Charity

Charity that sends out letters of kindness to refugees has new home on Byres Road

By Ian Marland at

A charity that helps lives in crisis with words and warmth is opening a new base on Byres Road.

The unit at No 100 is to become an exhibition and events space for Refuweegee, which was founded by big-hearted Glaswegian Selina Hales four years ago.

Selina Hales

Refuweegee was founded by Selina Hales four years ago

Since it launched, the nationwide charity has provided welcome packs to thousands of people newly-arrived in Scotland.

But it’s the letters that ordinary Scots write to the newcomers that gives the charity its special appeal.

For many refugees and people in the asylum system, the personal correspondence is the first friendly contact with their new home.

Selina told Glasgow West End Today: “We started off providing welcome packs to people. We are still doing that.

‘Better connect’

“We still do two large events where we distribute donations and pass on things that people need.

“But now – because Refuweegee has grown into so many different things – having an exhibition space makes sense.

“Having a shopfront makes sense, to be more present, to better connect with the university who we have been doing some work with in terms of volunteering.

“We are also taking on a shopfront space in the city centre.

“But it’s about raising awareness of what we do.”

LETTERS TO REFUGEES

Some of the letters Scots send to new arrivals

The unit was previously an art gallery but which has lain empty for more than a year.

It will offer the charity a new way of connecting with the public and sharing its work.

Selina said: “Refuweegee captures the best bit of the city, the bit that People Makes Glasgow represents – that makes us the friendliest city in Europe.

“It’s a complete encompassing of all those things that make Glasgow a lovely, warm, welcoming place.

“And I think that message of positivity needs to be in as many different spaces in the city as possible.

“The numbers of people that we have connected with over the years is something the whole city should be celebrating, not just the core team hidden away in city centre space.

“And I think that message of positivity needs to be in as many different spaces in the city as possible.

“The numbers of people that we have connected with over the years is something the whole city should be celebrating, not just the core team hidden away in a city centre space”

Selina Hales

“We receive beautiful letters every single day welcoming forcibly-displaced people to the city.

“We want to show people those letters – we want to share them.

“It is important because we can keep that positive light on when we are so often bombarded with the world being a very, very broken place.”

The letters started off as a way for everyone to get involved – regardless of means and income.

The idea came to Selina from a scheme in Canada that provided leaflets and items to newcomers.

Selina Hales at 100 Byres Road

The Byres Road shop will be an exhibition and events space for the charity

“The letters are a beautiful representation of the city,” said Selina.

“They have become the heart and soul of the welcome pack.

“They are what makes each pack unique.

“Every single letter in its original form goes out into a welcome pack.

“Sometimes it is really difficult passing them on because they are so beautiful.

“People draw beautiful pictures and children write gorgeous letters.

‘First time’

“A girl that received a welcome pack who had been in the asylum system in Glasgow, received her letter after she had been here for nine years – and it was the first time that she felt somebody in the city knew that she was actually there.”

Letters that are sent out are photographed by the charity.

It is these photographs as well as artwork that will go on display in Byres Road.

The space will also host workshops for volunteers and new arrivals.

As part of the opening, the charity is appealing to local artists to get in touch.

Selina says: “We would like to display local art in the windows. We want to make this place a bright and welcoming space.”

Refuweegee opens its doors on Byres Road on June 2.

* You can find out more about the work of Refuweegee by visiting their website here.