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The Interview recorded with Steve Hathway on 8th March 2017 contains some stories which listeners may find upsetting. Please proceed to listen at your own discretion.


The Chronicle Project is a community heritage project supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund and run by VCS Cymru with the aims to document the history of volunteering in Cardiff, from 1914 to 2014.

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We will now begin recording the interview with Steve Hathway. The recording takes place on the 8th March 2017 at Oasis on Splott Road. The volunteers present are Kayleigh Williams and Lara Taffer, and this recording is being collect as an oral history and will be part of the Chronicle Project. A project led by VCS Cymru and funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund.
LT = Lara Taffer (interviewer), KW = Kayleigh Williams (interviewer), SH = Steve Hathway.
KW: Would you like to introduce yourself please?
[Introductions – 0:41 to 1:00]
SH: Yeah, my name’s Steve and I live in Splott, and I’ve lived here for about twenty years now. And I was originally born in Abergavenny, which is a little town about an hour away, but I’ve been living in Splott for twenty years and the local phrase is I’m now a Splott boy. I feel like I live and belong here.
LT: And so how did you… could you tell us the story again about how you started volunteering at oasis?
[How Steve discovered Oasis – 1:07 to 1:51]
SH: Okay, about two years ago, my big passion is music, and I noticed there was a concert on for a Congolese choir and I was looking at the flyer on the internet and it said that there would also be a small community choir from a local refugee centre. I thought that’s surprising, so I looked it up, it was called Oasis and I was really surprised to find that it was just one-hundred yards from where I lived. So, I felt oh that will be interesting, I’ll send them an email and say I haven’t got any particular skills however I can speak English and I’m quite friendly and take it from there. So, I sent the email and they invited me along.
LT: and how many years ago was that?
SH: That was probably over two years.
LT: Did you do any other volunteering before you came to Oasis?
[Steve’s first day at Oasis – 2:00 to 3:32]
SH: I might have done but I can’t remember. But do you want me to tell you about the first time I came down? Okay, so I came down as, I now say a UK national where everything is well ordered, got a national insurance number, the streets are metalled, the street lights come on every day, you turn on the tap and you get water and I came down to Oasis and I met people. I met people from all over the world. And when I came in I felt a bit uncomfortable, because basically I was the only white person there. And I went into the cafe room and I’d say that most of the people there were young, black African men, where their future is uncertain. They would be Asylum seekers, where they were coming from a part of the world which may well be war torn, where they may not be water on tap, where they might not be metalled roads, where things aren’t certain. So, it was quite amazing to come in, to meet people from around the world. Where my world is very certain, safe and secure, and their worlds on that day, they would be asylum seekers in Britain but at any moment they could be told by the Home Office, “Sorry, you’re off home tomorrow”.
LT: And so, what kind of things do you volunteer for at the centre? What is your responsibilities?
[How Steve got involved with English classes at Oasis - 3:38 to 4:54]
SH: Well I came down just to see what was what, and then they pointed me in the direction of being in-charge of the garden. And I said, “okay, I’ll give it a go”, and I came down about a week later, all ready to make a start, and I was the only person there waiting to start. And I though hang on, and again this is what I found out about Oasis, which is what I like, is that things aren’t particularly well organised. There’s about three different time zones, African time zone, British time zone, and Middle Eastern time zone – and they don’t marry up. But anyway, I thought, “well I don’t think this is going to work”. So I hear that they did some English, so I went in and said, “you know I understand that you do some English, how about if I help out with the English teacher?”. And that’s how I… I then went along to the first English class and she was a very good teacher. The current English teacher is good, but not as good as the first English teacher. So, I went along and I did some work with her and I did it once a week for about, well up until now.
LT: Have you ever had the chance to… music’s your passion, to share that passion with other refugees at Oasis?
[volunteering and the opera – 5:03 to 6:30]
SH: Well occasionally there’s been some music here, but I can’t play an instrument and I can’t read the instrument. But music is my great passion. I go to loads of music. And when they have some music on here I come and listen to it, and it’s brilliant! Though, another thing I’ve got involved in, as well as helping teach English, I help with this conversation group called the FAN group, called friends and neighbours. And via that, I’ve got to know some Sudanese Muslim women and recently I arranged for them to come to the opera. And they absolutely loved it! The opera was really good. Welsh national opera, world class opera company. They were doing La Bohème which is a beautiful opera, and the Welsh national opera did it to a very high standard which I really enjoyed. But the Sudanese Muslim women absolutely loved it. I’m passionate about music and I… but the thing about opera you go and the audience is dominated by white pensioners there’s no question about it. If you go to the opera you’ll be dominated by affluent white pensioners and I like to take young people, and on this occasion, I took three Sudanese Muslim women and they loved it. In fact, the young people loved it, and the Sudanese Muslim people loved it. So, it doesn’t have to just be preserved for old white affluent people.
KW: So, what motivated you to get involved with volunteering here?
[Motivations to volunteer and gains from volunteering – 6:39 to 7:33]
SH: [Pause] It seemed like… I’m interested in the world. And probably at the time I though well that will be interesting, try it out. But in retrospect, yeah it’s been magnificent. I think I’ve got more out of it than I’ve put in because just by walking down the road I meet people from all over the world. For example, the FAN group, one week there was some women from Mosel and also some men from Aleppo – and how current is that? I mean you can read, you can see it on the news. You read about it on the internet or on the newspapers but actually come to meet people who’ve lived through those experiences, and I find that immense.
LT: One of our questions is: how does volunteering help you get to know the community better? So that was… you answered that one as well for us…
[Oasis and the local community – 7:41 to 8:45]
SH: Well, my local community is… I’m well known in my street, they are overwhelmingly white and have lived here for decades and a few of them are racists, to be quite frank – and I know the racists. But some… but I’d say these are part of my community as well, the refugees and asylum seekers. And the thing I like about Splott is that over the twenty years that I’ve lived here it has become more and more multicultural. And I don’t say that people love each other, but they get on which is really magnificent. What I’m proud of in Splott is that this place sits here and there’s no bother, no bother. I’m not saying that the local community come flooding in and they all do things together, but it sits here. It’s quite obviously for… the great majority of people that come in will be will be young African men, but it doesn’t have any problems.
LT: One of the groups that we’ve interviewed before was Adamstown Arts Association, and pause for a second…
[Pause in the recording]
LT: So I was mentioning before one of the previous interviews we did was with Adamstown Arts Association and they had run a programme here, did you..
SH: No.
LT: No, haven’t been involved in that? Just thought I’d ask. So obviously they have a craft room, they do sports, what are some of the other programming that they have here available?
SH: Well I’m only involved in the English language teaching and the FAN group. I know there’s lots of other things go on but exactly what I don’t know. But I guess that the main thing is, it’s a centre for people to come together, asylum seekers and refugees, where they get companionship. I think the biggest thing is probably the cafe, where people can go in and they’ll have a friendly face to chat with.
LT: Do you know how many volunteers are…
SH: I don’t know, I don’t know. And the thing is I love doing this, it’s completely informal. I found my own way in and I now do what I enjoy. And I’ve got to know people and chatting to all sorts of people, but the formal structure I don’t know.
LT: Are you given a lot of autonomy to choose what kinds of things…
[Volunteering and creating boundaries – 10:06 to 10:46]
SH: Yes, yeah. I think I am yeah. And the thing is, I choose to do this work and I love Oasis, and I come down a couple of times a week. And I could do a bit more if people asked me or if there’s a specific thing, but I’m very boundaried in terms of I don’t want to take on too much, because the people of oasis, the asylum seekers and refugees, are in my experience lovely, good-hearted people but their needs are immense. And I don’t want to… I’m not going to give too much because it would just suck me dry.
LT: Just give what you can…
SH: Yeah, well I give what I can and I give what I enjoy giving. But I’ve got the luxury of saying so far but no further.
LT: Does anybody else in your family or friends volunteer here with you?
SH: Yeah, not my family but… I’ve got some friends come to help out in English as well. Probably two other friends.
LT: Were you the inspiration for that?
SH: I wouldn’t say inspiration, but [laughs] I put the finger on them and they come. In fact my friend Stuart comes and he loves it. He absolutely loves it.
LT: Are there any frustrations or disappointing moments that you find by doing volunteering work?
[Volunteering and the lack of frustrations – 11:32 to 11:47]
SH: No. As I say, if I found any frustrations or disappointments or anything I didn’t like I just wouldn’t do it. I’m retired, I’ve got the luxury of choosing what I do and what I don’t do. It is very luxurious.
LT: Do you have any favourite memories of volunteering here? That stand out?
SH: I’m sure I have but it doesn’t occur to me at the moment. If it comes back to me…
LT: It’s one that’s hard to do on the spot
[Powerful memories – 12:02 to 13:15]
SH: It is I’m sure. But for example, the women that came from Mosel and some women that came from Aleppo or another very powerful experience was when a woman came to the discussion group and she was from Syria and couldn’t speak much English. But now she told you very clearly what it was like to go through that experience, how she made her journey with her family from Syria, a war torn zone via Libya, and she told us how on one occasion she was stopped at a… where the soldiers are, they do checks, yeah, and her daughter was taken away and raped. And then, they got on a boat to go… to come to Europe and the boat sank. And two of her sons were drowned, and what do you say? That was very memorable, not the best memory but extremely memorable.
LT: Do you think that volunteering here has changed you in anyway?
[How volunteering has enriched Steve’s life – 13:21 to 13:37]
SH: Nah, I think it’s enriched my life. I don’t know if it’s changed me, but I’ve met some good people here and that. I’ve become friends with a few refugees which is really good. I think it’s built on my life, I’m still the same old difficult bugger I was.
KW: And, how do you think you’re volunteering, or even the volunteering here, has benefitted the wider community or the people that come in here and seek help?
[How Oasis helps the community – 13:49 to 14:47]
SH: The wider community, I don’t know. But the people who’ve come here… I think that just a friendly UK national who can speak the English language and is willing to talk, I think that’s… my guess is, that’s more than a guess, is beneficial to the refugees, asylum seekers who want to learn English because they, like everybody if you go abroad on holiday, you’ve gone to Spain with your friends or family and it’s incredible how little Spanish you’ll have to speak. But you’ll point, you say “por favor”, “dos”, and that’s about it but you don’t have to learn. And it’s the same with people here. People come from Eritrea, they live together, they have their little ELAtrain cafe and so the odd bit of English. So to actually speak with a UK native speaker, I think, is immense.
LT: And so, do you actually lead the ESOL classes or like do you…
SH: No, I’m a helper. They tried to make me the teacher but I refused. I’m a very experienced helper for the teacher. But a very bad English teacher.
LT: What does helping entail?
[Steve’s role as a teaching assistant – 15:08 to 15:31]
SH: Well it entails… it means you have the teacher at the front. He’s called Richard, a very nice man. And help, I ask him awkward questions. [laughs] Because I find my natural environment to sit at the back with the African men right, who tend to be a bit, you know, keep out the way, but I encourage them to come forward.
LT: Do you bring a little bit of comic relief?
SH: That’s the one! A comic relief.
LT: Hmmm, what other things can we ask you? If you had to define volunteering how would you define it?
[Defines volunteering – 15:47 to 16:11]
SH: I… I don’t know. Look, I don’t get any monetary reward. I come along and do what I can. That’s volunteering. And I think I do it because it’s worthwhile. I think if it’s not worthwhile I wouldn’t bother.
[Volunteering at a school – 16:11 to 16:37]
And I did do… I don’t know if you want me to go onto another bit of volunteering I did? I did some volunteering a couple of years ago and it was a project, it was brilliant! It was working with primary school kids and it was specifically shy, withdrawn primary school kids. I thought, “Aww, this is lovely”. And I saw the video, and all these poor little children, you have to be very careful and bring them out of their shell. And I thought, “aww that’s brilliant!”.
LT: So what did you do with that project?
[Steve’s role in volunteering with a primary school – 16:39 to 16:56]
SH: Well, I got assigned with three other volunteers and we went to this primary school. And ADHD, challenging behavioural problems – I wouldn’t put them down as shy little children! [Laughs] They were full on!
LT: Which primary school was it?
SH: Yes, but I can’t remember the name. It was towards Llanrymney… Llanrumney I think. But the kids were very challenging and I thought, “hang on here, big man with a loud voice, so take it easy. Let the young women come forward”, but they ran rings around us! And by the time I thought, “well time to step forward”, they were already running the show. This was over a period of weeks. So, in fact that wasn’t a good experience.
KW: What I’d like to ask actually, is if you had to give some advice or words of inspiration to somebody who was interested in volunteering, what would you say?
[Words of inspiration and advice - 17:51 to 18:35]
SH: Well… give it a go. In terms of Oasis, I would say give it a go and it’s immensely rewarding. The people there, the refugees and asylum seekers, are really good-hearted people. So, give it go, but be boundaried because their needs are immense. So, you know, you could be swallowed up. So, you need to be careful about… and in fact I say this to my friends when they come along, you know, just do… it would be very tempting to be involved but that’s the advice I would give in this project.
[Summing up – 18:38 to 19:06
LT: Is there anything that you’d like to add that we haven’t asked you? Or…
SH: No I don’t think so.
LT: Okay. Then I guess…
SH: How much do I get paid?
LT: This is volunteer as well [laughs].
SH: Oh, I thought that this was worth a fiver!
SH: Or a can of four polish lagers.
LT: Sorry!
SH: Aww…
LT: But thank you very much for your time.
SH: Thank you.

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