Michael is a kind, friendly and wonderful man. He was born in Burundi but was forced to flee many years ago amidst appalling fighting between the Hutus and Tutsis. Michael came to the UK 13 years ago to seek safety and to build a life for himself in a more stable and peaceful environment. When he arrived in the UK Michael applied for asylum but, despite the appalling dangers he faces back in Burundi, his application was refused. Michael appealed against this claim and has now been waiting for nearly 8 years for his appeal to be heard. During that time Michael has been living in a shelter for asylum seekers in the UK but is forced to wander the streets during the day with no money to buy food. He talks of walking past restaurants with their smells wafting out and forcing himself to believe he is not hungry despite the pain in his stomach. So you would think Michael would be bitter. Not a bit of it.
Michael has been to The Grange at least 10 times in the last 3 years with the support of one of our partner organisations, Room to Heal. He has been here on therapeutic retreats and skills retreats and adds an amazing amount to the household. His cooking is legendary, his love of Sophie's banana cake equally so. He is full of ideas for how The Grange could do more to support people in his situation. He manages somehow to be genuinely sympathetic when we complain that our daughter isn't sleeping at night - extraordinary for a man who has been destitute for years in London.
Michael is a refugee. He deserves to be here. The Grange can offer him some respite from his daily challenges in London. Here he can have regular hot, healthy food, sleep in a comfortable bed, spend time with friends, get outside into the open air. He can also learn skills and share the many skills he has.
During a closing circle on around Michael's 7th or 8th visit to The Grange he said, 'I don't see the point of thanking you because this is home...'. This is how we hope all our visitors feel.
Salah is from Eritrea and came to the UK fleeing from persecution in November 2014. He visited The Grange for the first time in the summer of 2015 and contributed a huge amount with his energy and ideas. Salah goes regularly to our partner organisation New Routes in Norwich and we are hoping to welcome him and many others from New Routes back here regularly in the future.
Abi has been in the UK for over 10 years and is still waiting to hear if she will be able to stay in this country. She is an extraordinary woman who has been through appalling experiences but is still full of smiles and has an amazing heart. Abi is an important part of New Routes in Norwich and we look forward to seeing her at The Grange on many more occasions.
Amelie - New Routes is an integration project based in Norwich that works with asylum seekers, refugees, and ethnic minorities. We came to The Grange in August with a group of around 12 people, all asylum seekers or refugees who had recently been granted leave to remain. As soon as our group arrived we were welcomed by Ben with tea and homemade cake, a taster of the warm reception we would receive throughout our stay.
Before even unpacking our bags, Ben invited us to sit together in the garden and introduce ourselves. Many of our group had not previously met and this allowed us to start the trip as a group. From that moment onwards we cooked together, built together, cleaned together, and shared our stories and ideas with one another.
The Grange is an environment of calm and beauty, and yet the opportunity to contribute to the upkeep of the house and work with Sophie and Ben on creative and fulfilling tasks meant that everyone was always busy working together. Even as a volunteer, I left The Grange feeling refreshed!
Many of the members of our group had not had much opportunity to leave the city since arriving in the UK and found the setting of The Grange familiar and comforting. The sense of remove from everyday life that you feel at The Grange is restful and reinvigorating. Ben, Sophie, and Oriana welcomed us into their home and made us feel a part of the The Grange family. What more could you ask for?