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Parishioners at St John Fisher Church in Harrow have reunited after lockdown to continue their work supporting Caritas Bakhita House, a safe house for women escaping trafficking and slavery. The relationship between the parish and the project began in 2016 with Caritas Westminster’s Love In Action programme, which resulted in the parish subsidising Art Therapy sessions for the guests at Bakhita House for three years. At the same time, parishioner Teresa Arrigo founded the St John Fisher Knitting Team.

The St John Fisher Knitting Team has been running for nearly four years, with 20 enthusiastic members gathering regularly to knit clothes for Bakhita House. The group includes Sr Doreen, who volunteers at Bakhita House and is able to share her knowledge of what the guests need. At an early meeting, Sr Doreen spoke to the group about how the guests often feel the cold, and tend to wear second-hand clothes. The group began knitting suitable clothes for the guests and their babies. As well as knitting, the team would also collect and sort through donations of toiletries given by parishioners for Bakhita House. Although the group’s regular meetings were halted during lockdown, Teresa attended two virtual get-togethers for Caritas volunteers, where Karen Anstiss, Service Manager at Bakhita House, assured her that the knitted baby clothes were still being worn.

As lockdown restrictions eased, an outdoor gathering became possible. In early August, after almost five months apart, ten knitters converged on an empty summerhouse in a local park for a joyous, socially-distanced reunion. A few had brought their knitting; others came simply to spend time with friends. Sr Doreen and Caritas Westminster’s Development Worker for West London, Sr Silvana, also attended. While the mild weather persists, the group continues to meet in this way to knit.

Responding to the work of the St John Fisher Knitting Team, Karen Anstiss said:

‘123 guests have been supported, and 11 babies born to women at Bakhita House. Many come with no belongings. It’s heart-warming to see their faces when bags arrive filled with colourful blankets, scarves, hats and gloves, often the first brand-new item they have ever owned. They are in awe that complete strangers will provide such beautiful clothes for them. People they don’t know giving from their hearts is a hard concept for them to take in, having been treated so badly by strangers in the past.

‘We see what joy this knitting group brings time and time again. Every item means so much, but I have to confess I adore the beautiful baby clothes. Recently, a guest dressed her one-month old baby in a pink knitted dress and said simply, ‘Now she is a princess.’ That just sums it up, you can bring love and joy through knitting. We can never say ‘thank you’ enough times!’

Find out more about Caritas Bakhita House here.

Find out more about Sr Doreen’s art therapy here.

You can support the work of Caritas Bakhita House by donating here.

Image shows the St John Fisher Knitting Team at their socially distanced gathering in August.