For 2 weeks between 11th and 25th March 2019, Otley hosted its first ever night shelter for 10 male destitute asylum seekers, who are waiting for their asylum claims to be heard. The Shelter was set up by representatives from Otley Churches and the Otley Welcomes group alongside a WYDAN co-coordinator (West Yorkshire Asylum Seeker Network). Night shelters have been set up by WYDAN for the past 4 winters in volunteer churches throughout the Leeds area.

We had several months of preparation involving training, finding volunteers and allocating them to one of the 5 daily tasks: welcoming, socialising, cooking, sleeping over at night or supervising breakfast and cleaning. Others washed our guests bedding or personal clothing and some provided showers in their own homes. Support and advice were always available from WYDAN so that we did not feel we were doing it on our own.

We were fortunate to have the complete use of the (now empty) Salvation Army venue on Newmarket. Upstairs was used as a bedroom and downstairs was a social area and place to eat. We had 66 volunteers, many from Churches Together in Otley, including 22 from the Parish Church. New friends were made across Otley as people met and worked with each other for the first time. One volunteer commented:

‘It was a great privilege and a lot of fun to meet with the guests and also to meet with – some for the first time – so many lovely members of our own community in Otley’

The fortnight went well, and we all enjoyed getting to know the guests and chatting with them in the evenings. Comments include: –

‘I enjoyed my interaction with the 3 young men with whom I spent most time – whether helping with English, sharing a meal, or playing board games’

‘Everything was extremely well organised and all the volunteers I met were delighted to be able to contribute in their own way’

Enormous quantities of eggs and tuna were consumed, and that was just for breakfast! Similarly, an amazing number of bananas and satsumas were eaten for snacks and available to take out for the day. Cake, however did not prove popular, to our surprise.

In the evenings our volunteer cooks provided varied and interesting vegetarian and Halal meat meals. We had some musical entertainment, as well as games (UNO being one of the most popular) some help with improving English speaking was offered and we had the loan of a pool table which proved popular.

Money that was raised by Otley Churches and Otley Welcomes enabled us to provide our guests with fresh food for meals and snacks, bus passes to travel in and out of Leeds (to access the many organisations that provide differing help for them), top up for their mobile phones and a financial gift.

We enjoyed a final celebratory evening meal with nearly 50 volunteers and guests.