Serving in an area of increasing diversity, Brushstrokes is a well-established community project set up in 2000 with the aim of supporting the most vulnerable and to ‘live in solidarity with the hidden poor’. A large part of its work helps refugees to rebuild their lives and settle into homes, education and work. They have a wide variety of challenging needs and backgrounds, but Brushstrokes can help them overcome isolation.

The Brushstrokes team wanted to take their work forward with Muslim, Sikh and Hindu faith groups to foster better understanding. This would help them give refugees and asylum seekers arriving in the area friendship and welcome through its café, along with access to a range of support resources.

Discussing best practice when supporting refugees was a key part of the gatherings.Brushstrokes is a Catholic-led project and Project Manager Teresa Clements said the Near Neighbours grant had enabled them to host interfaith meals with other faith leaders and volunteers. Discussing best practice when supporting refugees was a key part of the gatherings.

She said: “The meals we share together have a very unifying factor. We were amazed and thrilled to learn so much about the closeness of our different faiths, the similarities of our beliefs and how people of different faiths choose to live their lives. We learned about the differences too, such as dietary requirements in the Islamic and Sikh faith, which deepened our understanding and respect. Through that we adjusted our café menu so that it can be as welcoming as possible across different faiths.

“One amazing outcome it led to was an encounter with the Abrahamic Foundation, which serves the diverse needs of the Muslim community. We had invited an Egyptian asylum seeker to our interfaith meetings who was trying to find her way since arriving in the UK – a very intelligent, well-educated lady. Due to her very difficult past, she was suffering with depression, but she found inspiration and purpose through the Foundation and felt her place was volunteering with them. It was a really positive step forward for her.”     

Teresa added that the Brushstrokes café is an important part of extending a welcome to many people trying to find their place in a new country, as well as for established residents. It is a designated Place of Welcome, a growing network of hospitality run by local community groups who want to make sure that everyone in their area has a place to go for a friendly face, a cup of tea and a conversation, if and when they need it.

Teresa added: “We know that this simple provision can alleviate isolation. We recently invited some elderly residents to a traditional Christmas dinner and they enjoyed this alongside people from different countries and faiths. People were brought together in an informal, relaxed way.”

Near Neighbours Programme Director Elizabeth Carnelley said: “I’m delighted to hear of this project, in a place known to be very diverse. Teresa and all the volunteers there have worked tirelessly to establish links that help reach the vulnerable in that community and extend a welcome to all. It’s a shining example of how hearts and minds can be touched and good things can happen through simply meeting, talking and sharing a meal or a cup of tea.”

For further information about Brushstrokes visit: http://www.brushstrokessandwell.org.uk/