Creating connection and giving communities peace of mind across Gateshead 

February 2024
Myra Johnson

Peace of Mind is a warm space and a safe haven for refugees and asylum seekers across Gateshead. Its work, led by Sara Muzaffar, is all about welcoming refugees into the community, helping them feel at home and connecting them with others in the local area. 

Sara, founder of Peace of Mind, fled to the UK to escape a forced marriage many years ago. The support she received inspired Sara to help other women fleeing from violent situations and support them to become strong women. Peace of Mind has now evolved into a group who supports all refugees and asylum seekers. Sara says, “I am incredibly proud to have set up such a supportive group and I hope that it continues to grow to support others in desperate situations.” 

Enhancing self-worth and value

Based in Whitehall Methodist Church, Peace of Mind believes in empowering people. They actively encourage volunteering, it’s a positive way to help those who cannot work to find meaning and connection, gain experience and new skills and boost their wellbeing. They support warm space visitors to help out and become ‘Warm Space Champions’ themselves, enhancing self-worth and value. 

Sara Muzaffar says that alongside providing practical support and signposting, the real magic of what they are doing is bringing people together to create new connections and friendships. As their name implies, it’s all about giving people “peace of mind.” The whole ethos is about reducing stress, healing, and building resilience. 

A diverse and rich community

It’s a vibrant space, with 43 different nationalities coming together, to enjoy each other’s company, and forging new friendships. People joining the warm space come from all over the globe including from: Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Albania, China, Congo, El Salvador, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Honduras, Kuwait, Nigeria, Pakistan, India, Russia and Syria. Some of the main languages spoken include: English, Kurdish Sorani, Persian/Farsi, Arabic, Chinese, Urdu, Panjabi, Hindi, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Bengali, Russian, Tigrinyan, Kunama, Pashto, Dari and Swahili. Between them, the staff and volunteers can speak ten different languages, so there’s no need for translators.

Sense of belonging

Most strikingly, is the sense of community that the space is bursting with.The drop-in sessions are popular, regularly attended by 85 - 115 individuals, and the warm space more generally attracts around 40-45 individuals on a regular basis from babies to older people, from a very varied mix of backgrounds. On extremely cold days the number rises to about 75 people. 

People sitting together and sharing each other’s company; for whatever reason they are there, enjoy the same benefits of company and a sense of belonging. Sara says that in the early days they put on lots of activities and craft sessions, but they are not really needed now. People come in, start chatting and sharing stories, and that’s where the magic happens. 

Making lasting friendships

Sara shared a story of how two very different women, from different parts of the globe, became best friends. “To begin with there was quite a lot of tension. One of the women came to their drop-in session and told a refugee that she was sitting in her seat. She was annoyed that someone had taken her “normal seat.” It was quickly diffused, but you could feel the tension. Ironically what started out as a quarrel has turned into joy and a lasting bond. The two women, from very different worlds, started talking and bit by bit they became firm friends. They discovered they live on the same street and had a lot in common. They are inseparable now; they look out for each other at the drop-in. If one of them can’t make the drop-in and food parcel run, the other takes an extra food parcel and drops it off at her friend’s house and makes sure her friend is okay. And vice versa.” 

Of course, the physical warmth and food parcels are essential too, especially to anyone struggling financially. One mum shared her reasons for coming to the warm space. She wanted somewhere to go with her youngest child whilst her other children are at school. Saving on heating costs in the daytime means she can afford to heat the house when her older children return home. On the days when Peace of Mind isn’t open, she attends the Warm Space at Gateshead Central Library. Both warm spaces are a real lifeline for her family. 

Peace of Mind is creating magic in Gateshead, bringing diverse communities together. Sara and the team have made a conscious effort to break down initial barriers and prejudice through education,meal sharing and building trust. It’s a shining example of the way that warm spaces are replacing poverty and isolation with warmth and connection.

This blog was written in partnership with Peace of Mind

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