Refugee Tales comes to Croydon

By - Monday 7th December, 2015

Nelicia Le Gro and Andrea Perry celebrate an autumn walk through Croydon hosted by Refugee Tales

Photo author’s own.

On a lovely autumnal day in October more than forty walkers strode through the parks and woodlands of Croydon, discovering a side to the borough that many people had only seen from a train window or on the path to the Home Office. The walk was a reunion for Refugee Tales, which is a series of walking events for asylum seekers, ex-detainees and refugees and their supporters and friends, as well as many people associated with the Gatwick Detainees Welfare Group.

The original Refugee Tales took place in the summer of 2015 and involved a nine day walk, starting in Dover and ending in Crawley, following the Old Pilgrim Trail as well as the North Downs Way and including nightly tales (mirroring Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales – but this time, ‘The Lorry Driver’s Tale’, ‘The Migrant’s Tale’, ‘The Immigration Lawyer’s Tale’, which will be published in 2016) and music. The walk was created in solidarity with refugee journeys worldwide, to celebrate the contribution refugees make to communities, countries and culture, and to highlight the injustice of immigration detention. The UK is the only country in Europe which still allows the indefinite detention of refugees. Some of our walkers had been held for up to three years in these conditions and were still suffering the impact of this terrible period in their lives.

The walk was created in solidarity with refugee journeys worldwide

So, on Saturday 17th October the group wandered across the beautiful fields and hills of Lloyd Park to the park’s highest viewpoint, where we were offered a fascinating talk by Meike Weise from Croydon Council on the geological formation of the area, including the park’s wildlife, bat boxes and trees. We then enjoyed our packed lunches as well as some dancing led by Catherine Pestano from the Natural Voice Practitioners’ Network in the fields near Heathfield House. It was inspiring to see the symbolic joining of hands and communal movement taking place outside in the natural landscape. “I loved the dancing and singing”, wrote participant Avril, “although I’m not going to stand next to K to dance again – he’s all over the place with exuberance, and I kept getting knocked over!”

We then walked along Bramley Bank and Ballards Farm Bridle Way, enjoying the deep autumn colours and admiring the trees and views from Croham Hurst. Finally we were welcomed to delicious tea, cakes, deep sofas and celestial singing in Emmanuel Croydon Church, before returning to East Croydon.

There was a sense of hearts and spirits connecting

Walking in the beautiful woodlands of Croydon is restorative and invites disclosures. “One of the most poignant things that a refugee shared with me”, said Catherine Pestano of the Natural Voice Network, “was the isolation of living in a strange place where they are visibly different. They spoke of being soothed by nature. A benefit that we experienced while circle dancing and singing harmony together was that deliciousness of connection and understanding, without the need to make conversation. A sense of hearts and spirits connecting. This can strengthen people for the next challenges ahead”.

For the walkers of many differing backgrounds it was a memorable day, creating new pathways of welcome and assumption-shifting. We also discovered the little known fact that Croydon is the second-greenest borough in London. Anna from GDWG was one of the many who later emailed to say, “just a big thank you for the amazing walk that wasn’t just a walk but also a geology lesson, dance, poetry reading, sing, tea party and more”. We think that summarises it nicely.

For further information on Refugee Tales and to read some of the amazing contributions that have created this unique resource visit the Refugee Tales website, here

Nelica La Gro and Andrea Perry

Nelica La Gro and Andrea Perry

Andrea and Nelica work with the International Family Tracing Service of the British Red Cross helping people who have been separated from their families through conflict, political upheaval, natural disaster or migration, to look for their relatives. Both Nelica and Andrea are passionate about initiatives that combine a creative approach to addressing the challenges refugees face, and foster genuine welcome, and share a love of walking and the natural landscape.

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