Last Thursday members of the JRS community had a chance to meet together once again, in a COVID-safe picnic hosted and organised with the help of St Francis of Assisi’s parish in Stratford, East London. A small group of refugee friends and their children were welcomed by JRS staff members and parishioners to the garden on the grounds of the Catholic church of St Francis of Assisi, where a picnic of delicious food and drinks had been prepared and laid out for them.
The picnic was arranged as a safe, COVID specific measure to bring a few people together in an outside space, following social distancing measures, where risk of infection spread is lower. The refugee friends who were invited could walk to the venue from where they are living, and avoid public transport in order to reduce risks of a large gathering in an enclosed space. Most friends would otherwise have had a long bus journey.
JRS members spoke of the energy and joy that was present throughout the afternoon. Some described how they particularly enjoyed playing hide and seek with the young children of our friends around the parish grounds, and one refugee friend was heard to remark “this is the best picnic ever!”. Another refugee friend who took part told us:
“It was a very good activity in my opinion. After spending so long in lockdown it was good to get together and see other people. Many of us don’t have friends and family here so coming to JRS is the only chance we get to see other people and socialise. I would be very happy to come to another one.”
Staff also enjoyed the event, and spoke about our hope to partner with other parishes around London to host several such small, outdoor picnics closer to where our refugee friends are – with COVID-safe measures in place – while we can still make the best of the good weather outside.
Aidan Cantwell, Senior Operations Manager attended the picnic and said: ‘It was great to be out and about and meet some of our friends again. I got a strong sense that all who came to the picnic were really pleased to be there. The setting was perfect and the kids got to run around- and give us a good run around too! I hope we will be able to host a few more picnics in different areas over the next few weeks.’
Thanks to the parish of St Francis, our refugee friends were able to safely enjoy a shared meal together with JRS, something which has always been an important, regular occurrence at our weekly drop-in Day Centre. The Day Centre has been temporarily suspended since public health lockdown measures were introduced in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Our mission of accompaniment continues during this time however through phone-based support, and emergency deliveries of food and toiletries. The picnic at St Francis’s church was a rare but very appreciated opportunity to unite in person once more.
Rhiannon Prideaux, JRS Emergency Response Team coordinator, who organised the afternoon with the help of Fr Michael O’Grady, said:
‘I’m so grateful to Fr Michael and all the parishioners at St Francis of Assisi church who helped us organise a day to remember. It was such a joy to be able to welcome our friends in person, and share conversations and laughter over a meal again, something which would usually have taken place every week at our day centre. One of our friends even told us she had not taken her children anywhere since lockdown, so this picnic was a real relief for her and her little ones. Overall a really positive and uplifting afternoon!’
We hope to see more of our friends at another local socially-distanced picnic sometime soon!
To view larger pictures of the picnic, click the icons below: