“It’s the first time I’ve seen the canal” declared a Syrian refugee who had lived in Birmingham for over 12 months.
The trips on ‘Cecilia’ that Ian McGarr organised for Restore* were an opportunity for refugees to discover one of Birmingham’s hidden treasures: its network of tranquil waterways that link to Birmingham’s industrial past.
Restore is very grateful to the WB&DCS for the wonderful opportunity to take a group of refugee women and a group of refugee men for cruises along the canal from the Mailbox in Birmingham city centre out to Selly Oak.
What impact did the trips have?
“I learnt about the history of transport in the UK.”
“I learnt lots of things about the environment and how the UK looks after history and resources”
Many of the passengers had the opportunity to steer ‘Cecilia’ under the instruction and close eye of Pete or Bev. One trainee helmsman was quite surprised that it was not as easy as it looked: “Steering was hard! You need strong muscles and high concentration as you steer in the opposite direction to the way you want to go!” At the end of the men’s journey, Pete was very complimentary announcing, “There are some good drivers here.”
The men certainly enjoyed better weather for their trip than the women’s group who had to huddle inside ‘Cecilia’ to escape the rain. They all discovered that sitting inside and travelling at a sedate pace through the leafy banks of the canal was a peaceful experience. One summed it up, “It’s good relaxation – slow and green”.
For several the most exciting moment was crossing the viaduct in Selly Oak and the realisation it was a feat of engineering design. They had already passed under several bridges taking road traffic but for the canal to be above the road, that was unique!
Trips like these can trigger memories. As we passed round refreshments one man mentioned being in a boat for 7 days and having 4 days without food.
Jeremy Thompson, Befriending Co-ordinator at Restore comments, “We may not know the trauma that some of our refugee friends have experienced in their countries or on their journey to find sanctuary but we do know that trips on Cecilia have enabled them to meet with others in a new way, learn new things and to enjoy a relaxing environment. Thank you Ian, Pete, Bev and WB&DCS for offering welcome to those who feel marginalised and another step towards integration.”