18 months ago, West Lancashire received its first group of refugees from overseas. Most people are aware of the troubling situations around the world, but you rarely hear true, real life stories.

But here is a real life story from Luke:

Chapter 1: The Beginning

During 2015, groups of refugees composing of families and younger men made their way – through thick and thin – to West Lancashire and Skelmersdale. These people were the lucky ones. Although when you think that they’ve left their homes, their families and the life they made for themselves, the lucky ones start to sound less and less lucky.

Fast forward to November 2016 and the scene looks a little different. The number of people seeking asylum within our region has increased. There are people from many different countries of the world – Iran, Eritrea, Sudan, Afghanistan, Congo and more. These people have come to make Skelmersdale their home and the spirit that makes Skelmersdale unique has got some new champions: Skelmersdale International (SI).

Skelmersdale International is a group of people who have come together through something in common and it’s excellent and exciting to see. But welcoming these people into our wonderful community is more than having them speak between themselves whilst they’re here – it’s about having them get to know other people within the community too.

Chapter 2: All About Making Friends.

Through local connections within the Skelmersdale area, a company called All About Food Ltd (AAF) had started setting up and formalising their community and charity project for the coming months and years. With the help of a few meetings with the West Lancs CVS, a decision was made to host a ‘getting to know you’ lunch within AAF for some of the members of Skelmersdale International – a treat for both SI and the Foodies of All About Food Ltd alike. The goal with this lunch was to get to know people, to offer a warm welcome between locals and new-locals.

Through hard work (and a load of fun!), All About Food decided upon a theme – the classic British afternoon tea – and went ahead arranging and decorating their restaurant with warmth and bunting (the best combination!). All that was left was to greet their guests and soon-to-be new friends.

Upon arrival to the Tree House (All About Food’s all singing, all dancing office), Skelmersdale International were greeted by an eager Foodie and a cup of tea. After taking a seat, the fun was due to start – eating. The food was delicious, the chatter was vibrant and the sense of community burnt strong, things were going well. Friends were being made.

Chapter 3: B.I.N.G.O

“Ok, sorry, can I just have a minute of everyone’s time?” – that sentence punctured the conversation like a pin into a balloon. Only the Foodies knew what was coming next.

“We’re going to play a game of bingo, does everyone know the rules?”

Conversation and laughter and excitement travels fast, especially when the competitive nature of the game starts to take hold. Wherever you’re from in the world, it’s clear: bingo is serious business.

The numbers are being called and the paper is being stamped and after a couple of false starts (there’s always a few eager beavers!) things start to get interesting. A few of the SI connect the numbers of the sheet and within a few minutes “BINGO!” is called a couple of times and prizes are given out. You can’t keep calling for lines for long, bingo is all about full houses. The suspense is huge.

Soon, a full house is called and as you can imagine there were mumbles and heckles. One prize given, one to go. But this final full-house of the day would go right down to the wire.

The last number is left within the bingo ball and no matter whether you’re from Skem or Sudan, you were on the edge of your seat. I don’t remember the number that was called, but “BINGO!” was shouted once more and the second winner was found, to the mild dissatisfaction of the rest of the group. Something tells me some balls were missing in this bingo set.

With banter flying around and a clear sense of enjoyment in the air, All About Food brought the day to an end and signalled the start of some new friendships, within the group and the company. A great time was had by all.

“What a great way to get people to relax and enjoy meeting together with such a friendly team. I wasn’t sure about afternoon tea at lunch time but there’s no doubt the excellent food was beautifully presented and crying out to be eaten. We all enjoyed the noise of the bingo even if we were also-rans! Thank you so much, All About Food.

“We spent a very pleasant afternoon as the guests of ‘All About Food’ in the company of some of our friends from Skem International. We were treated to a traditional afternoon tea…the staff waited on us and made us feel really special. The food was followed by games with ‘goody bags’ for the winners and free samples for everyone else. It was a delightful experience – many thanks to Nicci and everyone at ‘All About Food”

These are just a couple of the testimonials coming from the guys at Skelmersdale International. The day was clearly great fun but it wasn’t just about a free dinner and a bit of fun. It was much bigger than that.

Chapter 4: The End. For Now

From the initial few families that came to Skelmersdale in 2015, the group has grown to 80+ people. They are a group that are here to improve upon their situation back home but to also try and start a fresh where they can. Their story isn’t over, and relationships are just beginning.

A massive thanks to All About Food Ltd for joining in within the community and connecting people through food and competition. It was an excellent day.