Building community with strangers

It is the 11th year the Huddersfield based charity, Across Country Project has set off with a group of strangers into the wilderness of the Yorkshire Dales to break down barriers of race, religion, age and status - and become a community. 

This year they took 24 asylum seekers spanning 14 different nationalities from St Augustine's Centre,Halifax to Grassington for a weekend. Across Country is the vision of a group of trustees from across the country - including the Revd Simon Crook, assistant curate at St Peter's Huddersfield and his wife, Sam that uses the outdoors to bring people together.

Their long term vision is to own their own property; to be a centre-based organisation that can welcome different groups and individuals to come and stay, enjoy the outdoors and join in life with them.

Anyone wanting to find out more can email Simon: revscrook@gmail.com

or visit their website: www.acrosscountry.org.uk

Simon reports: 

On a blustery Friday, 32 people from 14 nationalities start the awkward process of getting know each other. There are barriers of race, religion, age, status, and fear to be navigated as we fill in forms, share out waterproof coats and shoes, and bundle into the minibus and cars.

As we arrive on a windy hilltop to begin the night walk, the group is fragmented and cautious. By the time we have crossed rivers, navigated styles and gates, muddied our boots, and stumbled our way to the bunk house together, we are well on the way to becoming a community. 

Adventuring side by side, we learn each other’s story, hopes and fears. Hanging off the edge of the cliff for real is not far off how life feels for many of these friends we have made –ropes feel shockingly thin when your life hangs by one.

Camp fires and sleeping outside is not very far from the experiences of people who have travelled thousands of miles to the relative safety of Britain. Yet this is different because the fire is with friends, and the sleep out is in safety.

This year’s project was more than ever a place to find warmth and acceptance. A place where people found rest, friends and a sense of family, to relieve the stress and loneliness of their normal lives. It became a safe place to share griefs kept hidden, health worries held in secret and to realise that we are not alone.

 It is easy to underestimate the power of trust given to others, from a person who has learnt to be suspicious of everyone to survive; or the vulnerability shown by one who has had to be so strong for so long. It is with this in mind that the joy, laughter, dancing, silence and praying shared this weekend become miraculous. A precious gift from God.