The event was organised with Asylum Welcome, a local charity which provides support to asylum seekers, refugees and vulnerable migrants living in Oxfordshire. They brought around 80 children and adults from the Oxfordshire hotels in which the refugees are being housed. The respite was clearly very welcome. On arriving at the Wytham Woods car park by coach, the Afghans were guided by volunteers up the winding road through the Woods to the Wytham Chalet research hub, to find campfires and welcoming smiles.
Around 20 volunteers from across Oxford had turned out to welcome them, bringing donated clothes, food and games to play with the children. One of the teenage volunteers had created a wonderful ‘nature bingo’ game in which the children had to find things in the woods and tick them off, e.g. ‘tree’, ‘log’, ‘mushroom’. The children spoke a little English having been in school in the UK for a few months, and they loved this game. One little boy just sat down and phonetically sounded out all the words.
The volunteers were delighted to be supported by the local MP, Layla Moran, and Bethia Thomas, Deputy Leader of the Vale of the White Horse District Council. Layla and Bethia brought food donated by Faringdon Tesco and spent all day in the Chalet kitchen warming soup and bread and serving mugs of hot drinks and soup out of the window.
Nigel Fisher, Conservator of Wytham Woods, said 'It was such a pleasure to see the happy smiles of the groups as they headed back down the hill at the end of their visit. The volunteers did an amazing job.'
The winter colours and gentle sunshine were a perfect backdrop for some restorative relaxation for refugees and volunteers alike, and the Wytham team hopes the groups will be able to come back later in the year.
Wytham Woods is an ancient semi-natural woodland, which has been owned and maintained by the University of Oxford since 1942. Its 1000 acres are a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest and are one of the most researched pieces of woodland in the world, exceptionally rich in flora and fauna, with over 500 species of plants, a wealth of woodland habitats, and 800 species of butterflies and moths.