Glasgow warmly welcomes Refuweegee project

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A project started last year to welcome Syrian refugees to Glasgow has been a huge success and is set to become a permanent fixture in the city

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22nd March 2016 by Paul Cardwell 0 Comments

A project set up last year to help Syrian refugees arriving in Glasgow has been such a roaring success, its founder is to quit her job to focus on turning it into a full-time charity.

Selina Hales told TFN she made the decision to leave her role as a project manager at Glasgow Chamber of Commerce after being overwhelmed by the success of her Refuweegee project and the growing amount of time it is taking up.

Set up towards the end of last year, the project sees Hales and a group of volunteers create welcome packs, including with a hand-written letter from a local person, to be given out to refugees arriving in Glasgow.

Inside the packs, aptly delivered in People Make Glasgow branded bags, are a number of items, largely donated by Glaswegians.

They include essentials such as include toiletries, warm clothing and even bedding. Other items include information leaflets on services such as community groups and events in the city. But what makes them really special is the individually written letter from a Glaswegian, welcoming the refugee and telling them a bit about their own lives and their favourite things to do in Glasgow.

Glasgow warmly welcomes Refuweegee projectSelena Hales

The response to this project just screams that Glasgow wants to show its support and Refuweegee helps people do this

“Just before Christmas things went completely crazy and there was an awful lot of press,” Hales told TFN.

“Every single day I get an email or a phone call from a person who wanted to be involved.

 “I’ve just decided very recently to make this a full-time job.

“I set Refuweegee up in my spare time and the 18 hour days that I am doing at the moment while working and having two young children are just not maintainable.

“I will try to establish funding for the charity and I hope that I would be able to earn a wage through management of the project.”

Since launching Refuweegee, Hales, who in the very little spare time she has plays in Glasgow’s community samba band SambaYaBamba, has been delighted with the response. Two drop off points for goods have been set up – one on Cochrane Street in the city centre by local business amiExecutive and another further out at the Harvest Co-op shop in the Shawlands district. Oxfam has also agreed to collect letters to refugees in any of its Glasgow stores and a PO Box has been set up.

Enough goods have been donated and letters written to send out 163 packs and another 106 are ready to go this week.

Such is its success, the project has now extended to offer welcome packs to anyone arriving in the city, not just Syrian refugees. Hales has been in contact with Glasgow City Council’s Afghanistan and Iraq teams and has given out packs to small community groups from the Integration Network right up to larger groups such as the Scottish Refugee Council and Migrant Help. She has even had some help doing translations from the China Britain Counsel and is considering extending the project beyond Glasgow.

What's in a name...

Glasgow warmly welcomes Refuweegee project

Like or loathe the term 'weegie' to describe a Glaswegian it has come in handy for the Refuweegee project with Hales admitting the clever portmanteau helped get lots of attention.

"The name was a lightbulb moment," she says.

"I had already thought of the welcome packs but was lying in bed one night when it came to me. I think it catches the imagination. 

"It is important to have a really solid brand, logo and identity to connect with the community. 

"The tagline is ‘we’re all fae somewhere’ and you can’t deny that."

Schools are getting involved too, particularly in the letter writing, and a successful volunteer network night resulted in Selina signing up around 80 volunteer helpers to Refuweegee.

“The response to this project just screams that Glasgow wants to show its support and Refuweegee helps people do this. We have had very little negative response,” she continued.

“I set up Refuweegee in response to feeling a bit helpless to what was going on in Syria and elsewhere. I just thought that there has to be something the community could do to make sure that once people do make it to us that they are embraced and made to feel part of that community.

“I have two young children and I knew I couldn’t leave my family and go to Lesbos or Calais to go to any of the camps but I just thought there had to be something I could do in the city.

“I am so proud of Glasgow. I had complete faith but I never knew it would be this successful.”

Next up for Refuweegee are plans to organise its own events to connect people that are new in the city.

The first, a trip to one of Glasgow’s most known cultural hotspots the Barrowlands, has already been held with Hales hailing it a success adding that they are now looking to organise more for the summer.

Refuweegee is even beginnning to see refugees themselves repond by giving something back in their new home. Included in the welcome pack is a stamped addressed envelope with a return address on it. The project asks people receiving the pack to write back and share something about their story. So far it has 28 letters returned and two men have signed up as volunteers.

Despite leaving the safety of her job, Hales wishes – as many people who launch a new charity do – that it didn’t need to exist.

“In five years I want it to go full circle – if there is still a need for a project like this then we are doing something very wrong.

“We shouldn’t have people living in complete poverty when they have just arrived in the city and we shouldn’t have people not feeling welcome in the city.

“I love the idea of people still getting a welcome pack but it should be a much more established and normal process.”