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Kettle's Boiled: Scots share a cuppa with refugees

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Kettle's Boiled: Scots share a cuppa with refugees

A new campaign by a Glasgow-based charity is helping "new Scots" feel at home.
30 March 2017
Nicola Sturgeon cup of tea
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon supported the "Cup of Tea with a Refugee" campaign on her recent visit to the Scottish Refugee Council in Glasgow.

How do you take your tea? The question is nearly impossible to avoid when visiting any Scottish home for the first time. Now, a new initiative is using the cherished cuppa to bring together refugees and locals across Scotland.

The Cup of Tea with a Refugee campaign – launched by the charity Scottish Refugee Council in October last year – invites locals to share a cup of tea with a refugee or asylum-seeker at events across Scotland. The campaign aims to give refugees and locals the opportunity to meet and share stories. “There are so many sad stories in the news,” says Scottish Refugee Council’s Rachel Hamada. “We wanted to do something positive. Something that will reach out to new audiences.”

In tea, the campaign may have found a universal theme. From English Breakfast to chai, a cup of tea is synonymous with comfort and welcome across many cultures – making it the perfect backdrop to meeting someone new.

“This campaign looks at the positive side of things, at creating a warm space where people can engage and get to know each other better. To bring together old Scots and new, all as one,” Khosorov, an Iranian refugee who lives in Glasgow, told Scottish Refugee Council.

“This campaign looks at the positive side of things....To bring together old Scots and new, all as one.”

“People were apprehensive at first,” notes Selina Hales from Refuweegee. Refuweegee brings Glaswegians (“weegies”) together to welcome refugees, and has organised one of the largest Cup of Tea events so far. “They worried about: ‘What if I say something I shouldn’t?’ ‘What if I don’t understand them?’”.

But any anxieties quickly melted away. In the end the event proved so popular that they needed an extra room to fit everyone in. “It was a really lovely way to engage with new people….there’s nothing like a brew to share a story over,” said one participant.

Cup of tea whiteinch
Locals and refugees shared a cup of tea at a recent event at the Whiteinch Centre in Glasgow.

At least twenty Cup of Tea events have been held across Scotland since the campaign began. Scottish Refugee Council recently joined forces with Social Bite – a Scottish café and social enterprise which counts George Clooney among its fans – to host monthly meetings in the heart of Glasgow city centre.

“It was a really lovely way to engage with new people….there’s nothing like a brew to share a story over”

While the majority of events have been held in Glasgow, Scotland’s largest city, Rachel has been approached by groups across the country who want to get involved. Recently, the initiative caught the attention of SEPA, Scotland’s Environmental Protection Agency. Inspired by the campaign, SEPA’s office in Stirling is offering a different kind of welcome by arranging trips for refugees to visit Scottish nature reserves.

With interest spreading across Scotland and beyond, the campaign shows no sign of slowing down.  It recently received the endorsement of the Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon who, on a visit to Scottish Refugee Council’s office, emphasised the importance of welcoming refugees.

This is echoed by Angela Constance, the Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Equalities. “It’s about bringing people together. The campaign is a way for communities to get to know each other, learn new things, and support each other,” says Constance.

What Cup of Tea with a Refugee shows is that when it comes to welcoming people, small gestures matter as much as large ones. “What happened was an engagement of individuals over a shared experience,” says Selina. “Watching conversations happen amongst people who five minutes earlier were strangers, was both fascinating and wonderful.”

This story is part of a series exploring the ways people across the UK are showing refugees and asylum-seekers a #GreatBritishWelcome.