‘It’s the best thing I have done since losing my husband’, is how Margaret described the new Place of Welcome at Holy Ascension, Bloxwich. I can easily believe her whilst hearing the chatter and laughter of 50 people. If I wasn’t working full time, supporting Places of Welcome, I would be joining her every Wednesday between 9.30 and 11.30. I would then fill the rest of my time going to the other 18 Places of Welcome that meet weekly in Walsall. What an amazing week that would be - filled with great people sharing a laugh, jigsaw or a game of snooker over a cup of tea and a biscuit!
Shirley was so pleased after she visited Holy Ascension for the first time, she went home and cried. Despite living opposite, it took her a while before she decided to pluck up enough courage to come in. ‘It changed my life’. It’s a shame that it took her so long but the outside of the building, like most Places of Welcome, is just a simple hall, giving no clue to the happiness to be found inside.
When Susan Walters started the Wednesday Club 5 years ago it was only a dream that it would grow so big. Like many Places of Welcome coordinators, Sue set it up, simply so that people could meet and chat. She recently joined the network of Places of Welcome where she has found many others with the same goal. Any group can host a Place of Welcome as long as it meets weekly in an accessible building, with free refreshments, and lets people know what’s happening locally. A place where it’s easy to contribute and run by volunteers. You can find out more about how to join the Network or go to one by you by visiting the website www.placesofwelcome.org.uk.
Like the Place of Welcome at Holy Ascension, Bloxwich I am also new to the network. I am employed by Transforming Communities Together, who work together with churches and organisations across the Black Country, Staffordshire & the Potteries, to help local communities flourish so they can enjoy life in all its fullness, and they already support Places of Welcome across Staffordshire and the Black Country. When Walsall For All started in the last year with the long term vision encouraging Walsall to be a vibrant and diverse place where people come together around what they have in common and form meaningful friendships there was an obvious connection. So I have the pleasure of finding out new organisations that could hold a Place of Welcome, encouraging those that are already running and getting the word out to everyone that this network exists. Already in my first three months, two groups have joined, Holy Ascension and Linking Lives in Aldridge that meets on a Monday between 10-12pm.
It’s stories like Margaret’s, Shirley’s and Sue’s that make me want to tell everyone about Places of Welcome. There are lots of safe places for everyone to connect, belong and contribute in Walsall where each week new conversations and friendships are happening that can change lives. So if you are reading this and fancy making a new friend or two, look out for the symbol, pluck up your courage and open the door.