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By Eleri Williams, Wales Cities of Sanctuary Swansea Development Worker

I applied to go to HOPEcamp as it fitted in with work and I thought it would make me feel more confident in my role, particularly when delivering awareness-raising sessions and workshops. However, although I am someone already committed to the cause and working in this area, I was openly sceptical if I would gain much from the training. In addition, I questioned my decision on more than one occasion, as it dawned on me that by attending I would be spending my birthday with complete strangers, except for the one person I knew- Tom, HOPE not hate’s Wales Organiser.

I spent most of the week leading up to HOPEcamp nervous & unsure what to expect. The fact that I didn’t receive the actual location details until a week to the start date didn’t help either. I got to the train station I’d been instructed to arrive at, and was immediately greeted with smiles and enthusiasm from HOPE not hate’s staff. Despite travelling from Swansea, South Wales, I arrived at the station on the same connecting train as Merwa, a young asylum seeking woman from Eritrea, who now lives in Newcastle. We struck up a conversation about our lengthy train journeys and how we were both nervous about what was to come.

After a whirlwind arrival, customary name label search and lunch, we got down to the business of community organising. Everyone had been allocated a table according to geographical region. I was with other South Wales activists none of whom I’d met previously.

Nearly 100 activists were brought together from throughout the UK to spend four intense days together learning and sharing our varied experiences of community organising. Day One  saw us learn about the history of HOPE not hate and develop collective aims for the training as well as indentifying problems within our geographical communities. We tackled issues such as “how to talk about faith?” as well as vocalising our motivations for attending HOPEcamp. Once everyone had suggested their own motivation, we collectively decided that as a group we were motivated by love, solidarity & empowerment.

Day Two, which happened to be my birthday, was heavier and more theoretical. We looked at developing inclusive narratives and issues like the difference between oppression & discrimination as well as the relationship between power & privilege. We also considered what ‘community’ is and mapped the power, influence and likelihood of support from organisations and individuals. None of these discussions or techniques were new to me but it was refreshing to have the time and space to think in depth, in a way that a full-time job requiring actions to satisfy funders doesn’t always allow.

Day  Three saw a change of focus in favour of strategic planning and tactics to utilise as a community organiser. The most useful session for me personally was one on effective communication with someone who opposes your view (with reference to immigration). A large proportion of my job for Displaced People in Action / Swansea City of Sanctuary, is to deliver awareness raising training about the UK asylum system and so I’m deeply familiar with the facts, figures and statistics. However, I know that myth-busting and merely using stats is not always terribly effective when trying to alter opinions.   We examined different techniques and whilst I’m grateful I now feel more confident in approaching people with differing opinions, I’m hoping I don’t have to use the techniques that frequently!

Day Four marked the end of HOPEcamp and everyone seemed a bit slow to start the days as we knew our joint experience was coming to an end. The morning saw us consider techniques such as SWOT analysis and the importance of setting SMART objectives. Again, these were nothing new or groundbreaking but definitely worthwhile tasks. We finished the training by sharing our feedback and having an obligatory group photo.

I went to HOPEcamp sceptical about how much I would gain from it, and whilst lots of areas covered were very familiar to me- it provided me with the background and reasons underpinning the techniques I use everyday. I left a year older, hopefully a bit wiser & definitely re-invigorated for the challenges ahead.

I want to say thank you to DPIA for funding my travel & supporting my attendance at HOPEcamp. Thank you to all the wonderful HOPE not hate staff for their fabulous energy and professionalism all weekend, thank you to each and every one of my fellow HOPEcamp participants for making the weekend such an inspirational experience and last but not least, I have an extra big thank you & diolch yn fawr to “Team Wales” who made me feel incredibly welcome and valued.