To mark Refugee Week, we organised two walks to explore the broad theme of Sanctuary and take the message out to the wider community.
In Earlsfield, we learnt how a 19th-century hostile environment affected the traveller community and sent destitute people to a workhouse (an area behind Brocklebank Health Centre). Travellers were moved off the open land of Wandsworth Common when it was enclosed and stayed in the area of Wardley Street before again being ‘moved on’ in the 1970s. As in other parts of the UK, local elites benefited from the slave trade. Voltaire, the French writer and rights advocate, fled persecution in France and lived for a time in Garratt Lane. Shockingly, he later became part-owner of a slave ship. We wandered along the scenic Wandle path learning of Huguenot refugee history. At Tara Arts, the theatre reminded us of its roots as a response to racial tensions in the late 1970s, a commitment that is reflected in many performances. We ended in St Andrews Church garden with snacks from the vibrant Home Community Cafe and heard how they, and the local Just Shelter support refugees in Earlsfield.
Our second walk took us through Wandsworth Common to the lovely Paradise Cooperative Garden. Here, volunteers transformed a derelict space into a growing area and a space of bees, ponds and wildflowers for use by local people and to introduce children to the pleasures of growing and wildlife. We heard about the work of BEST, Befriending and Support Team for Foreign Nationals in Wandsworth prison, with tragic stories of inadequate legal representation and support. We saved for another walk our visit to the Royal Patriotic Buildings, where foreigners were interviewed during and after WW2 to decide on their right to remain. Waiting for us at was a warm welcome at St Anne’s church, which provided refreshments to go with our samosas.