The Welcome Rucksack

Welcome Rucksack Project for Asylum-Seekers in Norwich

The Welcome Rucksack started in 2016 with an urgent request from one of the public health nurses caring for asylum-seekers coming to Norwich.  She wanted cleaning materials for their basic, and often dirty, accommodation.

The Octagon Unitarian Chapel responded with shoeboxes of cleaning materials and toiletries.  Carol Chilton explained the need to the Norwich Ecumenical Justice and Peace group and the idea took off.  A teacher of English to the asylum-seekers suggested rucksacks would be better.  Asylum-seekers have many documents to carry, together with shopping, and walk everywhere.  Buses are too expensive!

After arriving in the UK, asylum-seekers are dispersed to towns and cities like Norwich.  They often feel frightened and disoriented, have few or no possessions, and speak little English.  There are 160 bed spaces in 37 houses in Norwich.   The very basic accommodation is free, but each person now is given £37.75 for food, clothing and everything else.  Most families arrive with just a mother who gets an extra £3 a week when pregnant.  She gets £5 extra for a baby under 1 and £3 for a child between 1 and 3 years old.  Life as an asylum-seeker is tough!

Around 55 – 70 new asylum-seekers come to Norwich each year of whom two-thirds are adults.  In 2017, the 56 people fled from 15 different countries and spoke 18 languages between them.  In 2018, 62 people from 12 different countries and speaking 9 languages arrived, of whom 24 were men, 17 women, 12 teenagers and 9 children under 9.  The children go into local schools, integrate well, and many get excellent results.

Support for the project is growing from local churches, schools and groups of all sorts. The Unitarians provided £500 to buy the initial rucksacks and continue giving.  The Octagon Unitarian Chapel is a “Church of Sanctuary” within the national “Sanctuary” scheme.  Finance has come from local Freemasons and singing groups including the Octagon Singers and the Cringleford Singers.  Donations of items to fill the rucksacks come from many sources. The Roman Catholics at St. John’s Cathedral donate items and bags of food, and their young people often help to fill the rucksacks.  Knitting groups belonging to the Norfolk Knitters and Stitches make blankets, baby layettes, pencil cases, first aid pouches, “Welcome” labels and much more. 

The types of Welcome rucksacks have expanded.  As well as rucksacks full of cleaning, kitchen and toiletry items for adults, the project, now in its third year, also provides Welcome rucksacks with appropriate contents for teenagers and children and layettes for babies.  The faces of children as they are given and open their own rucksacks to find toys, pencils and books are a joy to see!

If you would like to donate money or contents for Welcome Rucksacks or would like more details about the Welcome Rucksacks Project in Norwich perhaps to start a similar scheme where you live, please contact us.