DAYS after large-scale protests in Dover where anti-immigration protesters clashed with police, a Gwent group has spoken of the importance of “changing the story” and perceptions of refugees who come to Britain.

Abergavenny Town of Sanctuary started in 2016, months after organiser and volunteer Lindsay Wright began bringing refugees who had resettled in Cardiff to Abergavenny.

Refugees coming to the UK represent one per cent of the world’s 29.6 million refugees.

Lindsay, who met the refugees while volunteering as an English teacher at the Welsh Refugee Council in the capital, decided her rural home town needed a dose of reality.

“It didn’t feel right for me to be going back to my lovely home in Abergavenny. I thought it was important the refugees could come and experience it," she said.

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Sarah Foster (left) and Lindsay Wright marching through the town. Delwyn Edwards Photography​

What started with trips to the town and King Henry VIII School quickly progressed, and Lindsay decided to set up Abergavenny Town of Sanctuary to help refugees resettle more formally.

Four years on, seven families - making up around 30 people - have settled in the town, and the group has 80 voluntary members.

The group helps refugees to learn English through “Conversation Café”, encourages cooperation and friendship, and holds regular meetings.

“We were very aware Abergavenny didn’t have asylum seekers or refugees in the main, and the only information most people were getting was from the media," said Lindsay.

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Delwyn Edwards Photography

“We want refugees to come here, and we want to get to know their story.”

The group had their most recent event on Friday, August 28, where they walked through the town with banners and leaflets to raise awareness to residents and shoppers.

The volunteers don’t like the word “help”, and say the arrangement is reciprocal between both parties.

Volunteer Heather Willbourn said: “To say we 'help' implies we’re doing something for someone, but we actually get a lot back from this too.


“I might chat to someone because they want to improve their English, and they’ll make me some fabulous food. I now have Syrian friends here I’d never have met if I wasn’t here. I’m so lucky I get to understand their culture and stories.”

Fellow member Sarah Foster says the importance of rural areas raising awareness on the benefits of helping refugees is crucial.

“For refugees, places like Abergavenny might not be so comfortable because it is so overwhelmingly white British,” she said. “It’s important to normalise the presence of others who might not share our culture.

“I think it’s even more important here than in a city where refugees might be more commonplace.

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The banner held high over Llanfoist Bridge. Delwyn Edwards Photography​

“Although the protests in Dover are far away, the media impacts perceptions of refugees everywhere, and even more so in rural areas. We have a role to make sure we’re stopping that negative narrative.”

The portrayal of refugees crossing the channel illegally is of grave concern for the group.

It is now hoping to educate as many people as possible that the vast majority of immigrants arriving in the UK are here legally.

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Delwyn Edwards Photography

“That’s why we talk of changing the story,” Lindsay added. “The negative feeling is frightening and sad. These families have been through terrible traumas and have every right to be here.

“I’d like to think we’re giving them (refugees) a voice to allow them to support us in changing the story, and I hope we’re giving Abergavenny a platform to do the same.”