“A day like that makes us think of something else”


“A day like that makes us think of something else”

Laurence, Accommodation Officer, shares some highlights from the Emilie House Garden Party

07 August 2023

“A day like that makes us think of something else”

On the morning of 26th July, delightful aromas wafted from the kitchen of Emilie House. The residents of Emilie House had risen at dawn to start cooking, tidy up, and decorate the garden. The excitement was palpable as the residents looked forward to welcoming and offering hospitality to friends, volunteers, and JRS staff: the annual Emilie House Garden Party was about to begin.

When all the guests had arrived, our newest resident lead the guests in a game of Party Bingo in the garden, beautifully maintained by volunteers and residents of the house. The game encouraged everyone to stand up, greet each other, and exchange amusing questions about linguistic talents, dancing abilities, and when people were born (thankfully, just the month, not the year!). Two former residents of Emilie House joined us, saying: “I like this house, I miss it, the gardening and JRS people too!”

After the game, we tucked into our buffet lunch. Everyone enjoyed the diverse and delicious dishes prepared by the residents –  not to mention the refreshing mint lemonade, perfect for the beautiful summer day. It was a medley of a medley of Pakistani vegetable Pakora, Ethiopian Shiro Wat (chickpea stew) and Injera (sour fermented flatbread), Nigerian Jollof rice and plantains, spicy chicken and fresh salads.

Food cooked by the residents of Emilie House: a medley of Pakistani vegetable Pakora, Ethiopian Shiro Wat (chickpea stew) and Injera (sour fermented flatbread), Nigerian Jollof rice and plantains, spicy chicken and fresh salads

We also celebrated with an Ethiopian coffee ceremony. This cultural ritual plays a central role in Ethiopian social life and is not just about drinking coffee but also about fostering a sense of community and hospitality. It has now become a tradition at Emilie House and was particularly fitting for the occasion. One of the first residents of the house proudly presided over the ceremony, skilfully roasting and grinding the coffee beans, brewing and serving the coffee before finally pouring it from a height into tiny cups to create a bubbly foam on top.  She took the opportunity to warmly thank the guests, especially the Holy Family of St Emilie and JRS.

Fr Michael Holman SJ, chair of JRS UK’s Management Committee, was with us and also gave thanks for the Sisters’ generosity, recognising that Emilie House is “a project that really makes a difference, in an accountable way that really witnesses the Gospel of Jesus.” Sister Irena, speaking on behalf of the Holy Family of St Emilie, praised the residents for the delicious food and shared her “sense of belonging.” The residents could not agree more. One resident said, of the sisters: “I am really, really, really… happy! The sisters are very lovely, sweet people.”

Days like these speak to the importance of having time to come together in community and celebration. In the words of one Emilie House resident: “It was good to be cooking and talking all together because we are always too busy. We have so much stress, not only because of our documents… a day like that makes us think of something else.” Emilie House is a fantastic project, offering refugee friends a safe space to stay – one where they can form community and have agency over how they live. In Emilie House, residents can use the space freely, cook when they like, offer hospitality – an important part of many cultures – to others.

When Emilie House was officially opened two years ago, one of the first refugee friends to move in said to us: “I hope that JRS can get other more houses to help more people in the future”. The good news is that this will soon be a reality. Emilie House is a “model” to a new house that, with the support of the Jesuits of Britain and other generous Catholic partners, will offer a similar safe and welcoming temporary home we can offer to male refugee friends.

Hopefully, next year, we will be able to report not one but two garden parties…

Residents of Emilie House, friends and staff of JRS. Some faces have been blurred to protect privacy.

Faces have been blurred to protect anonymity.

Our wonderful accommodation team also run JRS UK’s At Home hosting scheme. At present our hosting scheme is in urgent need of more hosts. Hosting a refugee friend is a powerful way of living a true ‘culture of encounter’ and putting social justice into action. Could you host?

Learn more about Hosting

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Jesuit Refugee Service UK
The Hurtado Jesuit Centre
2 Chandler Street, London E1W 2QT

020 7488 7310

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