On Sunday, June 23, in the heart of Bannau Brycheiniog, Brecon High School opened its doors for their Refugee Welcome Day, inviting more than 200 attendees to support and enjoy the day, writes sixth form pupil Olivia Thompson-Richards.

Hay, Brecon and Talgarth Sanctuary for Refugees and volunteers have been recognised for their “kindness and generosity” as the school welcomes members of the local community, as well as staff and pupils, to support with the organisation of the day. 

Brecon High School’s entrance for the Refugee Welcome Day
Brecon High School’s entrance for the Refugee Welcome Day (Copyright: Louis Rooza) (.)

The preparation for the day began early morning. A variety of activities run by volunteers, staff and pupils were organised. From crafts to team-building activities, pottery to football, the day was full of excitement. People were enjoying trying new activities.

A comment from an attendee stated that: “I tried to make a pot out of clay. It was my first time. It was very interesting, and I was able to do such an unusual thing.”

The activities on offer were met with gratitude and enthusiasm from attendees of all ages. A children’s choir, part of SPYM, sang in the main hall as guests arrived, bringing joy to the audience. 

A selection of the pottery made by attendees
A selection of the pottery made by attendees (Copyright: Louis Rooza) (.)

Last year, the UK government received 84,425 applicants seeking asylum. This same year, 33 per cent of these applications were initially refused (Commons Library, May 2024).

A volunteer at Hay, Brecon and Talgarth Sanctuary for Refugees, Adil Gatrad, shared his story. Adil arrived in the UK from Malawi, alone, at the age of 16. He described the unfamiliarity he felt when he arrived and how “the world feels alien” as a refugee. The approval of the UK government’s plan to deport people seeking asylum to Rwanda has been described as “inflicting cruelty” onto people seeking asylum by Human Rights Watch.

The Hay, Brecon and Talgarth Sanctuary for Refugees is a local refugee support group. They believe that people fleeing war and persecution should be able to feel safe and welcome in the UK regardless of how they arrive here. The symbol used by the Together with Refugees coalition is an orange heart, which represents hope and the colour of life jackets. These orange hearts were proudly displayed at the entrance of Brecon High School.

A variety of outdoor activities were organised, including table tennis, archery, football and basketball. We welcomed help from Army trainers and Sports Development teams to organise a variety of activities. One attendee described the table tennis as “really fun” and also offered thanks to those who supported the organisation of the event; they feel grateful for people who “open their hearts” to them.

Table tennis and team building activities
Table tennis and team building activities (Copyright: Louis Rooza)

We were grateful for the support of volunteers and pupils who organised a wonderful buffet of food to cater the event. This buffet consisted of foods such as Nepalese curry, pasta bake, a variety of salads, fruits, cakes and breads. An attendee described the food as “delicious” and enjoyed tasting food from our local culture such as homemade Welsh cakes which were freshly baked that day by volunteers.

We welcomed a wide diversity of people to Brecon High School. The day was filled with wonderful conversation; we learned that we welcomed refugees from more than 20 countries. For example, one of the attendees was a young girl arrived in the UK two years ago from Algeria at only eight years old. She has been learning English during her time here. She enjoyed the indoor arts and crafts activities.  

Support from Meriel Gillespie, the EAL Coordinator for Brecon High School, made the day possible. In recent years at Brecon High School, we have gained many Ukrainian students who have been forced to flee from war and violence. These students, all of whom had to adapt to an unfamiliar environment, are recognised for their increased confidence within the school. A few of these students attended the Refugee Welcome Day, some alone, and some alongside their families.

Olena, a parent of a Ukrainian student, said: “The thoughtfulness put into every detail did not go unnoticed.”

“It was inspiring to see the community come together in such a compassionate and supportive manner,” she added.

We welcomed donations of clothes, books and other items.

The donations given by the local community
The donations given by the local community (Copyright: Louis Rooza) (.)

The day, full of activities, ended with lively music and dancing. The community gathered together to cheer and dance; it was a perfect way to end the day.

One last dance!
One last dance! (Copyright: Louis Rooza) (.)

The crafting of gift bags was greatly appreciated by our guests. An attendee described the volunteers as “kind-hearted” for the running of the day. The entire day was a success, and a step forward towards Brecon High School’s recognition as a School of Sanctuary. Meriel Gillespie expressed gratitude to the volunteers and guests. She anticipates the organisation of another Refugee Welcome Day in the future.

The volunteers at Hay, Brecon and Talgarth Sanctuary for Refugees organise many activities to promote support for asylum seekers and refugees to emphasise that they are safe and welcome here. For more information about the organisation, visit their website: hbtsr.org.uk