No ordinary weekend in the Dales

September 22, 2021

Our first People and the DALES residential since the start of Covid-19 saw 24 women and children from the Maternity Stream of the City of Sanctuary Leeds come to Gearstones Lodge near Ribblehead.

An ordinary weekend of fun and activity in the Yorkshire Dales you might think? But this was no ordinary weekend away for the women and children. For most this was the first opportunity to get out of Leeds and to feel relaxed and happy since the start of the pandemic.

Women and children from the Maternity Stream of the City of Sanctuary visit the Dales

Most of the women are refugees who have fled their home country and have lived in the UK as asylum seekers before gaining refugee status. All have experienced hardship. Some have been sent to a detention centre. All have had to fight to navigate the asylum process, and many have waited years to get their papers and be allowed to work. Now most of these women work either running their own business, working as carers or in hospitals or schools.

Judy Rogers, who manages the People and the DALES project, gave us a summary of the weekend, and asked some of the women and children involved to tell us what they thought.

Welcome to the Dales

After the last 18 months we’ve all had it is more important than ever to get out and about in the Yorkshire Dales. This year our hosting weekend was slightly different. To allay any fears, it was decided to host our visitors together instead of in individual homes as has been done in previous years. 24 mums and children spent the weekend at Gearstones Lodge – once a den of iniquity when it was a public house back in the 1900’s but now a rambling bunkhouse just near Ribblehead viaduct!

The weekend kicked off with a delicious meal cooked by Diana who has set up her own catering company called ‘From Bolivia with Love’ since arriving in the UK as an asylum seeker. This was followed by Rosie entertaining the young ones with games and frivolity whilst Judy set the task of making a basket out of newspapers to the women some more successful than others!!

Explorations underground!

Saturday saw the arrival of Paul and a couple of friends from Craven Potholing Club to take some of the party caving up at Ribblehead. This was a first for all the women and children and was no walk-in and walk-out trip, but an exploration of the underground, mud, water, dark and all! Everyone returned full of enthusiasm showing off how muddy they had got and telling of exploits underground.

“When we got out of the caves we whooped and cheered and one of the group who’d been frightened and the last to crawl in, declared that it had been life changing. It helped everyone forget all troubles and feel brave and invincible. An amazing weekend so important to all of us – thank you!”

Caving in the Yorkshire Dales

The rest of the group was slightly more mundane with bunting-making with Lynn before going on search of the lost village of Thorns and the incredible packhorse bridge over the river.

After lunch a second group went caving whilst the rest recovered from the morning’s exploits and prepared for the evening party.

Food, friends & dancing

Buttered Peas led by our dear friend Richard played ceilidh music outside on the bunkhouse lawn well into the evening, only to be stopped by a swarm of midges that appeared out of nowhere. Friends from Malhamdale joined us for what turned out to be a memorable evening of dancing, music and delicious food prepared by the women and the fun continued inside with silly games and laughter.

Sunday saw an early rise to tidy the bunkhouse and drive to Kirkby Malham where the vicar of St Michael’s was waiting to greet the group. Three women were invited to share their stories and Jacky sang beautifully during the service. Tea and cake in the church yard provided an opportunity for the women to see old friends who had hosted them in previous years and for locals to hear of the exploits over the weekend.

Then to round it all off a delicious meal was provide by Airton Quaker Meeting House by Simon, Wilf and Hillary and everyone could enjoy sitting outside in the sun before heading home to Leeds.

“Thank you for the work you do. It is truly life changing. One of the women who has worked for the NHS on the Covid ward throughout the pandemic to save lives, told me that this has been the first holiday she has taken all year, the first time she has been able to feel peaceful since the pandemic started. The kids tell me they can’t wait to go back to school to tell the others in their class what they got up to this summer.”

People and the DALES host women and children from the Maternity Stream of the City of Sanctuary

Making it happen

The weekend was made possible by the partnership that has developed between the Maternity Stream and People and the DALES. People and the DALES is a community outreach project run by YDMT which enables disadvantaged groups from urban areas to take part in a wide range of fun, active and thought-provoking activities in the countryside. Our aim is to provide people with the knowledge, skills and confidence to return independently and improve health and well-being. This weekend certainly did that.

Thanks to everyone for making this happen – to Rose for organising (we will miss you), Barbara for driving, Diana for cooking, Paul and friends, for leading the caving, Richard, Floe and the band for the ceilidh, Sue for inviting us to take part in the church service in Kirkby Malham, Simon, Layla, Wilf, and Hillary for the fabulous meal at Airton Meeting House and to everyone for their joy, smiles and participation. What a weekend!!