Just grand: dumplings and punch

23rd July 2004 at 01:00
Dumplings, fruit punch and a day at the seaside have united black pensioners and youngsters from a predominantly white comprehensive school in west Yorkshire.

A Commission for Racial Equality survey this week found that 94 per cent of white people have few or no ethnic-minority friends. But pupils from Matthew Murray high school in Leeds have been adopting elderly black people as informal grandparents.

Since January, 10 children aged between 12 and 14 have joined the pensioners who use the Frederick Hurdle day centre on trips to Scarborough and the cinema, and learned how to make Caribbean snacks.

In return they have taught the pensioners how to use the internet and set questions for a quiz in a scheme which organisers say has broken down traditional ethnic and generational barriers.

Paul Eubanks, the school's learning support centre manager, said the majority of his pupils would previously have had no contact with elderly black people.

He said pupils at the comprehensive in predominantly white Holbeck were initially wary about going to the day centre in nearby Chapeltown, a mainly black area.

But after six weekly visits, Mr Eubanks said they had taken to their new friends and were so enthusiastic they would arrive early to buy Caribbean dumplings and fruit punch.

Billy Sanderson, 12, adopted a "very nice" woman called Ruby and hopes to stay in touch with her. He said: "People had been saying about Chapeltown that you would get stabbed but it was good. We had dinner there - I had hot pepper sauce on chicken, it was very nice and hot."

The school plans to continue the scheme next year. Mr Eubanks said: "It has exceeded all expectations. Never in a million years would I have thought it would have happened the way it has."

Hilary Waite, Leeds' learning support unit co-ordinator, said the scheme had increased pupils' confidence and helped them with geography and history as they learned about the pensioners' backgrounds.

It has also given some of the Chapeltown pensioners a new outlook on life.

Esmie Grierson, the Frederick Hurdle day centre's manager, said: "The children have latched on to them and think they are like real grandparents.

"It's nice for them to have a white child calling them grandma or grandpa - they feel accepted."

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