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Schoolchildren discover their city's history of welcoming strangers

PUBLISHED: 08:30 17 June 2019 | UPDATED: 08:30 17 June 2019

Students from Avenue Junior School who have loved learning about refugees and asylum seekers during Norfolk welcomes. Picture: Ella Wilkinson

Students from Avenue Junior School who have loved learning about refugees and asylum seekers during Norfolk welcomes. Picture: Ella Wilkinson

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Schoolchildren in the county have been finding out about this cultural patchwork during a special event.

Students from Hellesdon High School with a message for refugees and asylum seekers. Picture: Neil DidsburyStudents from Hellesdon High School with a message for refugees and asylum seekers. Picture: Neil Didsbury

Norfolk Welcomes, now in its second year, aims to teach children about Norfolk and Norwich's rich history in offering sanctuary to people from abroad.

More than 60 schools, mostly in Norwich, took part in the day of learning on June 14.

Year six student Vida  from Avenue Junior School, one of the schools who hve  taken part in the Norfolk Welcomes project. Picture: Ella WilkinsonYear six student Vida from Avenue Junior School, one of the schools who hve taken part in the Norfolk Welcomes project. Picture: Ella Wilkinson

Lesson plans and assemblies were prepared for the day on the theme of sanctuary and welcoming, with this year's focus on the Strangers, who came to Norfolk from Holland and the Low Countries in the 1500s.

Pupils from two participating schools, Avenue Junior and Hellesdon High, have teamed up to create a giant wall hanging on the theme of sanctuary which will go on display in Norwich for Refugee Week (June 17 to 23).

One of the squares made by a student at Hellesdon High School which forms part of a giant wall-hanging which will be exhibited as part of Refugee Week (June 17-23). Picture: Neil DidsburyOne of the squares made by a student at Hellesdon High School which forms part of a giant wall-hanging which will be exhibited as part of Refugee Week (June 17-23). Picture: Neil Didsbury

Jake Rose-Brown, PSHE lead at Avenue Junior and Norwich Schools of Sanctuary lead, said the research for Norfolk Welcomes was primarily done by volunteers including parents and school staff.

"It looks completely different in each school," he said.

Year four student Mia from Avenue Junior School, one of the schools who have taken part in the Norfolk Welcomes project. Picture: Ella WilkinsonYear four student Mia from Avenue Junior School, one of the schools who have taken part in the Norfolk Welcomes project. Picture: Ella Wilkinson

"We are trying to make the connection between the seeking of sanctuary that children see pictures of but perhaps don't understand. It is about helping them to empathise with these people."

Norwich South MP Clive Lewis visited Avenue Junior on Friday to find out about the Norfolk Welcomes project.

One of the squares made by a student at Hellesdon High School which forms part of a giant wall-hanging which will be exhibited as part of Refugee Week (June 17-23). Picture: Neil DidsburyOne of the squares made by a student at Hellesdon High School which forms part of a giant wall-hanging which will be exhibited as part of Refugee Week (June 17-23). Picture: Neil Didsbury

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"Most people's perception of Norwich, as a medieval city in the middle of rural East Anglia, it's not somewhere you associate with being a city of sanctuary but it has a very long history of that," he said.

Year four student Martha from Avenue Junior School, one of the schools who have taken part in the Norfolk Welcomes project. Picture: Ella WilkinsonYear four student Martha from Avenue Junior School, one of the schools who have taken part in the Norfolk Welcomes project. Picture: Ella Wilkinson

"I think it is fantastic that so many schools are taking this up. It tells you something not just about the schools and teachers but the city."

Ben Margolis, regional coordinator for the charity City of Sanctuary, said: "Days like this can help schools embed that culture of sanctuary and welcoming. I see schools getting very excited about their school and what it does. There is a real sense of what it means to be welcomed into a place and when that comes from the children it filters through to the parents and the communities around the school."

Students at Hellesdon High School are among 57 Norfolk schools taking part in 'Norfolk Welcomes' on June 14 where they will learn more about the experience of refugees and asylum seekers. Picture: Neil DidsburyStudents at Hellesdon High School are among 57 Norfolk schools taking part in 'Norfolk Welcomes' on June 14 where they will learn more about the experience of refugees and asylum seekers. Picture: Neil Didsbury

What do the pupils think?

From trips out to poetry and diary entries, pupils at Avenue Junior School have been experiencing the lives and impact of refugees in many ways for Norfolk Welcomes.

Year five student Hope from Avenue Junior School, one of the schools who have taken part in the Norfolk Welcomes project. Picture: Ella WilkinsonYear five student Hope from Avenue Junior School, one of the schools who have taken part in the Norfolk Welcomes project. Picture: Ella Wilkinson

Year four pupils also teamed up with Hellesdon High School to create a giant wall hanging - a tapestry of squares designed and made by pupils to symbolise sanctuary.

Year four pupil Mia said: "Lots of refugees have become celebrities and really famous people. Even though they have gone through a hard time before, they have still managed to achieve great things.

The wall hanging made by students of Hellesdon High School in collaboration with local refugees for Refugee Week. Picture: Neil DidsburyThe wall hanging made by students of Hellesdon High School in collaboration with local refugees for Refugee Week. Picture: Neil Didsbury

"To think that the place that I live is able to welcome refugees and to help them, it makes me feel really good about myself and Norwich."

Fellow year four pupil Elliott said: "I liked learning about the experiences that people have had as refugees."

Year four student Elliott from Avenue Junior School, one of the schools who have taken part in the Norfolk Welcomes project. Picture: Ella WilkinsonYear four student Elliott from Avenue Junior School, one of the schools who have taken part in the Norfolk Welcomes project. Picture: Ella Wilkinson

Martha, also from year four, said: "Norwich has welcomed refugees for a really long time and it is a safe place."

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