'Come rain or shine'

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22 Feb 2017

Half term can be a trying time for teenagers–hours of boredom with nothing to do, their demands for outings to hugely expensive theme parks falling on deaf ears …

But for some of the young refugees who regularly take part in our drama therapy group,  just getting out into the local park together at half term can be something they’ll never forget, Refugee Council Children’s Therapist Sarah Temple Smith reports.

Dusk was already falling as our little group  left the warmth of the Refugee Council’s Stratford office to walk the short distance to the Olympic Park. And as we climbed the escalator to the top of Westfield Shopping Centre, and threaded our way through the thronging hoards of children and families to the park entrance, it started to rain.

But all thoughts of being cold or wet were instantly forgotten as we rounded the corner and were treated to the arrestingly dramatic sight of Stratford’s ArcelorMittal Orbit tower, silhouetted against the winter sunset.  By the time each of the young people had taken turns snapping selfies, group shots and panoramas of the scene, it was well and truly turning dark.

For a fleeting moment I wondered what we looked like, hoods up against the drizzle, traipsing over the bridge to the empty open-plan playground, clutching balls, a washing line for tug of war and a single glittery hula hoop that had clearly seen better days. But any doubts about these young people’s ability to have fun were quickly dispersed as, whooping with delight, they leapt onto the circular spinning swing, balancing precariously on the rim and pushing off from the frame, turning round and round in the rain.

Next it was time to initiate each other into the mysteries of  keeping a hula hoop spinning round your waist, the boys roaring with laughter as they discovered that trying to spin round at the same time as the hoop isn’t the way… They persevered for a while, helping each other in turns. Then as we watched, they started to develop a new game all of their own – a kind of human skittles, which involved  lobbing the hoop up in a high arc, aiming it to come down over the head of their friend. The trick seemed to be not to brain your friend when it came down – or to fall over in the wet as you dashed to catch it. Co-operative working and problem solving, without fear of ridicule - testament to the strength of the bonds they have forged together in the group.

Finally we introduced an old favourite – the tug of war, which some of them knew already. Only this time there was a twist : while the object of the activity was the same – pulling the other team over the central line – in this case, we explained, if the other team ended up on the ground, they would forfeit their win. Initially, temptation to yank the line was too strong to resist, and bodies soon ended up sprawled on the ground. But after a short while the idea of being responsible for your friends’ well-being started to sink in, and in spite of the falling temperature, they played several rounds.

Afterwards, we walked back to the tube station together, our pathway alongside the canal illuminated by a neon rainbow of the half-term funfair on the other bank. The boys chatted about the group and what it meant to each of them to know that whatever went on their daily lives, at school or at home, they always had the group to come to, to talk about things, or simply play games with each other.

Come rain or shine.

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