Learning runs through everything we do at the Welcoming as we are privileged to meet and work alongside many different people from many different places, sharing diverse perspectives and experiences of the world. In this section, our staff members reflect on some of the insights they have gained over the year.

David Carpenter, ESOL Coordinator

The Welcoming Choir has been a big fixture in my life over the last two years. Here, it is possible for me to make friends with some of the participants whom I’ve taught over the past few years. Many members of the choir are now, to a greater and lesser extent, ex-participants. For instance, there is Peter from Hungary, who used to come to as many lessons as possible but is now working full time and comes along to Open Book as often as he can. And Gada, who hasn’t been to lessons for an age but comes to choir every week – so obviously settled in Edinburgh, with her job and her car! And Jana, whose confidence I’ve seen blossom, in class and at choir, and who makes it a point of honour to tease me relentlessly.

And the lesson I have learned from this? The Welcoming is far more than an organisation to help people begin their lives in Edinburgh. It is a growing community which fosters love, in its roundest and most fulfilling sense, and furthers understanding whilst it helps break down barriers between cultures to find the people within. And when we find people, we make friends which brings happiness in a major key to us all.

Lucy Craig, Business & Communications Coordinator

Over the past year something I’ve learnt is that small activities, with a limited number of participants, can still deliver big outcomes for those involved. Our Cycling for Newcomers project is a monthly activity, where we generally have 2-3 participants join local volunteers for a bike ride around Edinburgh. The numbers are often low and it can feel as though it’s a big ask for volunteers to commit to. However for those participants, and for the volunteers, they get to meet new people, in an almost 1-1 setting, they explore new places, become more active, and practise their English. Since attending sessions over the summer, two participants have now also got their own bikes and have joined local cycling groups outside of the Welcoming. So although on paper it is a small attendance, it’s incredibly worthwhile to continue these activities and to see the positive results for those involved.

David Walton, ESOL Tutor, Scotland for Newcomers and Creative Space facilitator

A participant recently told me that she’d like to join the next Wednesday afternoon trip (Scotland for Newcomers programme) but that she wouldn’t be able to until later in the day. She just wanted to know which café we were heading for afterwards “…because that’s the most important part for me!”, and I suspect that’s the case for many participants.

Perhaps just sitting down for a cuppa and a blether with other New Scots to share stories and practise English conversation is the most valuable aspect of it, and I know they make the most of having English teacher with local knowledge on hand.

Abeer Darwish, Syrian Programme Facilitator

I really enjoy being involved in the women’s group every Wednesday doing different activities in time we meet. The day I most enjoyed spending time with the group was on the school holiday so we had many women and kids joining the group. Playing parachute together women with kids outside in the hall’s garden, was the perfect moment for me. It was really fun and great to have this fun again that was exactly as the time we spent in our childhood in Syria when it was safe and peaceful.

Chiara Puppi, Growing Coordinator

This summer I learned something about the unexpected benefits of our work.  This was through the case  of Tarek and Roba, a Syrian family who joined our Food Growing programme in the spring.  Our aim was to help them develop a flower and food garden in their backyard. We offered lots of practical support including gardening tools, some supplies and advice on how to grow vegetables in Scotland. Tarek and Roba did manage to grow some good vegetables over the summer including curly kale, carrots and potatoes. However, what was really special about the summer was that spending time in their garden facilitated a friendship with their neighbours –  Mario and Federica, an Italian couple living next door, and Jeanie, a Scottish neighbour who is very passionate about gardening. They are now all regularly meeting up and planning to work together in the garden next spring.

Caitlin Rodgers, Befriending Coordinator

An affirming moment for me came through our small but dedicated jogging group. Numbers have never been particularly high and we’re always talking about ways to get more joggers involved. However we recently realised that the intimate group allows the space and time for joggers to really get to know each other. Everyone is connected through their shared interest in jogging.

There’s something about being outdoors, in the fresh air in company, sharing an activity that we love. This activity really removes the pressure that we sometimes feel to converse and to fill the silence. This is particularly true when speaking another language, it’s hard work! Sometimes when these special conditions exist, it feels easier to get something off our chest, share something that we’re upset or worried about and really feel we are in a safe space to be heard.

This really helped me to understand that it’s quality over quantity and that the most meaningful conversations can surface when we feel at ease.

Adil Ibrahim, Senior Community Development Practitioner

A few months ago, I was approached by Syrian community leaders asking me to explore sports and leisure opportunities for young Syrian people as they hardly had any activities outside the school. Spartans Community Football Academy immediately came into my mind as I had some good contacts with them for a while now.  After a few meetings and taster sessions, a fully supported project was established at Spartans.  The young Syrian  people are now enjoying  a wide range of weekly sports and leisure activities.  This was an excellent reminder of the big difference taking the initiative and working in partnership with others could make.

I feel happy when I learn how the young people are enjoying going there every Sunday and that when new families arrive in Edinburgh, the young people join the Sunday group immediately.  This project is making a huge difference to the lives of the young people and it is great to know this. What I learned from this experience was the fact that as community workers,  we need to be able to take advantage of spontaneous opportunities.

Elaine Mowat, Co Director

I was recently reminded of the value of welcoming from the experience of attending a networking event organised by one of our partner organisations. It was a new community for me and an unfamiliar kind of event and I was feeling a little unsure. However the hosts did a wonderful job of welcoming, with attention to detail on everything from the warmth and genuineness of the greeting, to the quality of the coffee and the layout of the room, with an overall spirit of openness and curiosity as to what everyone was bringing. I immediately felt at ease and involved and able to be myself.  This was a good reminder of the big difference that a sense of belonging and community can make for newcomers and how there are so many different small ways in which we can help each other to feel truly welcome.

Victoria Lanata Briones, Community Engagement & Creative Arts Coordinator

There is so much going on at The Welcoming and things move at such a fast pace that sometimes it’s hard to keep track of how different activities develop. It can be a challenge to improve existing activities and know which new ones to pursue, so it’s no surprise that for me this year’s biggest lesson has to do with learning how to take a moment to stop, think and ask questions both to myself and others.

As we move to a more participant-led approach, The Welcoming started a monthly participant feedback session called “Think Tank Thursdays.” These simple gatherings are opportunities for us to ask people what works well, what doesn’t and most importantly, what we could do differently to improve our services. These sessions have taught me that the only way to ensure our activities are fun, useful and engaging is by including our participants in their development process from the very beginning. And because at The Welcoming folk are happy to share their thoughts and experiences, it’s proven to be not just a worthwhile thing to do, but also extremely insightful and a lot of fun.

For me, the Think Tank Thursdays have been more than consultation tools: they helped me develop a more consistent and in-depth self-reflective practice too.

I am sure the changes that stem from this – some big, some small – will translate into a 2019 full of new and exciting opportunities in which we can all keep growing and learning together.

Rachel Alvarado, Syrian Programme Facilitator

This year I learned something new about learning, and especially about learning something new. What a challenge it is! What a struggle I have to overcome my resistance and my thoughts telling me I don’t need this challenge! I attended a beginners Arabic class run by The Welcoming for staff and volunteers working with the new Syrian Community. It gave me a whole new insight into what the Syrian women attending the weekly group I co-facilitate might be going through when they come along and speak english. Fear, panic, blackouts in thinking… and how much a smile and a laugh and some slow encouragement can help to relax, clear the brain fog and learn more gently. The Welcoming are so good at making a rounded experience for everyone involved, we are all learning and all teaching.