Lockdown and living in the countryside

By Lizzie

This is Lizzie’s story of the generosity she has experienced, how she has coped with living in different places with refugee hosts and the skills she has learnt.

My first placement

Through a variety of circumstances, including my paperwork going missing, I became undocumented and this meant I could not rent a place so I contacted charities for help. I was placed into hosting in July 2020. It was just at the end of the first lockdown and restrictions were just starting to lift. I was going to live in the countryside, it was the first time I was moving outside London and it was also the first time that my host family was hosting, so it was very scarey and frightening for me.

My host family was still in lockdown abroad so I would have to live and survive by myself until they returned.   It was a nice little town and everyone there was very friendly and polite. The town was very clean with lots of greenery and waterfalls. It was a farming town so lots of people owned farms and they had very big gardens. Almost everyone grew their own vegetables and some reared their own free-range chickens, cows, goats and sheep and some had alpacas.

When I got to the house, I had my own furnished annex. My host put me in contact with the manager of the local Refugee charity who put me in touch with a volunteer who became a befriender to me. She helped me a lot and every Friday for that month, she would collect my food from the food bank. It didn’t matter what the weather was, she would drive her car and go to collect my food because it was too far to walk with bags of food. She asked her church to provide financial support for me for six months. She took me to the town and showed me around and she would often take me to visit lots of interesting gardens and  Home | National Trust houses.

Volunteering and becoming independent

 After three days I took the long walk to town. It was such a long walk that I had to stop and have a rest on a bench but I was happy that I was slowly gaining my independence.  One day, I was walking into town and I saw an advert on a shop window saying they were looking for volunteers to help in the shop, selling charity Christmas cards. While I was reading the notice a lady came out and said to me, ‘you look like you would be good on the tills, the ladies who volunteers are very old and not good with the tills. Do you want to volunteer with us?’ She was the area manager. I said yes and she took my telephone number. I started volunteering the following week. The staff were very friendly, helpful and lovely and I learnt a lot. I became friends with one of the staff who had learning difficulties and I learnt a lot from her because she taught me a lot about the town and how the buses work. The person who set up the shop was the former mayor. I volunteered with her most of the time. She was a very nice person, sometimes I forgot that she was the former mayor. In the evenings we would cash up the till together. She would always buy me a M&S beef sandwich and a hot chocolate.

Then after one month,  my host family returned and it was the first time I had met them in person. I had to start learning to adjust to living with them as I had become acquainted with my befriender and had started gaining my independence.

My host got me another volunteering job in a shop that collects the excess food from supermarkets and from farmers who had excessive crops and donate it to people who need it for free, this is to stop food waste .

Then I started volunteering at the local community garden because the food bank was not long term; the church had stopped supporting me, the six months were up and I needed to eat.  I decided that if I started to volunteer there I would get free vegetables and the money I saved from the church, I would use that to buy meat and toiletries. I learnt a lot about gardening and started my own vegetable garden in my host’s garden. That was a success because sometimes I ended up with excess vegetables which I donated back to the shop. It was a joy to watch the entire growing season. The skills that I learnt at the community garden paid off because the garden entered the local flower show for the first time and we won best in show . I also wrote a piece about sustainability in a magazine and we won second prize for that.

Moving again and learning embroidery

 Then I got moved back to London and was placed with another host who introduced me to the embroidery group at the library . The first time I did embroidery I managed to get my first finished piece on display on an exhibition at the library for a month. So hosting has it’s positive side as well as it’s negative side.