Asylum seekers' support project grows in popularity

MEMBERS of an asylum seeker support group are growing their own fruit and vegetables at an allotment to help people on low incomes lead healthy lifestyles.\r\n

Half-a-dozen volunteers of the Tawananyasha Widows and Orphans Christian Organisation (Twoco) meet at the land off Leek Road, Hanley, every Thursday, to grow lettuces, spinach, tomatoes and other food.

Once ready, the produce is taken to the group’s base at Palmerston Street, on Joiners Square Industrial Estate, and cooked for dozens of asylum seekers who attend drop-in sessions.

As well as providing them with healthy food, organisers say it also gives them the opportunity to take part in free exercise by working on the allotment.

Danford Mahlamze is one of the volunteers who has been helping to grow the food.

The 36-year-old Zimbabwe national, who lives in Heron Cross, said: "It has been a lot of hard work to get the allotment going, but we are learning all the time and really enjoying it.

"We’re growing a lot of fruit and vegetables and we have had some good harvest so far, but we have also made a few mistakes too.

"When you are an asylum seeker you have little money, so this is a way of giving people on low income the chance to eat food which is good for them.

"We are planning what we are going to grow through the winter and hopefully we can expand the allotment in the future."

The group, which is run by volunteers, has gone from strength to strength since it was awarded £7,000 from the Big Lottery Fund in May.

Aside from funding the allotment, the money has been used to pay for the weekly drop-in sessions on Tuesdays, which provide cooking and healthy eating classes.

They also run sewing classes and a mothers and toddlers group.

And free English lessons are provided on Fridays.

The group was set up by chairman Deborah Jandles, from Hanley, who arrived in the UK in 2004 after being persecuted for her political beliefs.

The Zimbabwean national said: "The group was originally set up to combat isolation of refugees.

"Many of the volunteers joined our group because they felt isolated and vulnerable."

Yesterday, the group handed out bags of food at its headquarters to asylum seekers who have little money to spend. – This Stattfordshire