Refugees from Africa and Syria have been learning the ancient art of dry stone walling in the Peak District, and passing on their own tips to Derbyshire’s wallers too.
Last year a walking group from the British Red Cross passed a tumbledown Longshaw wall and told walk organiser Sarah Sonne: “We’ve done walls like this in the past. We could mend this in five minutes.”
The story reached National Trust ranger and experienced wall-builder Mark Bull. “I said, let them come and have a go then!”
When the volunteer walling team of refugees from Eritrea arrived, Mark showed them how to choose and line up the stones, and they set to work on gaps in field walls near Froggatt that had been breached by deer or livestock.
“Some of them actually knew the basics straight away. It was obvious they’d done it before. One of the men, Samson, said it was very similar to walls he’d made back in Eritrea,” said Mark.
“Samson and the team got a lot more done than I’d expected, and I think they really enjoyed it - they were singing while they worked.”
The British Red Cross helps hundreds of people in South Yorkshire who either have refugee status or are awaiting results of asylum applications.
The charity leads English classes and helps refugees learn about life in the UK and contribute to the community at a time when they are not allowed to work.
“They like to volunteer to use their time to do something useful,” said Sarah Sonne. “It’s also great to have that connection with the Peak District, which is very close to where many of the people live, but is often inaccessible to them due to lack of knowledge or confidence or resources.”
A new team of wall builders repaired more National Trust field boundaries last month.
Yaqoob Adam fled Sudan several years ago, after his home and possessions were taken away from him.
Following tortuous journeys through North Africa, across the Mediterranean, and through Europe to a stay at the ‘jungle’ in Calais for several weeks, he eventually arrived in South Yorkshire where he is now helping other refugees learn English and carrying out voluntary work.
“I’m safe now, I’ve made a lot of friends, I’m learning English and now I am helping other people,” said Yaqoob. In Sudan, he used to carry out some construction work for friends and neighbours. “But with cement,” he said. “A dry stone wall would not last very long in Sudan because we have too much rain which would destroy it, I think.”
He added: “The view over the walls is good for tourists. I hope our walls will stay strong and maybe we will visit to see them again in the future.”
So far the British Red Cross wallers have mended over 16 metres of dry stone wall around Longshaw and Froggatt, but there are still plenty of gaps, and the volunteers did so well that they’ll be returning in September to mend another stretch of boundary walls.
“For some groups who come it’s more of a day out, but the refugees were all keen and wanted to get involved,” said Mark Bull. “They had a really good attitude. But I’d still say it’s impossible to build a dry stone wall in five minutes.”