Creating community with the help of volunteers


Creating community with the help of volunteers

Sarah responded to a social media request and created a popular new activity for refugee women

08 August 2023

Creating community with the help of volunteers

Our activities at Emilie House are a relaxed and fulfilling way for residents to come together regularly as a community. They are an excellent tool for community connection, and increasingly, an opportunity to unveil talent and spark innovation as new skills are learnt. 

Emilie House activities have always been connected to life at home. Through the textiles project, a range of beautiful decorative pieces have been created and scattered across the home. Sarah, our Textiles Volunteer, shares her reflections on our most recent project: ‘Home’. 

A framd textiles piece, depicting a resident's depiction of home. There is a house on the far left, a rainbow tree in the middle, and a child and a woman embroidered on the far right.

Can you tell us a bit about your work and how you came to volunteer with JRS? What inspired you? 

I have always worked as designer and maker from my studio in London collaborating with interior designers, film costume designers and the furnishing textile industry on various projects over 35 years. I specialise in machine and hand embroidery, printing, dyeing and appliqué. A love of textiles and the creative process of actually making are central to my work.  

My volunteering for JRS is a lucky case of right time, right place. The advert for a textile volunteer on Instagram was brought to my attention by someone who works for the Jesuits in Britain. 

A shot from above of a table with pieces of work mid-progress.

What has the experience of volunteering with JRS been like for you? Have you learnt anything? How has it impacted your own life? 

I approached the application and role with little confidence having no experience of formal teaching and minimal participation of work with community groups. My hope was that the group of refugee friends would experience the same joy of craft making, creativity and achievement that I have enjoyed throughout my career.  

Leading the textile group for refugee friends is an absolute joy. I have learnt so much about working with vulnerable people, met a group of amazing individuals who I would never encounter in regular life. By being reliable, supplying materials, trying to remember requested materials or solving problems each week, I hoped to build up trust, a sense of belonging, of achievement from learning new skills and finishing a project, enjoy comradery working as a group and to add a little bit of enjoyable structure to their lives. 

I have learnt so much about the group of migrants, asylum seekers, refugees that we hear about in the news. Over the year my relationship with the group and the individuals has become more relaxed and open within the understood boundaries. I hope that they trust me and enjoy my company as an acquaintance.  Being thanked at the end of each session by refugee friends who have such difficult lives feels so unnecessary – I enjoy the sessions.   

A piece of work by a resident, showing a woman dancing in national dress in front of a building in the background. She is by a river, and there are trees scattered about. The sky is bright blue, with a streak of red through it.

Can you describe the recent textiles project? What was the process? Any highlights? 

Amy-Leigh, the Accommodation Project Co-ordinator, and I worked together to structure a 6-week project – each resident of Emilie House to complete an A4-sized textile piece to be framed and hung in Emilie House. The subject was ‘Home’. We asked refugee friends what the ‘home’ meant to them and to draw out ideas. We transferred the drawings to fabric and then they embroidered the elements using the skills they had learnt throughout the year. Within the subject they had artistic and creative freedom. I learnt a lot from the images they chose to portray. 

The highlight for me was the final session: we had scheduled the sixth session for framing and hanging. During the fifth week all the refugee friends worked independently to finish their pieces – I was so overjoyed and gratified by their commitment, by the obvious sense of joy and achievement when we hung the pictures together in the final session, contributing to life in Emilie House now and in the future. 

A framed embroidery piece by a resident of Emilie House, showing a depiction of Emilie House with colourful flowers in front of it.

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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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