The Roads We Travel

Christmas is always a bit awkward for me as I’m Jewish, and a big part of my Jewish identity growing up was that we did NOT do Christmas. I have since married into a Jewish family that DOES do Christmas, so we have settled into a routine of one year ‘on’ and one year ‘off’, and 2012 was an ‘on’ year. So to counterbalance the wonderful family dinner and indulgences I knew were awaiting me on December 25,  I decided to try to volunteer somewhere over the festive season too. A tip off from a very good friend resulted in me driving from my comfortable north Leeds neighbourhood, on an unfamiliar route (satnav enabled), to Wakefield. Next door to the prison in fact. I was out of my comfort zone in more ways than one.

I was going to help out at a Christmas party at Angel Lodge – one of five British absorption centres for people who have newly arrived in the UK seeking asylum here. I was nervous and held all kinds of assumptions about people’s backgrounds, abilities and language, and was relieved when I was tasked with handing out the small gifts we had all brought with us. But my nerves so quickly evaporated when the party started and I quickly engaged in conversation, played with the children and smiled with the residents there. It was so clear that we had more in common than separated us, and I felt more than any other time in my life part of the family of humankind. I was hooked. I returned Christmas Eve, Boxing Day and early January, each time bringing small gifts and donations from myself and others responding to a quick status update on Facebook. But more important than the material things were the conversations, the smiles, and the games with the children which relieved the residents of the boredom of the very long empty days.

In particular, I met a young mum and her 3 year old son at Angel Lodge. They were relocated after three weeks (the usual length of time there) to Harehills, an area of Leeds I didn’t know even though it was a mere seven minutes’ drive from my house. You see when I first moved to Leeds, I was advised to use the A61 to drive home from town, because of the reputation of Harehills. and Chapeltown, as dangerous areas. 

So it was with some surprise that I found myself in mid-January, last year, tentatively knocking on the door of this tiny back to back terrace. I didn’t know if I was doing the right thing, for her or for me. I didn’t know if she even remembered me, or if she did, if she would be angry that I had just turned up like this and invaded her private space. She opened the door and immediately gave me a huge hug and smile. A new chapter of my life had begun.

So 2013 was the year of our friendship. It was the year that we have laughed together, sung together, cried together, worried together, sat silently together, baked bread together and drunk good coffee together. Our children play together, her son and my daughter even shared their birthday party together.

Harehills is an almost every day feature of my life now, and I enjoy the lively international atmosphere, sense of hard work and beautiful smells of curry on my many journeys to and through it. I often laugh at the old me who could have spent her whole life driving up and down a really boring stretch of dual carriageway instead, always seeking the familiar and the comfortable. Not any more! 

 

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5 thoughts on “The Roads We Travel

  1. I totes ❤️ Harehills but then again I guess I have to as I live smack bang right in the thick of Harehills!

    I think that as with many things in life Harehills has a much exaggerated reputation, I have lived here for nine years now & I love the community feel, vibrant mix of cultures & how close I am to Leeds City Centre. I get very annoyed when I tell people I live in Harehills & they react by saying with a deep breath “Oh Harehills is rather unsafe isn’t it?” – often the people who say this have never even set foot in Harehills & are saying this simply because they have been told how “dangerous” Harehills is!

    Seriously though Anna I’m really happy that you stepped outside your comfort zone as so often it is all too easy for us to remain within the bounds of soothing familiarity that we set ourselves rather then venture out & discover new ground.

    x❤️x

  2. Hi Anna, we were also “advised” not to drive through Chapeltown and Harehills when we arrived in Leeds…. There was a psychologist in the 1960s 1970s called Wolf Wolfensberger who most probably was one of the most influential thinkers in the world of disability and certainly profoundly affected my thinking. His seminal work written in the early ’70s was called “the principle of normalisation in human services”. One of the things he pointed out was how negative attributes are piled onto a devalued member of society. (similarly positive attributes are piled onto to people who are positively valued). So for example in our society it is assumed that someone who has schizophrenia is also likely to be violent, not dependable if you employed them, unpredictable etc etc. The same thing happens to refugees and asylum seekers who are automatically seen as people who will screw our country by going on benefits, take our jobs, can’t be trusted, are all in gangs if they live in chapeltown, are violent etc etc. The majority maintains their devalued status in many subtle ways…including not driving in those areas……cheers carey

  3. Anna
    I’ve only.just picked up this thread and looked through the few relevant posts and comments.
    I don’t know much about the cafe Anna but if these few blog posts are anything to go by, it is having a profound impact on certain people if not largely yourself.
    We were also told by a number of people to avoid Chapeltown etc – I love it and am often around there when I can both for the Diabetes work I do and lead, and also to a few food shops to pick up Middle Eastern ingredients!!!
    I love being in the area and always feel quite at ease, perhaps more so.than in other areas of Leeds.
    I am also sure we might have some bits for the family you have supported – let me know what they might still need – I actually have a football goal that is still in the garden from Joe’s time when he was about 7/8!!
    And don’t worry about the niggles Anna, lyoure doing a really great job in many ant ways.
    Cheers
    Lawrence

    1. Thanks Lawrence for your support! If you like the Facebook page (search Toastlovecoffeecafe ) that’s the easiest way to find out what we are up to. The big news is we are now open Tuesdays AND Wednesdays 😄

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