Leeds has always been good at welcoming people from far afield, but sometimes the warmth of this welcome can take your breath away.
Last week, I was invited to Bankside Primary School to talk about Leeds Asylum Seekers Support Network, and to help the children think through how they can welcome new people arriving in Leeds.
The school council was made up of about 40 pupils – each representing their class, and even the early years pupils had representatives asking questions on their behalf. Their questions were amazing – and very direct. I answered as many as I could, and promised to answer the rest by email.
Then the children read some of their remarkable poetry.
Afterwards, one of them asked “So, is there anything practical we can do?” My answer was the simple: If someone is new at your school, or new to your street
- Show the person they are welcome and be friendly.
- Learn to say their name, and hello in their language. (Tell them your name, too and how to say hello in English)
- If you’re playing, or doing something with other people – ask if they want to join in.
What impressed me most was how the whole school have been involved in making it a welcoming place. The children have created Welcome cards for every Syrian and Afghan refugee child arriving in Leeds, and every door in the school has a poster – designed by one of the children – saying “Refugees are welcome here” and “Welcome to Leeds”.
The children then presented LASSN with a cheque for £225: an astonishing amount – which they had raised by running a non-uniform day. Would I come to the next non uniform day? I was asked. Perhaps you could come as a Christmas Tree… How could I refuse?