co-Ordinator for Cheltenham Welcomes Refugees (CWR) has led the initiative and visited Lebanon. He told the Echo: “Incredibly, around a quarter of Lebanon’s total population of 6 million people are refugees from Syria. The Bekka Valley camps are home to 400 families, mainly women and children. Around 100 men are missing, trapped in Syria or thought to be dead.


“While most of the families have been in Lebanon for 4 years or more, their position remains very uncertain and they have no sense of security. Men in particular are under constant threat of being sent back, which is often life threatening. To make matters worse, children who are older than 13 get no state education.”

“Only a tiny minority of refugees have been accepted into the UK and other European
countries; the vast majority exist in a state of complete limbo,” explained Chris. “The aim of the initiative is to give hope to the next generation by offering new opportunities to practice their English and to help acquire life changing skills.”

Chris Newman, the International Schools Co-Ordinator at Cleeve School, agrees. “This is also a fantastic project for our students to get involved in. Using video conferencing, they will be able to converse in real-time with their counterparts in Syria, to appreciate some
of the problems they face and to learn more about the refugee crisis”.

Six pairs of contacts are initially being set-up. If successful, CWR’s target is to increase this to up to 50 pairs, and to involve more local schools in the project.

For more information contact Chris Vidler on 01242 575656, email To contact CWR email

Training as a Community Interpreter

• Do you speak any of these languages?,
Farsi, Dari, Amharic, Tigrinya, Pashto, Somali, Swahili, Tamil, Mandarin, Vietnamese, Korean, Arabic, French, Kurdish, Sorani or any other languages?
• We need specialist Community Interpreters to interpret during therapy appointments.
• These are paid opportunities and training is free of charge.
Delivered by an experienced Interpreter and Psychotherapist. Workshops cover: (all three workshops need to be attended)
1. Introduction to the role of a Community Interpreter – 2nd November 2017, 6-9 pm
2. Understanding the role of a Community Interpreter and how Therapists work – 9th November 2017, 6-9 pm
3. The role of a Community Interpreter in a therapy session. – 16th November 2017, 6-9pm
We would love to hear from you. Please contact or call 07745 930 168 to book your place.
All take place at GARAS; 111 Barton Street, Gloucester, GL1 4HR.

Do You Have A Property You Can Let Out? You Can Make A Difference.

Notice to Churches – Further Information

We are looking for family homes, ideally large with at least three bedrooms, to help Syrian refugee families being resettled in Britain under the Government’s scheme.

This scheme gives funds to cover rent and certain living costs while refugees become established in their new homes in the Cheltenham area.

If you have a 2-bedroom property that you could rent out to families, please get in touch as it may be perfect for other refugee families in the area who aren’t covered by the government scheme but are still in deep need of support.

For more information, including who the families are and how we would manage the properties for you,  please see the FAQ on the Cheltenham Welcomes Refugees website.

Thanks so much for your assistance.

From Cheltenham to Calais

By Alex Monro

John and Emily O’Connor, who have lived in Cheltenham for more than two decades, first heard about life at the refugee camp in Calais (dubbed ‘the jungle’) through a local Gloucestershire network and decided to lend a hand.

A retired teacher and midwife respectively, John and Emily had always been drawn to humanitarian work and, with three sons in their twenties, they might have volunteered much longer-term, had it not been for other family commitments. A trip to Calais last year offered an immediate way to help.

“We pulled up and parked in front of the camp in the rain and the first thing we noticed as we walked in was the smell, which was a mix of raw sewage and rotting food,” said John. “It was shocking to see the state of the place and easy to wonder why they weren’t looking after their camp better, until you realised that it was due to inadequate facilities.”

Tents quickly became waterlogged and mud got everywhere. There were only a few standpipes and portaloos for the 6,000-plus residents. Sometimes fires were set off because cooking facilities were too close to the tents.

“We were moved to tears on our second day by the sight of a patch of ground with some fifty tents that had burned down overnight,” said John. “Already the refugees were at work on reconstruction.”

John and Emily’s job was to push wheelbarrows through the site, picking all kinds of rubbish and detritus out of the mud, much of it sodden blankets and clothing.

Yet amid makeshift huts and a few rundown caravans, the different communities – Sudanese, Ugandan, Afghan and others – managed to provide some kind of education for their children and even to set up simple restaurants and shops. (John had to insist that the refugee-run restaurant accept his lunch payment.) Huts were constructed with a frame, tough white plastic sheets, and black tape to hold them together. There was even a domed tent for volunteers to run plays and drama workshops. Then, earlier this year, the camp was closed down.

“I feel angry that the UK has not been more generous here,” said John. “We met with Alex Chalk (the local MP) to try and persuade him that we should take more refugees in Britain – he just said we’d ask for more however many the government took. But the UK allocation is way below other countries and there are plenty of people here willing to offer help. All the talk is about OUR problem with refugees, when it should be about how we address THEIR problem.”

Calais may be closed, but John is deeply cognisant that the problems remain – and that many other camps still need help.

“There are camps in Dieppe and elsewhere, and there is a huge need to alleviate difficulties in Italy and Greece – there is also a need to lobby MPs,” said John. “One woman we met at the camp had a two-week-old baby she’d delivered at hospital in Dunkerque before returning to the camp, and she had contracted mastitis. There is a serious and imminent humanitarian crisis.”