Heartfelt thanks from Armenian village to people of Alnwick

In 1998, the people of St Michael’s Church, Alnwick, were asked to raise funds for a small school in the Armenian village of Spitak.

By Anna Parker
Thursday, 24 January, 2019, 09:55
Jean and Baz Darby at the house run by the Mother Theresa Sisters in Spitak.

Twenty one years on, an exhibition is being held to celebrate the link and thank the people of the town for their generosity over the decades.

In the late ’90s, the school in Spitak provided a warm and safe environment for children in a town that was still suffering the devastating after-effects of an earthquake that killed approximately 50,000 people.

By 2000, the project had been adopted as the Christians Together in Alnwick Millennium overseas project.

By then it included a home run by a group of Missionaries of Charity for the displaced elderly and abandoned children.

Christians Together initially aimed to raise £20,000 and encouraged the people of Alnwick to save their 20p pieces in Smarties tubes and donate them when full.

Donations soon began flooding in, including clothing, art supplies, toys, baby equipment and sewing machines.

The money also paid for villagers’ houses to be repaired and furnished.

Food was provided for families who struggled to afford it and day trips were planned so that children and families could spend time together away from the village.

Medical supplies were also obtained and in at least one instance a lifesaving operation was made possible.

Over the years, several volunteers have offered their help in the Sisters’ House and in the art school where a textile group for women was introduced in 2001.

Judith and Henry Pottle, from Alnwick Baptist Church, Baz and Jean Darby and Jean Bemrose, from St Michael’s, and Mick Oxley, from Craster, all had their lives turned around by the incredible hospitality they received from people who had little to offer but their love.

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They saw babies grow, babies adopted and sadly babies die. They saw children and adolescents grow into adults, and families rehoused and some emigrate.

Residents from Spitak have also visited Alnwick.

A group of young musicians came to stay in 2000, with one of them returning to spend a term at St Oswald’s school.

Perhaps the most high-profile visitor was Arsen Asatryan who, with Mick Oxley and Karen Babayan, had an exhibition of his art work in York Minster during August 2009.

When the umbrella organisation Family Care providing the art facilities moved out of Spitak, the need was still there and it was the people of Alnwick who made the transfer to a derelict building on the same site possible.

The building was refurbished and furnished and is now flourishing with more than 50 children registered and art, textile and woodworking classes available free of charge each day after mainstream school.

In recent months, there has been a change in the political scene in Armenia and corruption on a crippling scale is hopefully no longer the norm.

As for the original £20,000 target, the people of Alnwick have raised more than £150,000 for the small community, not including any of the gifts donated by people or the money that volunteers were given to take to Spitak.

Jean Darby, chairman of the Christians Together in Alnwick Spitak Project, said: “Could any of us present when that initial request was made have imagined just how generous the people of Alnwick can be when they are made aware of the real need of others? From the people of the villages around Spitak, a resounding and heartfelt thank-you for all you have made possible.”

The exhibition takes place on Saturday (January 26), in St Michael’s Parish Hall, Walkergate, from 11am to 4pm.