By Lizzy McEllan
VOLUNTEERS HAD a taste of homelessness when they lived in a makeshift refugee camp as part of an art project on the streets of Horsforth.
Four hundred visitors flocked to the site to see mocked-up living conditions, paintings and photographs exploring the plight of refugees across the world.
The World on our Doorstep camp and exhibition ran from October 10 to 12 and was organised by the Horsforth Churches Community Project, the Refugee Council and Leeds City of Sanctuary.
Co-organiser Duncan Stow, 43, a community outreach worker for Horsforth Churches Together, camped out with four other volunteers without money or electricity and relied only on food donations.
Mr Stow said: “We wanted to understand what refugees are going through and actually experience the anxiety of not knowing when our next meal was coming.
“The exhibition was about challenging prejudices and showing that we want to be a compassionate community that welcomes refugees.”
Talks were also held – with one given by a woman who was forced to flee Bolivia.
Diana Flores, 30, spoke at five primary schools about her experiences of the UK. She said: “I used to stay at home in my flat all the time. I went out once a week to get food. I didn’t want to go out.
“I want to be the helper, not get help.
“The Refugee Council gave me a ‘befriender’ who encouraged me to join some groups and I now volunteer for five organisations. I’m more like the person I used to be back home.”
Rose McCarthy, volunteer co-ordinator at the Refugee Council, said: “Leeds is a ‘City of Sanctuary’ but there are still pregnant and destitute women having to sofa surf here.
“The Home Office process is incredibly difficult and is so slow, it can take years. We want refugees to know that they are welcome and to raise awareness about these issues.”
Photographs of Leeds, taken by Joanna Vestey, were places identified as “special” to refugees living in the city.
Details of volunteering opportunities can be found at: www.refugeecouncil.org.uk